Although the Premier League title has been decided, there are many valuable spots that still need to be decided. At the bottom, Southampton are still fighting in 18th place to get out of the relegation zone. While at the top, Liverpool, in their characteristic style have not yet secured a top-four position. Their top-four spot is under a challenge from Chelsea and it is to Stamford Bridge that the Reds travel to on Sunday evening.
Chelsea are four points behind Tottenham in fourth, with both teams yet to play three games. But the Blues are also just five points behind Liverpool, who have just two games to play. Surprisingly, Chelsea have not played a league game at home since drawing against West Ham almost a month ago. But, they have been on a roll away from home, beating Southampton, Burnley, and Swansea away. Since that turnaround from two-goals down at St. Mary’s, the Blues have been in good form but since getting beaten by Tottenham at the Bridge, they have also not faced a top-four rival. Their record against other top-six teams reads (W2, D3, L4). This is the tenth and the final game against that elite bunch and Chelsea need to win it to keep their hopes of qualifying for next season’s Champions League alive.
Champions League is what will be on the minds of most Liverpool fans. But not next season’s. Rather, the final that awaits their team on the evening on May 26 in Kiev. The Reds laboured hard and lost in Rome but still, their first leg heroics were enough for them to go through the semi-finals. Indeed, the Champions League final is the biggest game for Liverpool, but their manager was very quick to point out that his side needs to play two more semi-final games before playing that final – against Chelsea on Sunday and against Brighton next weekend. Jurgen Klopp’s assessment is correct. If Liverpool manage to draw against Chelsea, they are almost guaranteed a top-four spot; if they win either of the two games, they definitely are. But Klopp perhaps would like to attain the target by beating the Blues at Stamford Bridge this Sunday and in the process become the first manager to win in three consecutive trips to the Bridge.
- Chelsea are winless in their last six Premier League meetings with Liverpool (D3 L3). They last had a longer winless run against them in the top-flight between 1985 and 1990 (10 games).
- Liverpool have won their last two Premier League games at Stamford Bridge – the only side to win three in a row away at the ground in the competition were Blackburn, between 1993-94 and 1995-96.
- Chelsea have failed to win either of their last two Premier League home games – they last went three without a win at Stamford Bridge in May 2016.
- Liverpool’s run of 13 league games without a clean sheet against Chelsea is their longest such run against a specific opponent in the top-flight since a streak of 17 against Blackburn (between 1947 and 1995).
- The Reds haven’t failed to score in two consecutive Premier League games since August 2015, vs Arsenal and West Ham when Brendan Rodgers was the manager.
Eden Hazard has been in patchy form this season. But still, he has managed 16 goals and 7 assists in all competitions – 12 and 4 respectively in the league. If it was not Hazard that we were talking about that return would be regarded very highly. He has also struck some form recently scoring one goal in that excellent comeback against the Saints and then creating two assists in the last two games. If Liverpool are as lax as they were during the week, especially at the back, the Belgian would punish them.
Salah had a nervous outing in Rome on Wednesday night. He is chasing the 47-goal record set by Ian Rush and he is currently at 43 in all competitions. He is also just one short of the 32 goals record in a 38-game Premier League season. Records beckon Salah but he is running out of time. Two goal-less outings in the last two appearances means he will be itching to get on the goal-sheet on Sunday. Phenomenal xG and xAssist numbers could mean that if he is given time and space, he will definitely punish his old club.
For Chelsea, Marcos Alonso is back after serving his three-match suspension and will return to the starting XI. Conte has to decide between Morata and Giroud up front but given the Frenchman’s record (last six Premier League goals as a sub only), the Italian might start with Morata and hope to sub-in Giroud. Gary Cahill may pip Christensen to the starting lineup as Conte might go for the more experienced player.
Liverpool need to rotate their squad but they will not be able to. Not significantly at least. Season-ending injuries will continue to keep Joel Matip, Emre Can, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain out, while returning Lallana and Joe Gomez both are still doubtful. Two positions Klopp can easily rotate are the full-backs as both Clyne and Moreno can relieve Alexander-Arnold and Robertson respectively.
Two years ago, Liverpool were chasing another European final and they had ignored their League position to end up outside of all European competitions for one year. This time, they are in a better position. Jurgen Klopp has missed no opportunity to remind his players that this Chelsea game is as important as the final in Kiev. He will be hoping that on Sunday, his players are as focused as he is on ensuring Champions League group stages for Liverpool next season. Chelsea also know that this is their last tough game and will attack with vigour. It would be an interesting spectacle but it is likely to end in a draw.
Prediction: Chelsea 2 – 2 Liverpool