Stamford Bridge, London
November 9, 2012; 16:00 GMT
When Brendan Rodgers leads his men to Stamford Bridge this Sunday, he will be well aware of the record that his club has against the West London side. Liverpool, after all, haven’t lost to Chelsea in the league in the last two seasons, doing a double over them in three of the four previous campaigns in the Premiership.
Furthermore, Chelsea have only managed to defeat Liverpool twice in the last eleven league games. The rivalry that had grown fiercer over the decade on the back of some memorable Champions League clashes, today rages on in the league. Controversies, emotionally charged encounters, a Spanish mistake by Chelsea, and bitter fans on both sides of the divide, have continued to add fuel to fire as far as these fixtures are concerned.
For a team under transition, from the old guard to new, Chelsea have had a fantastic start to the season, and if not for the fiasco against Manchester United or the late goal conceded away to Swansea, they’d have continued to lead the table. 23 points from a possible 30, 7 wins, 2 draws and a solitary loss is a solid return from the first 10 games.
In midweek, they somewhat stabilized their fledgling Champions League campaign as well, after registering a dramatic last second victory against Shakhtar Donetsk. Their confidence is back, yet history is against them. Last season’s FA Cup final win, despite being put under immense pressure towards the end, can perhaps be attributed to the magical touch of Roberto di Matteo; it remains to be seen if the Italian can extend his magic to the league as well.
Liverpool, under Brendan Rodgers, are also a club that’s starting afresh, as far as strategy, transfers, and team composition are concerned. They got off to a rocky start, remaining win-less after the first five games but slowly gathered momentum to win 2 and draw 3 of their last five matches. Presently, they are twelfth in the table, but have reduced the deficit between themselves and sixth-placed Tottenham to 6 points.
Liverpool are known to step up their game against the big sides, even if they appear mediocre against the lesser teams, as was evident in their clash against Manchester City; a game they should have won if not for an individual defensive mistake by Martin Skrtel. Then they went on to lose against United under controversial circumstances, while were poor in their loss at home to Arsenal. So, it’s fair to say, they are far from a consistent side this season, but that’s seldom held them back against Chelsea.
Team News and Tactical Brief
For the weekend clash against Liverpool, Frank Lampard had been ruled out of this clash by Roberto di Matteo, while Ashley Cole remains doubtful. John Terry has served his four-match ban and is available for selection against, while Juan Mata and David Luiz have shaken off their minor injuries which forced them to sit out the game at the Liberty Stadium last weekend.
Petr Cech will guard the goal, behind the 4-2-3-1 setup that di Matteo prefers. After a shaky performance against Shakhtar, David Luiz can make way for returning captain John Terry. Gary Cahill has been the best so far among all central defenders this season, and his exploits from set pieces at the other end would surely not have gone unnoticed, so he can be expected to take the field ahead of the Brazilian. Chelsea
On one of his sane days, David Luiz would perhaps be better suited to counter the pace and movement of Luis Suarez, but of late, the good work that he does has been undermined by his sudden loss in concentration. If Cole fails to regain fitness in time, Ryan Bertrand will start and will be expected to fare better than how he did in midweek. Ivanovic will take his place at right-back, but will need to be very careful while dealing with the hugely impressive Rahim Sterling, else the youngster will not think twice before embarrassing the Serbian defender.
Ahead of them, Mikel and Ramires will form the double pivot, with the Nigerian being under instructions to keep a close watch on furthest of the three Liverpool midfielders. Ramires will have to use his pace to spot runners from deep, intercept passes being played towards Suarez, while both midfielders will have to show more urgency in moving the ball forward to players in front of them. Eden Hazard, Oscar and Juan Mata will take the field behind Fernando Torres. Little is expected of Chelsea’s number 9 in terms of goals, so the onus will be on those behind him to share the offensive duty, with Torres at least expected to draw the center-back towards him occasionally and freeing up space for others to move inwards.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1): Cech(GK); Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Bertrand; Mikel, Ramires; Oscar, Hazard, Mata; Torres
Pepe Reina has recovered from his injury and is expected to replace Brad Jones in goal. Glen Johnson is expected to be fit ahead of this crucial encounter against his former club. Liverpool rested several of their top players in their midweek encounter against Anzhi and they should be fresh for this game. Fabio Borini and Martin Kelly remain long-term absentees from the side, while Lucas Leiva is recovering well and is expected to be involved in another couple of weeks.
