A Liverpool – Chelsea game in the final run in of the league always brings excitement. From Suarez’s sharp teeth to Gerrard’s slippery feet, this fixture is one of the marquee events of the season and when it occurs in the last few game weeks of the season, it is loaded with extraordinary relevance for both teams. Like it is this time. On Sunday, when Liverpool host Chelsea, the Reds will be aiming for all three points to make it that much harder for Manchester City to defend the title. Chelsea, on the other hand, will want the three points to make sure they do not end up playing Europa League again next season. A win by the Blues will surely see Chelsea fans rushing to use their Betfair sign up offer as confidence for a top 4 spot will grow.
Liverpool continued their push on both fronts – the Premier League as well as the Champions League – as they beat Porto at Anfield on Tuesday, following a come from behind victory against Southampton last Sunday that reinstated them at the top of the league table. While Porto might not be the toughest of teams in the quarterfinals of Champions League, the tie is not decided yet and the second leg beckons the Reds on Wednesday night, just three days after a crucial game against one of their biggest rivals. As if the rivalry was not enough to add pressure on the Reds, they cannot afford to drop any points at least at the time of writing this. Manchester City will play Crystal Palace in London earlier on Sunday and if City drop points, even then the pressure will be on Liverpool to capitalize on the opportunity. The Reds will need to steel their nerves and make sure that Chelsea leave pointless from Anfield, which has surprisingly become rare in recent years.
Chelsea under Maurizio Sarri are not the ruthless Blues under Jose Mourinho but still they hold an upper hand in this rivalry, at least in the recent years. Chelsea under Mourinho made sure that Liverpool did not get the much coveted and awaited title in 2013-14 and Sarri’s men can also ensure a similar result. The Blues are picking up form at the right time, having won the last three Premier League games and also the first leg of the Europa League quarterfinal against Sparta Praha in Prague on Thursday night. Eden Hazard is having one of his best seasons at Chelsea. Most importantly, however, the Blues are fighting for a top-four spot with the other four “Big Six” teams – Tottenham, Arsenal and Manchester United. Currently third in the table, Chelsea might find themselves starting the game in fourth position, as Tottenham would have played their game on Saturday. Playing a Sunday game after a Europa League game on Thursday night is a tough proposition and Chelsea will be keen to avoid that fate for the next season.
- There are very few teams in the Premier League over whom Liverpool do not enjoy supremacy. Chelsea are one of them. The Blues have not lost a Premier League game at Anfield in last six seasons. (W2 D4) That is the longest winless run that Liverpool have endured against a single opponent at home.
- In fact, Chelsea have only lost twice to Liverpool in the last 16 meetings (W6 D8) and both those defeats came at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea have already won at Anfield this season, knocking Liverpool out from EFL Cup with a 2-1 win. However, no side since Arsenal in 2006-07 have won twice at Anfield in the same season.
- Liverpool are unbeaten in 37 league games at Anfield, which is their second-longest run since they went 63 unbeaten at home in the league between Feb 1978 and Dec 1980.
- Although Chelsea have lost their last five Premier League away games against the fellow top-six opponents by an aggregate score of 1-11, they are returning to form in the league and in Europe. They have won three Premier League games in a row for the first time since September 2018, when they had won the first five Premier League games of the season.
- It is Maurizio Sarri’s first visit to Anfield. Only three of last 32 visiting managers have tasted victory on the first visit – Louis van Gaal in March 2015, Slaven Bilic in August 2015 and Paul Clement in January 2017.
The Liverpool skipper has hit form at the right moment and perhaps for the right opponents. Having had two brilliant appearances in the Reds’ last two games, he will want to make an impact in this crucial game as well. Henderson has contributed only two goals this season and both were in his 30 minutes cameo at St. Mary’s last Sunday. But the way he ran the game against Porto midweek left no doubt about the form that he is hitting. As expected his xG90 or xA90 stats are not high but his xGBuildup90 (Total xG of every possession without key passes and shots) is 0.51, which means that Henderson adds half an expected goal to Liverpool just by getting involved in the buildup for 90 minutes.
Eden Hazard is the talisman for Chelsea this season. He has contributed to 28 Premier League goals this season – scoring 16 and assisting 12. This is his most prolific contribution since being involved in 36 Ligue 1 goals for Lille in 2011-12. More importantly, those 28 goals are almost half of the 57 goals that Chelsea have scored so far. xG90 + xA90 of 0.75 and a xGBuildUp90 of 0.34 indicate that when he is not scoring or creating goals, the Belgian is likely to get involved in goal buildup. He also likes playing against Liverpool, having scored six goals in 11 appearances against them.
Liverpool will welcome back Andrew Robertson who sat out the Porto game due to a suspension. Joe Gomez made the bench on Wednesday and is likely to feature on the bench again on Sunday. Oxlade-Chamberlain, however, is unlikely to be deemed match-fit for such an important game. Dejan Lovren got the nod over Joel Matip on Wednesday and could continue to partner Van Dijk on Sunday. In the midfield, Naby Keita, who has scored two goals in two games could complete the triumvirate with Henderson and Fabinho.
Maurizio Sarri made a lot of changes to side that played in Prague on Thursday and he will have his main XI fresh on Sunday. Callum Hodson Odoi could get a nod in place of Willian or Pedro as they both played on Thursday. Sarri is fortunate to have a largely fit squad at this crucial juncture in the season.
In any other past season, it would have been a relatively easy fixture to call, given Chelsea’s supremacy in the recent years. However, this season, Liverpool have time and again showed that they can bounce back from the most difficult of situations. That attitude, along with a vociferous Anfield might just be enough for Liverpool to keep up their fight in the title race.
Liverpool 2 – 1 Chelsea