On Saturday afternoon, the best home defence in the league comes up against the second-best away attack. It seems easy to pick out which team would have each record. However, as strange as it seems, it is the other way around. Liverpool have the joint best defensive record at home, having only conceded a single goal in six games, while Chelsea are only surpassed by the high-flying Manchester City when playing away. One of these records is going to be dented by 7:30 on Saturday night.
Liverpool vs Chelsea – The Big Match Preview
With three back-to-back victories, Liverpool are on a good run in the league. However, Sevilla brought them crashing to Earth with the late equaliser in the Champions League. Although, prior to kick-off, a draw would have been viewed as a positive result. The nature of their capitulation will make it seem much more like a loss. The question is, will the result damage their recent run of solid form at Anfield?
Despite Chelsea’s wobble last month in the Champions League and inconsistent form, they have recorded five consecutive league victories. The Blues’ form has been revitalised after their victory against Manchester United. Having guaranteed their place in the Champions League knockout stages Wednesday night, they will come to the match full of confidence.
Liverpool, for the first time in the season, have an almost fully fit squad. Right-back Nathaniel Clyne is out with a long-term back injury and while Joel Matip was not risked away at Sevilla, he should be available for the weekend.
Chelsea are likewise with a relatively fit squad. Michy Batshuayi will not make the trip to Anfield. However, Victor Moses is returning to fitness and may make the journey.
An almost fully fit squad will provide a welcome headache for Jürgen Klopp. It will give him the option to freshen up his side after the tough mid-week Champions League game.
Adan Lallana could be in line for a first start after being out of action so far this season. Lallana has been back in full training for over a week and his return could well bring energy to the Liverpool midfield. Emre Can will also be hoping for a recall after his recent lack of game time. The need for a more physical presence in midfield may see him selected over Gini Wijnaldum.
In contrast, the attacking positions are unlikely to change. The trio of Firmino, Mane and Salah has been consistently devastating in the Premier League. There may be an argument to rest one of the front three. By the end of Tuesday night, they each looked lacking in energy. With Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Daniel Sturridge and Dominic Solanke on the bench, Klopp has options. However, he will likely go with his current attack and give Sturridge and Solanke the chance to haunt their old club as second-half substitutes.
The horror display of Alberto Moreno in Seville will increase calls for the return of Andrew Robertson. The young Scottish left-back has not put a foot wrong when given a chance so far. Klopp may desire to take Moreno out of the spotlight and give Robertson a further chance to stake his claim for the left-back role.
Whatever Klopp decides there is unlikely to be a change from the 4-3-3 formation.
Although changes were made for the Champions League, Antonio Conte is likely to revert to the side that performed for him so well in the last two fixtures. With the return of N’golo Kante to the starting line up the performances of Chelsea have improved and the difficulty of picking the team that Conte will use has become easier.
It seems unlikely that David Luiz will be brought back into the side. The positive performances of Andreas Christensen have cemented his place in the Chelsea back three. He, Gary Cahill and César Azpilicueta will likely make up Chelsea’s three-man defence
Victor Moses is close to returning from injury, however, this match has come too soon for him to be given a start ahead of the impressive Davide Zappacota.
Recently, Cesc Fabregas has been selected to start ahead of Willian or Pedro. Conte has preferred to dominate the midfield, relying on the quality of Eden Hazard and Álvaro Morata to score the goals. However, with Liverpool’s defensive frailties he may be inclined to go with an extra attacker. Willian’s two mid-week goals show the attacking threat he can offer for Chelsea. Yet it is still most likely we will see it coming from the bench.
Chelsea will, therefore, probably line up in a 3-5-1-1 formation.
The game looks set to be won or lost on two key factors.
Chelsea have demonstrated their ability to dominate the midfield against other top Premiership teams. Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur both suffered when Chelsea’s midfield stifled their play. Liverpool have struggled when at a numerical and physical disadvantage in the centre of the park. With the wing-backs joining the three central midfielders Chelsea will look to flood the midfield.
How Liverpool deal with the extra men and the energy of N’golo Kante and Tiémoué Bakayoko will determine much. They will need to move the ball quickly and with quality to the forwards. However, if Chelsea dominate the midfield, they have the ability to cut off the supply to Liverpool’s attack. If Chelsea control the ball, with Hazard and Morata up front, they will create chances.
Chelsea’s wing-backs will have a huge impact on the match. They will be required to provide the width for a side who without them are bereft of wide players. Liverpool are a team which has shown a weakness for quality balls played into the box. In Morata, Chelsea have a forward who will thrive on good crosses.
Yet, the wing-backs will have to time their runs correctly. Liverpool at times this season have exposed the dangers of employing a three-man defence. Chelsea can not afford to allow Mohammed Salah to get 1-on-1 with Gary Cahill. The dangerous Egyptian will relish the opportunity to target the far slower centre-back. It is only with the help of Marcos Alonso that Chelsea will be able to keep him quiet. Salah will be determined to impress against his old employers who gave him little opportunity while at Stamford Bridge. If given space, he has the ability to win the game for the Reds.
Liverpool will hope for an instant reaction after the game in Sevilla while Chelsea will be just as keen to cement their place in the top four and keep their momentum going.
A draw is a result which would frustrate both sides. Yet, Liverpool will be determined to get back to strong defensive performances and Conte will not be willing to risk it all to win an away game at Anfield. Therefore, a score draw looks likely.