The Big Match Tactical View: Liverpool v Chelsea
The game of the weekend takes place on Sunday at Anfield, as Liverpool meet Chelsea. Michael Cox and Alan Thompson preview the action...
"The main man is Eden Hazard. He scored a superb goal in the reverse fixture, and a solo winner at Anfield in the Carabao Cup."
Liverpool v Chelsea
Sunday 16:30, Sky Sports Premier League
Match Odds: Liverpool [1.7], Chelsea [5.5], The Draw [4.2].
This fixture brings to mind Liverpool's last title challenge five years ago, when Steven Gerrard infamously slipped to hand Demba Ba the opening goal, in a game which essentially Liverpool lost the title.
Henderson and Keita in the goals
But no-one who played that day is likely to be in the starting XI this time around. Jordan Henderson - the only real survivor from that title challenge - was suspended having been dismissed a fortnight earlier in a 3-2 win over Manchester City. Perhaps not coincidentally, it's Henderson who has looked most motivated and most fired up for Liverpool's title challenge this season.
Henderson came off the bench to great effect in the 3-1 win at Southampton last Friday, and was also excellent in the 2-0 midweek win over Porto, supplying a great pass for Trent Alexander-Arnold to cross for Roberto Firmino's goal. Henderson has generally been used in the defensive midfield position by Jurgen Klopp, but the Liverpool manager has conceded that Henderson now looks better in his old box-to-box position, which has provided Liverpool with more midfield energy.
Something similar can be said of Naby Keita, who has endured an underwhelming first campaign in English football but has come good at exactly the right time. He stormed into the box to head home against Southampton, and also scored a deflected effort against Porto. With Fabinho - barely used in the first three months of the season - playing the holding role, this looks like a refreshed, rejuvenated midfield three that will take the game to Chelsea with and without the ball.
Gomez back in the squad
Elsewhere, Liverpool's starting XI is very predictable. Alisson will play behind a back four of Alexander-Arnold, Dejan Lovren, Virgil van Dijk and Andy Robertson, who should be fresh after being suspended for the Porto game. Joe Gomez was back on the squad in midweek and is an alternative to Lovren or Alexander-Arnold, who struggled to cope with Eden Hazard in the reverse game. It's likely he'll start on the bench, however.
Upfront it's the usual three, with Roberto Firmino leading the line, Mohamed Salah coming inside from the left - and back in the goals after his counter-attacking strike at Southampton - and Sadio Mane making late runs inside from the left.
Chelsea to make changes
Maurizio Sarri made a raft of changes for Thursday's 1-0 win at Slavia Prague and will return to his first-choice XI, but the interesting thing is that his first-choice XI now feels more like his second string from earlier in the campaign. In particular, both Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Callum Hudson-Odoi have forced their way into Chelsea's side and should both start here.
The main man, of course, is Eden Hazard. He scored a superb goal in the reverse fixture, creating space for himself by dragging Alexander-Arnold out of position, flicking the ball into the centre of the pitch, running in behind, getting a reverse pass and finishing smartly. He also scored a superb solo winner at Anfield earlier in the season, in the Carabao Cup.
Gonzalo Higuain should lead the line, but you suspect Van Dijk will keep him quiet. Hudson-Odoi's dribbling could be a factor, although it's not inconceivable that Sarri could turn to Willian on the right flank, as Chelsea will need to be wary of Robertson's overlapping runs.
Jorginho must start well
Loftus-Cheek will provide forward running in midfield, and with N'Golo Kante pushing forward in competition with Keita, this could be a fast, furious and frantic midfield battle in the opening stages. Jorginho will sit deeper and must settle quickly - Liverpool are likely to start at a fast pace, and seek to unnerve him.
Emerson Palmeri is set for his biggest test yet against Salah, while Antonio Rudiger and David Luiz must be careful not to be drawn up the pitch towards Firmino too hastily. Cesar Azpilicueta will tuck inside to defend against Mane, but this could open up space for Roberton's storming runs.
I don't often venture into the First Goalscorer market, but I fancy Henderson for a goal here. He constantly made runs in behind the defence against Porto, and his new role means his previous goal return isn't too much of a factor - he'll find himself in dangerous positions. Back Henderson to open the scoring at [35.0].
The Betfair Trader's View - Alan Thompson
Liverpool got a very important week off to the perfect start as they recorded their sixth consecutive win in all competitions with two first half goals to take a two-goal lead to Portugal next week. However, before that they have the small matter of trying to beat a rejuvenated third placed Chelsea side who have their own battle to stay in the top four as well as continue in the Europa League after their 1-0 win in Prague on Thursday evening.
The Reds will have three of their remaining four games (after this) against sides in the bottom six, their only remaining fixture against top half opposition is against Wolves at Anfield on the final day of the season. Although Manchester City are still [1.63] favourites to win the league, they still have to face Spurs and local rivals United in the run in. Liverpool are currently [2.56] for the title and if you like them to get all three points here, regardless of what City do at Palace, there can’t be much downside at that price and should City slip-up the upside would be huge.
Since their 6-0 hammering at the hands of Manchester City at the beginning of February, Chelsea have only lost once (Everton 2-0) in the Premier League. They also have an exceptional record at Anfield, Liverpool haven’t won any of the last six here in the Premier League. Also, Chelsea have already won there this season in the EFL cup, coming from a goal behind to win 2-1.
Liverpool left it late against Fulham (81 mins), Spurs (90 mins) and had to come from a goal down last time against Southampton before winning 3-1. They are certainly making their fans sweat, but they are getting the results they need.
I will be backing them to win but suspect it won’t be straight forward, I will be backing Liverpool/Yes in the Match Odds and Both teams to score market at anything over [3.75].