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The Big Match Tactical View: Liverpool v Chelsea

Rafael Benitez will get a good reception on his return to Anfield

Lucas was poor against Reading last week, and may struggle against Mata
Lay Liverpool at 2.186/5

Rafael Benitez returns to Anfield - but will he get the better of Brendan Rodgers?

Liverpool v Chelsea, Sunday 4:00, Sky Sports 1.

Match Odds: Liverpool 2.186/5, Chelsea 3.711/4, The Draw 3.613/5.

Rafael Benitez returns to Anfield for the first time as an opposition coach since his departure from Liverpool in 2010, and his clash with Brendan Rodgers will make for an intriguing tactical battle.

This is the first meeting between the coaches - Roberto Di Matteo was still in charge of Chelsea for the sides' 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge back in November, an extremely poor game where both goals came from corners. This match should be significantly more open.

Rodgers is likely to name an unchanged side from the XI that draw 0-0 at Reading last weekend - despite the disappointing result, Liverpool attacked effectively throughout the game, and were only thwarted by a remarkable performance from Reading goalkeeper Alex McCarthy.

Stewart Downing is the only player who might come into the side, as a reliable defensive presence on the flank - but with Ashley Cole unavailable on the left, and a decent chance the cumbersome Branslav Ivanovic might start at right-back, there's no need for Rodgers to be cautious on the wings.

While the XI might not change, Rodgers' formation might. Last week it was broadly a 4-2-3-1 with Jordan Henderson left, Daniel Sturridge right and Coutinho just behind Luis Suarez - although the latter trio had license to rotate.

Rodgers might want more of a midfield presence against Chelsea, meaning Henderson could start in the 'advanced destroyer' role he played effectively at the Emirates earlier in the year, with Coutinho starting from the flank.

As Liverpool fans will remember - with varying levels of fondness - Benitez is a keen rotator. This has been especially crucial in the last couple of months with Chelsea's fixture congestion, and with Thursday's trip to Basel in mind, it's difficult to predict precisely who Benitez will use in this fixture.

Oscar, Eden Hazard and Juan Mata would be the obvious trident behind the main striker, with Victor Moses on the bench. Benitez hasn't used Ramires on the right since his poor performance in Chelsea's 2-0 defeat at Manchester City in February, and it appears this tactical option is no longer under consideration. John Obi Mikel will probably partner him in the centre.

Benitez's choice between Demba Ba and Fernando Torres will be interesting - the Spaniard did well as a substitute in the FA Cup semi-final last weekend and was used in midweek, but Ba still appears the better option. A constant tactic from Chelsea in recent weeks has been Mata's lofted passes over the top of the opposition defence for the striker to run onto - Ba's pace in behind Jamie Carragher, in particular, could be a crucial factor.

The positioning of Mata is also key. He was initially used from a wide starting position under Benitez but has played a permanently central role in recent weeks, and will be up against Lucas Leiva. After an injury-hit start to the campaign, the Brazilian has been feeling the pace of the Premier League in the past few weeks. He was poor against Reading - and PFA Player of the Year Mata is a different proposition altogether. Steve Gerrard must have to play a more defensive role than usual, to help Lucas cope.

Liverpool can be positive about their attacking potential down the right, however. Last week, Suarez and Sturridge combined brilliantly on that side, with Sturridge dragging Reading's left-back narrow and Suarez sprinting into the space around the outside. Ryan Bertrand will have a real test at left-back, and with Glen Johnson - who tends to perform well against his former club - sprinting forward to overlap, this is the zone that Chelsea should fear most.

Liverpool have a decent chance of winning this game - but as always this season, they are well underpriced at 2.186/5, and worth laying.

Recommended bet:
Lay Liverpool at 2.186/5

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