Jake Pearson previews Liverpool's Champions League opener against AC Milan, picking out a best bet and score prediction.
1pt AC Milan +3 on the corner handicap at 5/4 (Sky Bet)
Liverpool look to be back to their brilliant best this season, back in the sort of form that saw them cruise to their maiden Premier League title in 2019/20.
They are unbeaten in the league so far, winning three of their four games, scoring nine and conceding one, and every performance Jurgen Klopp’s men produce seems to be a marker to their rivals. Not only that, they also appear to be getting better by the week.
A comfortable 3-0 victory over Leeds on Sunday was particularly important. Marcelo Bielsa’s side ran Liverpool close on both occasions last season, losing by a goal in their thrilling 4-3 season opener at Anfield, before holding the Reds to a 1-1 draw at Elland Road.
The fact that Liverpool dispatched Leeds without really breaking sweat on Sunday reinforces just how much stronger a side they are this term; Joel Matip and Virgil van Dijk now a constant at the heart of defence, as well as the return of Fabinho to midfield.
There are good arguments to be made for Liverpool mounting a serious challenge for the title this season, and there is no reason to think the Champions League is beyond their reach either.
The negative surrounding the Reds however is the difficulty of their group, comprising of Spanish champions Atletico Madrid, Serie A runners-up AC Milan, and last season’s Champions League quarter-finalists Porto.
Here, they open their campaign against AC Milan, and this could be a much tougher game than most are expecting.
Milan boasted the youngest squad in Europe last season, and after enjoying a good summer transfer window, Stefano Pioli looks to be building an exciting team.
Pioli’s men led the way in Serie A for more than half the season last term, a mixture of inexperience, fatigue and the shrewd nature of Antonio Conte ultimately proving their downfall late on, but it was still a good season for the Rossoneri; one that represented progress.
They may feel a little aggrieved that their first season back in the Champions League since 2013/14 has seen them drawn in such a tough group, but they were always likely to need to cut their teeth against some of Europe’s elite coming from pot 4. This is effectively a free hit for Pioli’s side.
Liverpool do look a bit on the skinny side in this match, currently priced at 1/2, and backing AC Milan or the Draw on the double chance market does make appeal, but given the manner in which Liverpool have started the season, it may be better to search for value elsewhere.
Liverpool have been corner-crazy this season, racking up 42 across their four matches, the most in the Premier League, but it is fair to say they have pretty much had their way in each match; even against Chelsea. The Blues were down to 10 men for the entirety of the second half, when Liverpool won eight of their 12 corners.
Milan are far from the corner kings in Italy, averaging just over five per match, but they don’t concede too many.
More importantly though, they don’t concede many chances, which stunts the rate of corners won for the opposition.
Liverpool’s amount of corners won in the Premier League corresponds closely with the chances they have created – they currently lead the way on expected goals for (xGF).
AC Milan have conceded more than 1.0 xG just once this season, with only Torino having given up more chances than Pioli’s men in Serie A over three games.
If Milan can keep Liverpool at bay from a chance creation perspective, they should also be able to keep their corner count down.
Given their own attacking output however, Milan are certainly expected to carry a threat.
All this makes AC MILAN +3 CORNERS at a price of 5/4 a confident selection, and one that should be backed accordingly.
Score prediction: Liverpool 1-0 AC Milan (Sky Bet odds: 7/1)
Odds correct at 0930 BST (14/09/21)
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