FA Cup, in addition to being the oldest cup competition in the world, is many things. In earlier rounds it is the chance for top teams’ bench to shine, just like Liverpool’s bench has in the third and fourth rounds. At some stages, it offers a chance for redemption for sides that have suffered setbacks in other competitions. Perhaps that is how, both Liverpool and Chelsea will look at their upcoming FA Cup fifth round tie at Stamford Bridge, as they both are coming into this game after major setbacks.
Chelsea are coming into this tie having lost twice and draw twice in the last five games. Albeit those losses did come against Manchester United and more recently against Bayern Munich, those teams have not covered themselves in glory this season. Perhaps more worrisome for manager Frank Lampard would be the draw that his side eked out at Bournemouth on Saturday night. Lampard’s team needed an 84th-minute equalizer from Marcos Alonso to snatch a point from the game. Prior to Saturday’s game, Chelsea were schooled at home (0-3) by a resurgent Bayern Munich in the Champions League last 16 first leg. Results such as these have ensured that Chelsea’s only realistic hope of securing silverware is FA Cup. It would not have been much of a hope when the draw was conducted a few weeks back as they had drawn the runaway league leaders Liverpool. However, given the Reds’ recent form, Chelsea might believe that they have a more realistic chance of going through on Tuesday night.
If Chelsea have suffered some bad results, by their own standards, Liverpool were ignominious in their last game – their 3-0 loss to Watford. Strutting to Vicarage Road on the back of 44 league games without a loss, Jurgen Klopp’s men lost the plot completely. This was not one of those usual slash and grab long ball wins that teams from the lower end of the league have generally inflicted on Klopp’s Liverpool in the past. Watford literally outplayed Liverpool, at least on the attacking front. Watford’s xG for the game was 2.73, while Liverpool’s xG was 0.20. But this was perhaps the trough of the slump that Klopp’s side seems to have hit since their one-week vacation in early February. Since then Liverpool had to labour hard to win against Norwich City and West Ham United, while they lost to Atletico Madrid in Spain in their Champions League last 16 first leg. Despite the loss against Watford, Liverpool will believe that they can win the league title – they are a mere 4 wins away from it. However, perhaps a double or a treble would establish them more firmly in the Premier League pantheon. Klopp knows that a win on Tuesday night is imperative to re-establish Liverpool’s invincible aura and to keep the dream of a domestic double alive.
- In the last 55 seasons, this is the seventh meeting between Liverpool and Chelsea. Four of the previous six have been played at Stamford Bridge, while the earliest two were played at Anfield.
- In the last FA Cup meeting between the two sides, Chelsea stopped Liverpool from winning the domestic cup double in 2011-12 season, when the Blues beat the Reds 2-1 in the final at Wembley.
- Overall, the two sides have shared the spoils equally over the last six FA Cup fixtures, with both winning thrice and losing thrice, both having scored 10 goals each.
- Chelsea have scored 4 goals thus far in the competition, one a piece for Barkley, Batshuayi, Tomori, and Hudson-Odoi. Liverpool have also scored four, two from the 18-year old Curtis Jones and two own goals from Shrewsbury across two legs of the previous round.
Midfield battles will be key on Tuesday night and Jorginho will be the key player for Chelsea in Kante’s absence. He is the only Premier League player with 1500+ passes (1634) and 50+ interceptions (57). An xGBuildup90 (Total xG of every possession other than key passes and shots) of 0.51 underscores the important role Jorginho plays in building Chelsea’s attacks. The fact that he averages almost one key pass per 90 minutes (0.98) also highlights his threat.
Wijnaldum sometimes goes missing in away games. But at Anfield, he is a key cog in Liverpool’s relentless pressing system. As his opener against West Ham showed last Monday night, and as his several goals from the last season have shown Wijnaldum can add one more attacking player in Klopp’s system. He averages 1.07 shots every 90 minutes in the league and while his 3 goals so far in the league might seem a meagre return but his presence does allow more space for Liverpool’s frontline.
Chelsea are likely to be without N’Golo Kante, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Tammy Abraham, and Christian Pulisic. Olivier Giroud might feature upfront, while Willian and Ross Barkley both are pushing for a start behind him. Willy Caballero is likely to keep Kepa Arrizabalaga out of the starting XI, while Alonso’s brace against Bournemouth will likely see him retain his place.
Klopp has rotated heavily in Liverpool’s previous two FA Cup ties. If he had planned to rotate quite a lot for Tuesday’s game, the Watford loss might give him a pause. Klopp will want to progress further in this competition and might possibly field his first XI against Chelsea. However, some players, including Adrian, Origi and Keita might push their way into the starting XI.
This is going to be a closely fought game and it will not be a surprise to see both the teams level after 90 minutes. If the game goes to penalties, Liverpool have the better goalkeepers and Adrian has already won a shootout against Chelsea earlier this season. The confidence from that UEFA Super Cup final might be enough to take Liverpool through on penalties.
Chelsea 2 – 2 Liverpool (Liverpool to win on penalties)