Liverpool and Chelsea haven’t always seen eye to eye on a lot of things. You would think after parting with Torres, nearly gifting away Gerrard and transferring Meireles to the Blues, the Liverpool Reds would have received a lot more gratitude from their West London counterparts. In many ways, Rafa Benitez taking charge of the Blues summed up the difficult relationship between the two sides. One’s a side with illustrious history that has seemingly fallen on hard times, while the other is a newly rejuvenated side that has been one of England’s top two sides in the past decade and easily it’s best in Europe. The acrimony off the field notwithstanding, Liverpool and Chelsea contests have always brought out the best in both sides.

As the Blues visit Anfield, two of TheHardTackle’s resident authors Keith Castelino and Ed Fernandez from the Kop and the Bridge respectively, talk up their team’s prospects in a rather crucial game for both sides. The Kopite’s very own Keith Castelino goes first:

KC:Ai??Chelsea are coming off three games where they’ve relatively under-performed, a draw with Manchester United, a narrow win over QPR and a draw withAi??Maribor. Is this a mini-crisis?

EF: I want to brush it off, but I’m hesitant. Chelsea have a tendency to crash and burn around Christmas, so it wouldn’t be the first time Chelsea have thrown away a powerful start and settled into mid-season mediocrity before dramatically trying to recover pole position or pride, depending on theAi??season. All three were games that Chelsea should have won by a fair margin and a relative degree of comfort, and yet they’ve operated as though they were stuck in a lower gear.

KC: How desperate are Chelsea to see Diego Costa return?

EF: Very. We had a good thing going when Costa was firing on all cylinders. But by not resting him more often, I fear we have overworked him. Unfortunately, Didier Drogba took a bit longer to settle in and Loic Remy got injured at the worst possible time. We’ll be ready for Liverpool because we have to be, but nobody would’ve predicted a third of the season in, we’d be struggling with a wanting strike force.

(c)Cech_theshedenderdotcom

KC: Is the Cech-Courtois situation going to be a bother in the long-run?

EF: Courtois is widely seen as the most talented goalkeeper in the world now. But it’s an embarrassment of riches for us, that Courtois can be replaced with Cech coming off the bench. Courtois has let in on average one goal per game in the Premier League, but it would be unfair to say Cech would’ve done better. Even if Cech would have, it’s safe to say Chelsea are backing their offense to score one more that their opponents to give Courtois aAi??comfortable enough lead-in while he adjusts to the Premier League.

KC: Are Chelsea extremely cautious when facing the former Big 4? Two draws, and a tight game against Arsenal say so.

EF: I think Chelsea are backing themselves to see off the minnows and lesser accomplished sides this season, and seem to believe they can win the League as long as they manage at least a draw with the big-name sides. I think there’s good reason for Chelsea to be cautious, and it’s not restricted to the game alone. I think Mourinho is gambling that he’ll be able to prevent any of the big sides from regaining a sense of momentum by not letting them win. Big sides just need one or two positive results for them to recover from whatever slump in form they’re seeing, and Chelsea conceding a draw is hopefully what makes sense in the big picture.

KC: How confident are you in Chelsea’s defense? They’re not as mean as they once were.

EF: It’s unfortunate that defenses are rated according to the number of errors they make, but that’s the nature of the beast. In Azpilicueta, we haveAi??arguably the best defender in the League. Terry, Cahill and Ivanovic are reliable names to have on the squad list, so the chance of seeing a full-strength defense take the field at Anfield is certainly very promising. My only concern is with a relatively weaker front line, Matic and FabregasAi??will be pressed to move up and leave a considerable gaping hole in the middle just in front of the back four. Any defensive line, no matter how good, will crack under sustained pressure.

Turning the tables, it was then Ed’s turn to play bad cop.

EF: Letai??i??s start with the elephant in the room. What do you make of Brendan Rodgersai??i?? team selection against Real Madrid?

KC: I think too much was made of the fact that we dropped so many players. The team that our supporters wanted to see on the field was the one that were trailing 3-0 within 30 minutes at Anfield two weeks ago. I donai??i??t think those 11 players would have beaten Real Madrid. Consider the fact that we played terribly at Newcastle, and it has cost a few players a chance to play at Real Madrid rather than Brendan Rodgers resting players for Chelsea.

EF: Given that you did not lose as heavily as expected at Madrid, do you think Rodgersai??i?? will go back to his first choice players on Saturday?

KC: I think Balotelli should come back into the team and play up front with Fabio Borini, purely because his two goals for us thus far have been scored whenever the latter is on the pitch. Gerrard should definitely not start with Lucas ai??i?? it will not end well ai??i?? so itai??i??s either one or the other for me. I would still support Rodgers, but if Kolo Toure is dropped after that performance against Real, then surely he has lost his mind!

Lucas Leiva is the only destroyer in the Liverpool side

EF: Why do you think you have struggled so far this season? How do you see this ending for you?

KC: Yes, Luis Suarez was among our most important players in years, but I think the main reason why we have struggled thus far this season is due to Sturridgeai??i??s absence. Take out Suarezai??i??s goals from last season and you still have the same tally we came up with in 2012-13; but if you take out Sturridgeai??i??s goals too, then we are in a situation where we are wondering where the next goal is going to come from.

I think ill-timed injuries to some of our players are causing more damage than people realize. Besides losing Sturridge, we lost Emre Can and Joe Allen during the first international break just when they were hitting form, while the likes of Lallana and Markovic were deprived of preparation time thanks to their injuries early this season. We were a bit lucky with the fitness of our core group of players last year, and I do feel we are a little short on luck this time around.Ai??I was expecting a top four finish at the start of the season. Now, I hope we finish in the top four; but it looks like we might fall just short. Letai??i??s wait and watch.

EF: How do you foresee your team getting a result out of this game? Will you be disappointed with a draw?

KC: We tend to play better against the ai???bigai??i?? clubs than the ai???smallerai??i?? ones; so I actually think we will play better than people expect us to. Based on current run of form, however, Chelsea, offers a unique challenge ai??i?? the Blues are among the best in the world at defending without the ball, extremely hard to beat on the counter (which is not always the case with all of Europeai??i??s ai???bigai??i?? clubs), and are extremely dangerous on the counter.

The most likely route to getting a result on Saturday would be to play two strikers with a diamond behind them. Chelsea do not often play against two strikers, while a diamond midfield will help us not get outnumbered. As for the defence, we have a new savior in Kolo Toure now, donai??i??t we?

EF: If you could choose one player (as tempting as it might be to pick more, weai??i??ll let you pick only one) from our squad to play for you on Sunday, who would that be?

KC: Nemanja Matic, without question ai??i?? he is an imposing figure in central midfield who shields the defence from quick counters, but is also good enough on the ball to keep things ticking when in possession. We do have Lucas who is decent as a purely defensive midfielder, but Matic is far better than him at this point in time. I would have him in a heartbeat.

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