This weekend provides yet another stern test of Brendan Rodgers and his struggling Liverpool side as they welcome runaway Premier League leaders Chelsea to Anfield.
The fixture is their 7th game in 21 days but at least a number of key players will be suitably rested after Rodgers practically named a reserve team against Real Madrid on Tuesday night.
By doing so, many observers believe the Northern Irishman has increased the pressure on himself to get a positive result against one of the club’s biggest rivals.
There is certainly no love lost between the two sets of supporters and the home crowd will be intent on revenge after Chelsea’s win at Anfield in April effectively cost them the title.
Liverpool go into the encounter on the back of a defeat to Newcastle United and a scoreless draw with Hull City, results which have seen the Reds drop down to 7th place in the domestic standings.
Chelsea, by contrast, are 12 points better off and are still yet to taste defeat in any competition this season.
Rodgers: “It’s obviously a big game. In the game last season, we didn’t get the result. We performed well for 70 minutes, but we just couldn’t get the breakthrough.
“We’ll have learned from that. This is a new challenge and obviously it will be a very difficult game for us. They are unbeaten and the strongest team at the moment in the league – that’s why they’re top.
“But for us playing at Anfield, regardless of the opponent, we have every confidence that we can go and get a good result.”
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho: “I don’t speak about Liverpool. I speak about myself. If one day I go to a game and I don’t feel I can win, maybe I don’t go. So, normally, against the most difficult opponents, I will try to go with my best team but who knows.
“Liverpool might play a fantastic match and win and rest players and the players are in great condition to play against Chelsea in this case it might be a genius decision. In football, it is difficult to comment.”
Liverpool Team News:
Despite the understudies performing admirably at the Santiago Bernabéu in midweek it is unlikely any of them will keep their places. Therefore, Dejan Lovren, Jordan Henderson, Steven Gerrard, Raheem Sterling and Mario Balotelli will all be expecting recalls. Perhaps the biggest selection decision facing Rodgers is in midfield where Emre Can, Joe Allen, Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana are probably battling over two positions. Ex-Blues striker Daniel Sturridge (calf) remains the club’s most notable absentee, while defenders Mamadou Sakho (thigh), Jon Flanagan and Jose Enrique (both knee), plus attacking midfielder Suso (groin), continue to keep him company in the treatment room.
Mignolet, Johnson, Skrtel, Lovren, Moreno, Gerrard (c), Henderson, Allen, Coutinho, Sterling, Balotelli.
Player to watch: Steven Gerrard
I don’t think a game has gone past since these two teams last met where Gerrard hasn’t been taunted by rival fans following his infamous slip that aided Chelsea’s pivotal 2-0 victory. Nobody knows just how much it has affected the 34-year-old but there is no doubt he has struggled to produce his best ever since. Much of that is actually down to opponents learning to counteract his deep-lying midfield position and Liverpool desperately need Gerrard to overcome such obstacles and influence his team in the manner of old once more. This match would be the perfect time to do so, especially with his contractual situation still up in the air.
Chelsea Team News:
Although he has not been subjected to the same level of scrutiny that his opposite number has endured, Mourinho also made wholesale changes in Europe this past week. Admittedly, when you top your group and qualification is all but assured it is much more palatable to fans and pundits alike. Thibaut Courtois, Gary Cahill, Oscar and Diego Costa are set to return, as could full-back Cesar Azpilicueta after completing a three-match ban. On the injury front, midfielder John Obi Mikel is struggling with a knee problem and one-time Liverpool target Loic Remy is touch-and-go to overcome a thigh strain in time.
Courtois, Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry (c), Azpilicueta, Matic, Ramires, Fabregas, Oscar, Hazard, Costa.
Player to watch: Cesc Fabregas
Liverpool spent over £50m on three new midfielders in the summer but even collectively they’ve had nowhere near the impact of Fabregas. Costa, his fellow Spanish international, may have been getting the majority of the headlines but it is the former Arsenal captain who has really made Chelsea tick. The 27-year-old has been involved in a phenomenal 10 goals (scoring one and assisting nine) in the 10 league games since his arrival at the Bridge. Only four players set up more goals than Fabregas has this term in the whole of last season’s Premier League; Gerrard (13), Luis Suarez (12), Rickie Lambert (10) and Wayne Rooney 10.
Match Facts & Stats
? Liverpool and Chelsea have met 160 times in their respective histories and the Reds hold the upper hand overall with 70 wins to 55 and 35 draws. Liverpool have scored a total of 242 goals compared to a tally of 222 by the Blues.
? Recent meetings have tended to favour the Londoners however with Chelsea losing just one of the past six meetings in all competitions (W3, D2).
? Another victory on Saturday and the Blues will record back-to-back league successes at Anfield for only the second time in their history.
? Liverpool have won only two of their past seven Premier League games and registered just two clean sheets in their last 16.
? The Reds have gone on to finish in the top four on the three previous occasions that they have amassed only 14 points after 10 games in the Premier League era.
? Only three teams have had more points than Chelsea (26) at this stage of a Premier League season; Manchester City 2011-12, Chelsea 2005-06 (both 28) and Newcastle United 1995-96 (27).
? Mourinho’s men have been the most clinical finishers in the top flight this season, scoring with 23% of their attempts.
Anthony Taylor is the official appointed to oversee this contest. The Cheshire-based whistle blower has taken charge of 11 games so far this season, showing 39 yellow cards and zero red. This match will be his first involving either Liverpool or Chelsea during the 2014-15 campaign. The 36-year-old has been a part of the Select Group of Referees who oversee Premier League fixtures since 2010 and made FIFA’s list for European and international matches earlier this year.
I’ll be totally honest; I don’t like Chelsea. There is so much about the club, including the way they are run, the manager and their pretentious, plastic flag-waving fans, that grates. Unfortunately I also have to confess admiration for the way they’ve gone about things this season. The Blues might not be the most expansive team in the world but they execute the basics perfectly and that in turn provides a solid base from which their athleticism and individual ability can thrive. Saturday will be a massive test for Liverpool, possibly a bigger one than Madrid posed given what’s at stake, and I’m worried about the possible impact of another defeat on our fragile confidence. On the flip side, victory should finally give our players the boost they need to fulfill their undoubted potential. There have been a couple of false dawns this season but I remain convinced that the nucleus of a top-four side is there. This will probably be a tight and tense 90 minutes.
Vital Liverpool predicts a 0-0 draw
Liverpool – Premier League vs. Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park on Sunday 23rd November 2014, kick off 1.30pm GMT.
Chelsea – Premier League vs. West Bromwich Albion at Stamford Bridge on Saturday 22nd November 2014, kick off 3.00pm GMT.
So that’s what we think, how about you? Let us know your thoughts and predictions for the game below or vote in our poll to the right…
Click here to read former Red Mark Lawrenson’s prediction
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