Liverpool FC will host Chelsea FC this Sunday as the race for the European spots really heats up. Rafael Benitez will make an emotional return to his old club and is likely to get a warm reception from the Anfield faithful. However, all pleasantries will be left on the side-lines as soon as kick-off whistle blows. Only 2 points separate Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham while Liverpool are in pursuit of their local rivals Everton. Three points from this game will thus be crucial to each club’s hopes of achieving its ambitions. With Benitez’ spectre looming large, this game is sure to be a real potboiler.
Liverpool will be looking to get back to winning ways after two frustrating goalless draws against West Ham and Reading. The Reds have shown inconsistent form throughout the season which has led to them falling out of the race for the Champions League spots. The jury is still out on Brendan Rodgers’ project and it is likely that Kopites will have to endure another season without Champions League football next year. The team has managed to get only one win so far against teams which sit above them in the league and Brendan Rodgers will be hoping to change that this weekend. A win is a must for Liverpool even at the expense of their much loved former manager.
Chelsea too have had a disappointing campaign after the highs of winning the Champions League. Roman Abramovic splashed the cash over the summer getting some of the top talents such as Eden Hazard and Oscar. The Blues started off as one of the title favourites but have failed to live up to the expectations of fans. The sacking of Di Matteo and the appointment of a man who once famously said he’ll never manage Chelsea failed to turn their fortunes, Chelsea now sit 20 points behind the league leaders, are out of both domestic cups and are dangerously close to finishing out of the top 4 for the second consecutive season. Interim manager Benitez would hope he can string a run of wins till the end of the season and secure Champions League qualification for Chelsea.
Team News and Tactical Brief
Brendan Rodgers’ medical team have done a sterling job to keep injuries to a minimum this season. Joe Allen will miss the rest of the season after his shoulder operation while Fabio Borini and Martin Kelly are close to returning to first team action. Raheem Sterling is still recuperating from his thigh injury and is unlikely to feature for the rest of the campaign.
Rodgers will have a real selection headache ahead of this game. His team have failed to score in the last 2 matches and he will have to find a way to get the goals flowing again without compromising on defensive stability. Liverpool have kept quite a few clean sheets this season but have been guilty of conceding soft goals.
With a win crucial to Liverpool’s hopes Rodgers is likely to go ahead with an attacking 4-3-3 formation at home against Chelsea. Liverpool’s defence should be unchanged from the previous game, however the form of Glen Johnson in recent weeks should be a reason for concern for Rodgers.
Pepe Reina, who had a good game against Reading, is going to start at goal while Daniel Agger and Jamie Carragher will once again pair up at centre back and will be entrusted with keeping a star studded Chelsea attack at bay. Johnson and Enrique will provide the width down the flanks for Liverpool and will look to get forward at every opportunity.
Lucas will be entrusted with the unenviable job of shackling Spanish maestro Juan Mata. The former Valencia man is in his second season with the club and has been in imperious form. Mata has been a shining light in a disappointing season for The Blues and his nomination for the PFA Player Of The Year award is thoroughly deserved.
Gerrard will once again don the play-maker role for the side but will also have an important defensive job to do against Lampard and Ramirez. Benitez’s teams are renowned for their pressing and Liverpool’s captain is unlikely to be given much time on the ball. Gerrard is unlikely to break forward and expose the midfield in this game.
Henderson has put in a string of good performances this season and his energy will be important to help Liverpool control the midfield. Henderson will play the box to box midfielder role for Liverpool and shall look to track opposition midfield runners like Ramirez whilst also joining in the attack at every possible opportunity.
Coutinho has been brilliant for Liverpool since his £ 8.5 million move from Inter Milan. The Brazilian has made a series of attacking contributions for his side and has also been fairly efficient at pressing the ball high up the pitch. He will start on the left for Liverpool. Downing has put in a string of steady performances and will provide the balance to the attack on the opposite flank. League top scorer Luis Suarez will be the spearhead to the attack and will look to add to take his tally past the 30 goals mark.
