Generally speaking, any league match amongst the big-six teams is bound to be an interesting affair. However, Liverpool versus Chelsea games have proven to be season-defining games in the recent past. The Blues’ defeat at Stamford Bridge last season was the first of the two defeats that prompted Antonio Conte to switch to a back-three. Chelsea went on a 13-match winning streak and became the clear favorites to win the title. In April 2014, Liverpool were the clear favorites to win the Premier League but a famous loss to Mourinho’s Chelsea at Anfield meant that the title “slipped” away from their hands. On Saturday evening, Chelsea visit Liverpool for what promises to be a very interesting match.
Liverpool are getting ready to host Chelsea after a debacle of sorts in Seville. After leading 0-3 at half-time, the Reds conceded three goals in the second half, the last one in injury time. While the end result was disappointing, the Reds can take heart from the fact that they scored three in a country where they had lost 1-0 in their previous three visits. They also scored three in a single game against Sevilla, who have been incredibly miserly at home this season. However, in the Premier League, Liverpool have had a good run after that miserable defeat against Tottenham. Three games, all three won by a margin of three goals, and the two at home – versus Huddersfield and Southampton have been won 3-0. While a few performances in Seville were disturbing, Liverpool will be confident of a better performance at home, especially against a top-four rival.
For a brief period in October, it did seem that Chelsea’s internal politics will begin clouding their results on the field. A loss to Crystal Palace was also followed by a draw and a loss to Roma in the Champions League. But since then, the Blues have been cruising. They have won last four league encounters at a canter and have just returned after dishing out a 0-4 thrashing to Qarabag in Azerbaijan. They have won their last two matches by four goals to none margins and if they were playing a non-top-six team in the league, they would definitely be the favorites. However, playing Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool two days after a long mid-week flight is a challenge. It is a challenge that Conte’s side did not have to deal with last season and one that seems to have troubled the Blues this season. But, given his side’s overall form, Conte will be hopeful that they will be able to hold their own at Anfield.
- In 50 Premier League matches, Liverpool have won 19, Chelsea have won 19 and 12 have been drawn. In the last five encounters between the two teams, Liverpool have won 2 and won 3.
- Liverpool have converted Anfield into a fortress of sorts, having conceded only one goal in last eight home games.
- Chelsea have the second-longest winning streak in Premier League this season. They have won their last four games on the trot, while Liverpool have won their last three Premier League games.
- This game will see the team with lowest passing accuracy among the top-six – Liverpool with 82.4%, go toe-to-toe with the team with the lowest possession among the top-six teams – Chelsea with 52.7%.
While currently Liverpool’s talisman is considered to be Mohamed Salah, the overworked Egyptian might find the encounter against his former side a bit challenging. Other than the international break, Salah has not had a lot of rest this season. On the other hand, Sadio Mane, who was Liverpool’s top scorer last season, has had a few injury-induced resting periods this season. Over the last two matches, Mane has put in great performances and he was at hand to nod in one of the three goals that Liverpool scored at Sevilla on Tuesday night. With an xG per 90 minutes of 0.39 and xA (expected assists) per 90 minutes of 0.22, he continues to match Salah’s threat on the other wing. His expected stats are as of now better than his expected stats from last season, with a 5 percent higher chance of goal contribution per 90 minutes. The Senegalese star will be keen to get into a scoring groove and will relish the opportunity against Chelsea.
In 2015-16, Eden Hazard’s magic seemed to have died out. But under Antonio Conte, Eden Hazard has started to shine again, albeit not as brightly as he did in that wonderful season. With six goals and three assists in all club competitions this season, he is in fine form. In Batshuayi’s absence, Hazard is also perhaps the only player that can help Chelsea use the 3-5-2 formation that Conte talked about earlier in the week. An xG per 90 minutes of 0.28 and xA per 90 minutes of 0.22 does not look world class but it does translate to a 50% goal involvement probability per 90 minutes. Against Liverpool’s weak central defense, a two-men forward-line of Hazard and Morata can wreak havoc and Hazard will look forward to improving his expected stats at Anfield on Saturday.
Nine of Liverpool’s ten outfield players have started against Southampton and Chelsea, so the Reds might feel a bit of fatigue. While Adam Lallana is “knocking on the doors”, he might not be fit enough to start versus Chelsea. Joel Matip has not featured in last two games but is expected to start on Saturday. After their terrible performances against Sevilla, Klopp might be tempted to replace Alberto Moreno with Andrew Robertson and Henderson with Emre Can. Joe Gomez might be retained at right back to provide more defensive stability, while the front three of Mane-Firmino-Salah will be retained due to their great form. Coutinho will slot in on the left midfield slot, while Wijnaldum should retain his midfield spot ahead of James Milner.
Antonio Conte praised his 3-5-2 formation to which he switched after the defeat to Roma in Champions League. In two matches against Manchester United and West Brom, the Blues have not conceded a goal using this tactic. Thus Conte is expected to use it against Liverpool as well. If he does, the midfield will consist of Kante, Bakayoko, and Fabregas with Zappacosta and Alonso on the flanks. Eden Hazard and Alvaro Morata are likely to lead the line while Christensen, Gary Cahill and Azipilicueta are likely to be the three-men defense. Many of these players were rested during the mid-week trip to Baku and that will suit the Blues better.
For Liverpool, Saturday’s match is about winning against a top-four rival and strengthening their top-four credentials. For Chelsea, it is about keeping pace with the Manchester sides ahead of them. These objectives ensure that both the sides will treat Saturday’s game as a must-win game. Both the sides have the firepower to score a few goals and both sides are fatigued in their own way. These balancing forces on both sides will possibly lead to one more score draw, which would be a third consecutive score draw between these sides at Anfield.
Liverpool 2 – 2 Chelsea