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Preview: Chelsea [H]

Liverpool will be looking to avoid their fourth defeat on the spin all competitions, when table-toppers Chelsea come to Anfield on Tuesday, looking to continue their surge at the top – possibly putting the final nail in the latter’s title challenge.

The Reds have been in a wretched run of form lately – and the defeat against Wolves in the FA Cup on Saturday compounded a miserable week for Jurgen Klopp’s side, who have only won once in eight in all competitions. It’s also been a week which has confirmed that there’ll be no silverware on its way to Anfield this season.

Therefore, it leaves Liverpool concentrating on the league, and trying to spur themselves on again in order to regain their slim hopes of catching Chelsea at the top of the Premier League. A defeat against the Blues will leave the Reds battling to obtain a spot in Europe’s elite next year.

And considering the form the side has been in recently, it’d definitely be an achievement and a half.

 

Chelsea, meanwhile, are six points clear at the top – and 10 points ahead of Liverpool. It’d take a remarkable collapse from them and the latter to win their next 10 games to knock Antonio Conte’s side off their perch; they’re comfortably sitting on it at the moment.

Anyone who’s been watching the two sides play of late will clearly see that both Liverpool and Chelsea are poles apart at the moment. Nobody’s expecting us to catch Chelsea come the end of the season, so the priority has to be consolidating our stranglehold on the top 4.

The one encouraging omen for Klopp & the team would be their immaculate record against the sides in the top 6. The Reds are yet to lose against Chelsea, Tottenham, Arsenal, Man City or Man United this season – and with home advantage favouring Liverpool, just maybe they could leave the visitors with something to think about.

 

My Starting XI

This is the team I think Klopp should go for on Tuesday.

Formation: 3-4-3

Mignolet, Trent Alexander Arnold [or Clyne, if fit], Matip, Milner, Lallana, Henderson, Can, Wijnaldum, Origi, Firmino, Coutinho

I don’t think we should risk playing Sadio Mané in this game, even though he’s eligible following his return from the AFCON. As he missed the vital penalty on Saturday which saw Senegal knocked out to Cameroon, Mane looked heartbroken afterwards – and may need some time to get rid of the fatigue & rebuild his confidence too, which could possibly be low at the moment. He could be central for Klopp’s Plan A if required –  but it may be a little premature to throw him in like that.

And, with regards to the 3-4-3 – I cannot stress how important it is. It’s key that we don’t go with the 4-3-3, as Klopp’s done in recent weeks. Teams who’ve come to Anfield of late [i.e Plymouth, Swansea, Southampton, Wolves] have sussed it, and a 3-4-3 could be the Plan B we so desperately need without Mané in the side. What’s baffling though, is Klopp’s reluctance to delve into this market at this point.

Another possible option is the 4-4-2 diamond without Mané in the side. It’d leave Wijnaldum with more of an attacking role to play of the team [which he hasn’t fully contributed of yet], and it’d see no Emre Can in the side too, likely. Can has the tendency to be ring-rusty & struggle to complete any passes when at his fatiguing worst – so these are two possible alternatives for the manager.

 

Prediction

The course of this game really depends on the personnel & formation that Klopp uses. If he persists with a 4-3-3 as he’s done all season, I can see Liverpool getting hammered. The Reds have already been found out from their shape. Teams such as Swansea, Southampton & now Wolves have come to Anfield and sussed that tactical vision.

How?

By simply putting several men behind the ball for when Liverpool are in possession, playing compact in defence, flooding the midfield, forcing them wide [which is our Achilles]  – and hitting the Reds on the counter too, with their devastating pace.

What’s worrying is that there’s been no Plan B whatsoever from Klopp, and the lack of players being brought is also a mystery. Without Mane, it’s evident the 4-3-3 is flawed, it feels like there’s apathy in the players.

However, if Klopp changed his methods for the visit of Antonio Conte’s Chelsea into a 3-4-3 or a 4-4-2 diamond, there’s maybe a chance. The only problem though with the 4-4-2 diamond, is that Clyne’s and Moreno’s attacking play are poor, meaning that we could struggle for good crosses or width. Whereas, with the 3-4-3, it gives Liverpool the opportunity to impose their pressing game high up the pitch when attacking.

Liverpool’s record against teams near the top of the table offers some respite, as already mentioned – and with his main man back, Klopp will be looking to silence the narrative of the media. But with our current form, I’m skeptical about that.

