Football Insights – Neil Mellor
The Premier League returns this weekend after a quick summer break and all the attention will be on defending champions Liverpool and the chasing pack that are looking to take their title away. Former Liverpool striker Neil Mellor gives his exclusive insights to GentingBet ahead of the new season and Liverpool’s opening clash with Leeds.
How much of a threat will Leeds be to Liverpool on the opening day of the season?
Leeds have done fantastically, I’ve watched them a few times and I can’t believe it’s taken 16 years to get promoted. Leeds will carry a threat with them all season, especially as they’ve spent big on Rodrigo, and big things will be expected of him in the first season. Leeds will be brave, they won’t be a team who sit back, they’ll make it difficult for teams.
They’ll be organized, but they'll look to see plenty of the ball and break forward with the pace they have going forward. Leeds will carry a threat and Liverpool would have to be mindful of that. However, Leeds will have concerns that if they play the same way they did in the Championship, by taking risks defensively, then Liverpool will try and pick them off in the final third.
Can Bielsa’s aggressive tactics work well against a team like Liverpool?
Not many teams can get the better of Liverpool, they’ve been unbeaten for three years now at Anfield so Leeds will know how difficult that game will be. But, you have to be brave and you have to take those risks and hope that you get a little bit of luck on the day and to get a result.
If they were to get a draw that would be a fantastic result for Leeds United, on the first day to go to the Champions, Liverpool. Liverpool will be full of confidence, focus will be changed to go again for this new season with last season forgotten about one and go from the start. So, it's going to be very, very difficult for Leeds.
Do Liverpool have what it takes to win the Premier League and this season?
I believe Liverpool have what it takes to win the Premier League this season but I think that the race will be a lot closer this time round. I think for Liverpool to challenge again, they'll have to keep the key players fit for selection.
The key player has been the goalkeeper, the centre half, Virgil van Dijk and the front three, who are absolutely incredible to watch. For Liverpool to do that again it’s possible, to prove that consistently over two seasons with 97 points and 99 points, but it'll be about keeping those key players fit for selection.
Liverpool have been almost completely inactive in the transfer window this summer. Do you think that will cost them this season?
Time will tell whether Liverpool’s lack of action in the transfer window will cost them this season, but I think we’ve seen with Jurgen before that he only goes into the transfer market when he feels it's necessary. He won't just go and buy players for the sake of it.
This group are a very close group, and there’s a togetherness there. So, he has to bring the right sort of character within that group. In January, he brought Takumi Minamino in and it's taken 6-8 months to settle in and now we've seen signs of understanding what it's like to play at Liverpool, which is the real positive for Liverpool.
There's been no real pressure because Liverpool have got such a good team at the moment and it’s difficult to see who can come in and strengthen what has been an incredible team already. I think perhaps the squad could have maybe a refresh with few options brought in, but there's no desperate need to bring in any players to replace anyone.
Do you think that having performance such a high level for past two years, the likes of Salah, Firminio and Van Dijk might suffer from the lack of investment in terms of competition for places?
So far, Salah, Firminio and Van Dijk seem to have thrived without the pressure for places but the other side of that is the understanding that there's a real confidence between each other. I think the full backs Liverpool more width where the front three then can go a little bit narrower into the attacking areas.
As a player you want to be playing and those three have had a lot of minutes over the last few seasons and have produced the quality so as long as they keep doing that the teams seem to be thriving.
What would be considered a successful season for Liverpool?
For Liverpool this season, they, of course, want to want to challenge again for the title of the Premier League and obviously the Champions League. I think to be very much in that battle, again, will be deemed as a successful season.
They’ll want to win Premier League and the Champions League but if they don’t, it won't be seen as a failure, as long as Liverpool are competing. Liverpool will certainly be happy with that, I think.
How much of Liverpool's recent success would you put down to Jurgen Klopp?
Jurgen Klopp has had a huge impact on Liverpool’s success. When Klopp arrived at Liverpool, they were struggling to get into the Champions League but he’s brought Champions League football back to Liverpool consistently and has now delivered a title and a Champions League success, which is quite incredible from where you think he took over them.
One strength that he has brought to the football club and the city of Liverpool is a real togetherness, and how the fans are connected to the to the team. He is certainly getting the most out of players which I think is very hard for a manager to do but he seems to be doing that he's taken Salah from a top-class player to a world class player, he's done the same with Mane and Firmino too. He's making these players go to that next level, which of course Liverpool the name the brand, of course will do as well. But Jurgen has certainly helped it in that respect.
Liverpool be linked with Thiago Alcantara, how important is it for them to convert their interest?
There’s no desperate need for Liverpool to bring in any players and I think Thiago has been linked for a while now and it seems to be going on a bit too long. You start to think it why is it not being done if it is going to be done? There's no doubt about it, he's a very talented player.
I think he would certainly bring quality to Liverpool which they already have in midfield. It's just a case of if he suits the manager. I’d be surprised if he didn't want to come to the football club and I'd be interested to see if Liverpool do get that one over the line or not.
Do you think Alcantara could settle straight into Liverpool’s starting line-up?
As much of a top-class player that Thiago is, he isn’t going to just walk into the team because of the competition that Liverpool have within those midfield positions. Liverpool have got competition for midfield with Fabinho, Henderson, Keita, Curtis Jones, Oxlade Chamberlain who is injured at the moment, Milner and Wijnaldum. But he is a player that will certainly when he plays that quality if he were to arrive.
