Liverpool are going play in a final (of sorts) in Istanbul. Liverpool are going to play Chelsea in Europe. Both these statements when said in isolation, are loaded with meaning and memories for the Reds. They will get to relive the memories of both those statements when they play in the UEFA Super Cup on Wednesday night. Yes, the venue is not the Ataturk Stadium where Liverpool scripted the most miraculous of Champions League wins. Wednesday’s game is set to be played in BJK Vodafone Park, Besiktas’ new home ground. But then, Chelsea are also not the force of a few years back that were one of the best teams in the world. This Chelsea is a bit weaker and meeker as they showed on Sunday at Old Trafford.
Liverpool go into this game after beating Norwich City 4-1 at Anfield in the Premier League curtain-raiser. When they scored four first-half goals It seemed for a while that they were carrying on in the form, they showed in the 2nd half of the Community Shield on the previous weekend. But in the 2nd half on Friday, even against the newly promoted Canaries, they did show some defensive frailty. That and the fact that Alisson is out for two months with a calf injury sustained in the first half against Norwich will be the top worries for Jurgen Klopp. His players are exuding a will to win more silverware and the Super Cup represents their second such chance after the Reds missed out narrowly on penalties against Manchester City in the Community Shield. Klopp will hope that his players match their performance with their intent to win on Wednesday night.
For Chelsea, Wednesday represents a chance to redeem themselves slightly after their terrible performance on Sunday against Manchester United at Old Trafford. The Blues played well in the first half and seemed like they could give the Red Devils a fight, but in the second half the defence fell apart, conceding three goals – the last two in 95 seconds. Chelsea’s heavy loss at Old Trafford followed a decent run in their preseason friendlies when they beat Barcelona (2-1) and RB Salzburg (5-3). They also drew 2-2 against Borussia Monchengladbach. Frank Lampard will be hoping that his side can bring back some of that preseason form and bounce back against the Reds.
- Liverpool have played in eight Super Cup clashes and have won thrice – in 1977, 2001, and in 2005. Chelsea have played in four Super Cups and won once – in 1998.
- These two teams have never met in the Super Cup but they obviously have a long history. In 182 games going back to the start of the 20th century, Liverpool have won 78 and Chelsea have won 63 times, while 41 games have been drawn.
- In Europe, however, Chelsea are the English team that Liverpool have played the most. In the 10 European games between these two sides, both have won twice (in normal time, excluding extra time and penalties), while the rest of the games (6) have been drawn. Including extra time and penalties, the head to head match-up reads two wins to Liverpool and three to Chelsea.
- In the recent past as well, the Blues are the team that the Reds have struggled to beat, winning only once in last six encounters, losing twice and drawing thrice. That win came in April earlier this year when Sadio Mane and ex-Blue Mohamed Salah combined to give Liverpool a 2-0 win at Anfield.
While most opponents focus on Mohamed Salah as the key Liverpool forward to defend against, his partners in that forward line are equally formidable. While Sadio Mane did not get to play against Norwich, Roberto Firmino started and played 86 minutes. He did not score one of the four goals the Reds scored but he did create one. His assist was one of four key passes that he made. His total xG in that game was 1.24, with one out of four shots on target. Firmino will be hoping to continue in the same vein of form and also to eventually get on the score sheet on Wednesday.
Chelsea’s marquee signing this summer – Christian Pulisic did not get to start on Sunday at Old Trafford. He did come off the bench to play 32 minutes but by then Chelsea were completely on the defensive. He did have one shot from outside the box (xG=0.02) and he also managed a key pass, but to understand the threat he poses, his form from preseason needs to be taken into account. His xG in the three games mentioned above ranged from 0.21 to 0.33, shooting 2.3 times per game and shooting on target 1.3 times per game. He did score a brace against Salzburg, both the goals from fast-breaks with long passes that he brought down and then scored from one-on-one situations from inside the box. Lampard will be hoping to repeat that template on Wednesday, especially given the frailty that was noticeable in Liverpool’s defence on Friday.
For Liverpool, the lineup is likely to be Adrian; Alexander-Arnold, Matip, Van Dijk, Robertson; Henderson, Wijnaldum, Keita; Origi, Firmino, Salah. Sadio Mane will hope to feature at some point on Wednesday, as will Oxlade-Chamberlain, Keita and Lallana. Alisson however, is sidelined with a calf injury for the next couple of months, giving the summer signing Adrian an early run of games.
For Chelsea, the likely lineup could be Arrizabalaga; Azpilicueta, Christensen, Zouma, Alonso; Kovacic, Jorginho; Pedro, Barkley, Pulisic; Giroud . Lampard has several injury concerns to deal with including Ruben Loftus-Cheek. Callum Hudson-Odoi, and Antonio Rudiger – all three of whom are unlikely to feature. Willian and Kante, both of whom came back late from international duty could feature though.
It is rare to think of Liverpool as huge favourites in a clash with Chelsea but that is the case on Wednesday. In the first league game, the Reds gave glimpses of the form that won them the Champions League and paved the road to Istanbul. In Chelsea’s first game, they showed clear signs of not being at the same level as the side that brushed Arsenal aside in the Europa League final. Wednesday should be a victory to Liverpool.
Liverpool 2 – 0 Chelsea