 

Prediction: Liverpool 1-2 Chelsea

Previous Meetings

5: Chelsea 1-0 Liverpool [Capital One Cup 2nd leg, January 27 2015], Stamford Bridge

The Reds came into this game with a chance to book a Wembley ticket against Tottenham – but they had to win at Stamford Bridge to do so. Chelsea, being champions elect, were favourites for this one.

The game wasn’t without its incidents – Diego Costa’s cynical stamps to Emre Can & Martin Skrtel somehow went unpunished, but Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool took the game to extra time.

Branislav Ivanovic’s header from a free-kick won the game for Chelsea, once again ensuring Liverpool missed out on silverware in the Capital One Cup at the expense of Jose Mourinho’s side.

4: Chelsea 1-1 Liverpool [Premier League, May 10 2015], Stamford Bridge

This was simply an exercise in being an end-of-season-game for both sides. Chelsea had clinched the title with a 1-0 home win against Crystal Palace 7 days earlier, and were parading their celebrations at Stamford Bridge. Liverpool, meanwhile, had very slim hopes of a Champions League spot for the following season [albeit still had a narrow chance mathematically].

It looked like the Blues, of all people, would put the final nail in the coffin of our title hopes – when an unmarked John Terry headed home from a set-piece delivery.

Gerrard, however, silenced the Chelsea choir, who were taunting him all game with ‘do not slip’ cautions, and what not. He headed home from a free kick with Lallana delivered at the far post.

There were no other talking points – bar Cesc Fabregas’ crude challenge on Raheem Sterling which should have saw the former get red-carded.

Of course, there was Chelsea fans, showing the class that had evaded them for years – with the majority of them standing up to give Stevie G a memorable standing ovation. But that was about it.

 

3: Chelsea 1-3 Liverpool [Premier League, October 31 2015], Stamford Bridge.

What a difference five months can make.

Following their title triumph in 2014/15, Chelsea were tipped by many to continue their role as defending champions of the Premier League. However, to the surprise of the neutrals, but the delight of every Liverpool fan, they were on their way to making the worst defence to a title in the history of the Premier League.

Ramires got Chelsea off to a flyer when he headed home in the early stages, but a fine angled finish from Coutinho made it all square at the break. And, in the second half, Mourinho was given the nightmare he dreaded.

Philippe Coutinho’s deflected effort sailed over the helpless Asmir Begovic – and Christian Benteke, of all people, sealed the misery of the droves in Stamford Bridge [bar a bouncing away end], when he slotted home into the bottom-left corner.

It confirmed Jurgen Klopp’s first win as Liverpool manager, as the Chelsea hierarchy began to slowly lose patience.

2: Liverpool 1-1 Chelsea [Premier League, May 11 2016], Anfield. 

Liverpool had booked their place in the Europa League final with a 3-0 thumping of Villarreal at Anfield. They were looking to build on that, with a win against Guus Hiddink’s visitors at Anfield, in what was the final home league match of the season. The Reds were out of the frame for a CL spot – as they were looking to end an encouraging season with a flourish.

Chelsea had embarked on a small resurgence since the turmoil of the late Jose Mourinho era at Chelsea, but they were as good as mid-table – thus had virtually nothing bar pride to play for.

It wasn’t a surprise, therefore, that this game lacked any tempo or substance to it. Liverpool looked full of fatigue following their exploits against Watford a few days earlier, and a superb Eden Hazard opener gave what looked to be a rare home defeat for the hosts, up until the late, late stages.

A Christian Benteke header from a Begovic parry ensured the points were shared.

1: Chelsea 1-2 Liverpool [Premier League, September 16 2016], Stamford Bridge

In a rare Friday night kick-off, Liverpool were looking to build on their 4-1 thumping of reigning champions Leicester at Anfield with a decent showing here at Stamford Bridge.

They were very quick off the blocks too – a rare Dejan Lovren goal from a set piece gave the visitor a deserved lead – but a Jordan Henderson crackerjack made the scoreline fairer on the balance of play.

Liverpool had marshalled Chelsea’s attacking threat well, up until the second half. Diego Costa tapped home from a Nemanja Matic ball, and just as Chelsea revved up the pressure, the Reds coped – with the CBs particularly impressing.

Jurgen Klopp’s side held on, though, for a superb 2-1 win away at the Bridge – fully deserved one too. Who can forget Klopp’s hugs at the end, too?

 

Odds

Back Jurgen Klopp’s Reds to ambush the Chelsea party at Anfield at 6/4 – a draw at 23/10, and finally a Chelsea win at 9/5, with Paddy Power.

Both teams to score at 8/11.

Written by Stephen Lindell (@SteLindellLFC)

 

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