Does new signing Konstantinos Tsimikas have what it takes to challenge Andy Robertson for a starting position in the Liverpool line up?
I think Andy Robertson is one of the best left full backs certainly in the Premier League, if not in Europe, and obviously the Bayern Munich boy as well, Davies is outstanding, but I think he's made that position his own. One thing he has done is he's now a creative player for Liverpool, he’s not just a left back. Offensively, he’ll do a shift, of course, but it gives Liverpool so much going forward.
I think for me, for Tsimikas who has just arrived so It'll be a case of watching Andy Robertson, playing various games to certainly fill in, and hopefully, Andy Robertson isn't injured but maybe learning from someone like Andy Robertson. He’ll think that's what's expected of me to play in Liverpool's first team, to get forward to give that creativity but also to get back in and it could be no better player perhaps Europe to learn from.
Liverpool look set to lose Gini Wijnaldum to Barcelona this summer. How much of a loss will he be for Liverpool and who can replace his role in the team?
It’s all speculation, until Wijnaldum leaves it's difficult to sort of say is he going to go or isn't he going to go? I think what you would say he’s a player that the manager of the club has really trusted over seasons, he gives Liverpool good energy from midfield and there's no real pressure on him to be creating chances because he hasn't had an assist now for I think a couple of seasons.
But what he does can sometimes go a little bit on notice within Liverpool's team, he’s a consistent performer, is always available for selection and the biggest thing is that the manager trusts him out there. So, if he's happy, I see no reason why he’s wants to leave Liverpool because he's because he's really well liked within that dressing room. There’ll always be speculation, of course about players and until it happens, you know, it's difficult to sort of see it happening.
Ronald Koeman seems to be keen on adding Dutch players to the Barcelona squad, with the likes of Depay and Wijnaldum linked. Should Liverpool be worried that they may be after Van Dijk next?
When Klopp first came to Liverpool, there were fears that they would lose their best players – we saw it with Suarez and Coutinho, but Liverpool are now in a position where I think that fear has gone.
There's no worry that perhaps Barcelona or Real Madrid could come in and take a top player because Liverpool are Champions of the Premier League, they won the Champions League two years ago and they’re Champions of the world.
Liverpool are a top side, play great football, and so there's no real desire for players to be leaving, because they're in such a great environment, which is credit to Jurgen. That's the big difference he’s brought so the worry isn’t there like it was before he arrived, with losing the top players.
Liverpool do seem to be open to selling some of their young talent including Rhian Brewster and Harry Wilson. Do you think it's right to let them go?
I think Liverpool have raised a lot of money from selling some fringe players, certainly in recent times. Harry Wilson has done well with a couple of loan spells, one at Derby and then at Bournemouth last season, and now he’s a Welsh International.
I think he knows his game time will be limited at Liverpool. So, he could certainly apply to Liverpool could sell. The only thing is with Coronavirus going around and the new rules, if teams were to lose too many players perhaps to go out on loan then they could leave themselves short with players potentially getting the virus.
I think Brewster, having been on loan at Swansea last year and done brilliantly in the Championship, if he was to leave the football club I’d expect him to go in the Premier League and for it to be a loan. I think he had a serious injury so for him it’s been getting game time, and he’s a goal threat to come off the bench and give Liverpool something different. Brewster could perhaps get a loan out, and Harry Wilson won’t be short of offers so there could be a chance to get some money in for him. I really like Wilson as a player and I'm pleased to see that he has done well in his loan spells.
With Lovren leaving the club, Liverpool are likely to have just 3 recognised CB's at the club. How important is it for them to sign a defender this summer? Should Liverpool pursue the signature of Ben White?
Ben White was superb for Leeds last year and Brighton have got him on a new contract so it’s going to take a lot of money to get him away.
That fourth position was Lovren and he played 10 games for Liverpool in the Premier League last year, one of them being against Manchester City, one of the biggest games of the season. So, it could well be a position Liverpool don't want to leave themselves short with, they've got a few talented young players - Nat Phillips who was out on loan in Germany for Stuttgart last season, a young kid called Billy Koumetio, who's only 17 but still learning the game and there’s probably no place better to learn than around the best defending world football in Virgil Van Dyck. At the moment, they're the only real options or they could play perhaps play Fabinho as an emergency centre half which he has done before.
So, I'm sure Liverpool are probably looking in that area, but again, there's players to come in and the managers not scared to put a young player in if needed.
Liverpool have been linked with Watford's Ismaila Sarr to bolster their attack – does he have enough star quality to compete with the likes of Salah, Firmino and Mane for a starting position?
When you look at players like Sarr, you think if he was to go and maybe work under a manager like Jurgen or someone, he could take him to the next level. I think he has that ability and he showed that. He's had a good season at Watford even though they've been relegated and he cost them a lot of money.
The thing is with Sarr, he's got a big future if the right sort of manager can be around him and guide him in these important times.
He's good mates with Mane, and we all know about players helping deals get over the line with friends. Sarr wouldn't start but he's a player who could certainly offer help to the front three and say, well, I can freshen it up for this game so there isn't an overuse for the front three.
I think he’s a really exciting player, a top talent whose somebody like you're like Jugren at Liverpool could get more out of it in a few years. But I think he will be very much in demand this window and the price would have to be right, and that could be something that could put Liverpool off. He’s young and still got so much to learn, so I think Jurgen would help him.