Liverpool have been leaking quite a few goals this season and the defence will be severely tested against Chelsea. Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger will resume duties in the center of defence. Johnson shall start at right-back with Jose Enrique lining up on the opposite flank. The full-backs can’t afford to be caught out of position, considering the speed at which Chelsea break, so Rodgers may ask his men to be a bit more circumspect to start the proceedings and keep a close eye on Hazard and Mata, tracking their movements into the box and supporting the center-backs. Such unpredictable is Chelsea’s movement in the final third that the Liverpool defence will have to play as one cohesive unit, without dropping their guard even momentarily.
In a 4-3-3 formation, Joe Allen, Steven Gerrard and Nuri Sahin are expected to start against Chelsea after being rested during midweek. Liverpool like to have possession of the ball and the performances of Allen and Gerrard will be crucial if they are to get anything out of this game. Rodgers will instruct his team to start cautiously and retain the ball, even if that means in their own half, and grow into the game as the match progresses. If the Liverpool midfielders can wrest control of the midfield, denying Mikel and Ramires easy passage towards the attackers and making the man-advantage count, Chelsea’s game-play may become disjointed, thereby forcing both Mata and Oscar to drop deeper and deeper to get the ball. And, the farther and longer these key players are away from goal, less threatening will Chelsea be at the business end of the field.
Luis Suarez will be flanked by academy starlets Raheem Sterling and Suso on the left and right respectively. Suarez, who has already netted 7 times this season, will be key to what Liverpool manage to achieve on Sunday, as with him on the pitch, his team will never be out of the match. A flick here, a turn there, and the Chelsea defence may be left licking their freshly cut wounds, as the Uruguayan forward darts off to celebrate.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-3-3): Reina(GK); Johnson, Skrtel, Agger, Enrique; Allen, Gerrard, Sahin; Suso, Sterling, Suarez
- Liverpool are looking for a fifth consecutive Premier League victory over Chelsea. That would represent their longest winning sequence in this fixture for 38 years.
- The Blues have conceded eight goals in their last five league matches, failing to keep a clean sheet, having let in only two goals in their opening five fixtures.
- Fernando Torres scored 81 goals in 142 appearances for Liverpool between 2007 and 2011. His tally of 11 goals in 56 Premier League games for Chelsea is in contrast to the 38 goals he scored for Liverpool after the same number of matches.
- The Reds have failed to beat top-half opposition this season, recording three draws and three defeats.
- Luis Suarez has scored five goals in his last five Premier League appearances.
Players (s) To Watch Out For
For all the focus on defenders on either side and the threat posed to them on the flanks and centrally, it may all come down to who controls the central midfield. Fresh from his European exploits, Oscar will have to drop deep and help out Ramires and Mikel against the highly accomplished trio of Allen, Sahin and Gerrard and negate the man-advantage there.
Furthermore, di Matteo will surely ask his man to nullify the calm and assuring presence of Joe Allen on the pitch, and prevent him from dictating the tempo of the pitch from deep. We’d seen against Juventus and Arsenal that Oscar is more than capable of such a thing, and against Liverpool, if he can mark Allen out of the game in addition to providing the offensive thrust while in possession, he can decide the game for Chelsea.
Chelsea 2 – 1 Liverpool
Logic says Chelsea should win this one comfortably; history says that’s seldom the case against Liverpool. However, all good runs eventually come to an end, and at Stamford Bridge, the overall quality in this Chelsea side may bring an end to this win-less streak against the Merseysiders. Anyway, think twice before putting your money on a Chelsea win, irrespective of what logic may suggest.
Blast From The Past