Rodgers will instruct his forward line to be mobile to drag Chelsea defenders out of position and get in behind the defence. Sturridge is likely to start from the bench for this game but might have an important role to play as a substitute. The former Chelsea forward will be eager to score against his former club and his power and pace may come in handy against a tiring Chelsea defence.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1): Reina; Johnson, Skrtel, Agger, Enrique; Lucas, Gerrard, Henderson; Coutinho, Suarez, Downing.
Rafa Benitez has a stunning array of talent at his disposal at Chelsea but has failed to get them performing as a unit through the course of the season. The Champions League winning manager has most of his squad fit for the game but is likely to miss Ashley Cole and Gary Cahill who are struggling with match fitness. Marko Marin also misses out in this game due to a thigh injury while Romeu remains a long term injury absentee.
Benitez favours a compact 4-2-3-1 formation and he is likely to use the same against Liverpool and try and win on the counter attack. Petr Cech will start at goal for Chelsea and might have a busy day against the likes of Suarez.
John Terry scored two goals in the London derby against Fulham but it wouldn’t be surprising to see Benitez confining him to the bench for this game. Luiz looks certain to start while Benitez may shift Ivanovic back to centre back to counter the threat of Suarez.
Azpilicueta will have play an important role in keeping Coutinho quiet for this game while Ryan Bertrand will start on the opposite flank at left back. Both defenders are accomplished going forward and will look to join in the attacks.
Lampard has been in fine form this season and Benitez is likely to use him as a holding midfielder. The Englishman has not been offered a new contract yet by his club but going by recent performances, Chelsea could do with someone of his experience in the side. Ramirez will play the role of a box-to-box midfielder and will look link up with the Chelsea attacking quartet.
Oscar, Mata and Hazard are all likely to get starts against Liverpool and the trio will look to provide real incisiveness to the Chelsea attack. All three are highly intelligent players and have excellent positional awareness in addition to wonderful technique and skill on the ball. Liverpool defenders are likely to have a torrid time against the trio who are likely to interchange and float into pockets of space all game.
Demba Ba will provide the focal point to the attack for Chelsea and his power and hold up play will be important in getting Chelsea’s talented trio involved in the attack. Demba Ba is a wonderful finisher and he is likely to bury and chances which come his way. Liverpool will thus have to find a way to isolate the Senegalese striker.
Probable Starting Line-Up (4-2-3-1): Cech; Azpilicueta, Ivanovic, Luiz, Bertrand; Lampard, Ramirez; Hazard, Mata, Oscar; Ba
Players To Watch Out For
Luis Suarez (Liverpool)
Liverpool’s top scorer has been prolific throughout the season but has recently gone 4 games without scoring. With Van Persie hot on his heels for the Golden Boot award Luis Suarez could very well come good in this game. The Uruguayan’s fighting spirit has seen him embroiled in quite a few controversies but there can be no questions of his footballing ability.
Suarez has risen to the occasion on multiple occasions and Liverpool fans will once again be counting on him to score against Chelsea. Suarez has been in imperious form playing in the ‘false 9’ position and has the ability to find space in the tightest areas. Liverpool’s No. 7 will drift around the penalty area and shall look to dribble and maze his way past the Chelsea defenders.
Expect plenty of nutmegs and darting runs behind the defence from Suarez throughout the game. Goal No. 30 could soon be on the cards for the tricky forward.
Eden Hazard (Chelsea)
Since his big money move from Ligue 1, Eden Hazard has put in some steady performances and has occasionally showed flashes of brilliance for Chelsea. While much of the focus will be on Juan Mata, it is likely that Eden Hazard will have a pivotal role to play in deciding the outcome of the match.
Blessed with great pace, balance and dribbling ability, Hazard will be a constant threat down the flanks and his unpredictability could help Chelsea unlock the Liverpool defence. Hazard will look to link up with his other Chelsea team-mates and create goal scoring opportunities. The talented Belgian is not afraid to take shots from range and may trouble Pepe Reina from outside the penalty area.
Liverpool 2 – 2 Chelsea
Liverpool and Chelsea will both be fired up for this game and will look to get maximum points. When the two teams locked horns at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea looked clearly the stronger side but Liverpool were able to walk away with a point. The home advantage may put things in favour for The Reds but Chelsea seem to have too much firepower. We will go for a scoring draw in this game.