By, Ayodeji Itasanmi (Twitter: @aryhorblueblood)
Anfield/November 25, 2017
Having already safely navigated our passage to the first knockout round of the Champions’ League with our victory in Baku on Wednesday night, attention now turns to our trip to Anfield on Merseyside to take on Jurgen Klopp’s side. Liverpool threw away a 3-goal lead away to Sevilla on Tuesday night and with it the opportunity to book a place in the next round of the Champions’ League with a game to spare. Antonio Conte was thinking about this fixture when he drafted his team for the match against Qarabag with Morata, Cahill, Christensen and Bakayoko starting from the bench, the latter two remaining on the bench throughout, and the trio of Alonso, Hazard and Kante leaving early.
There’s certainly no love lost between these two sides and anytime they take to the pitch to face off there’s bragging right at stake especially in recent history. The match on Saturday evening will be the 177th time these two teams face off in all competitions since the very first match between them on Christmas Day in 1907 with The Pensioners carrying the day with a 4-1 victory, but Liverpool had since taken the lead in the overall win sequence with 77 to their name against Chelsea’s 61 with a further 39 ending in draws, the last two to take place at Anfield. Chelsea won the last encounter against Liverpool before the Premier League 1-2 at Anfield in February 1992 but we recorded just two victories in our first 10 encounters in the Premier League (L5 D3). In recent history, we have only lost to Liverpool three times in our last 14 meetings home and away (W5 D6) with two of our victories coming at Liverpool’s home ground. In our last 10 visits to Anfield, dating back to the 2008/2009 season, we had come out with the spoils on 4 occasions (L2 D4) but perhaps more interesting is the fact we had only failed to score against Liverpool just once in our last 15 meetings, in the 0-2 reverse in the League Cup back in 2011, with Liverpool winning 4 (L5 D6) three of those wins coming at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea has not lost any of our last five visits to Anfield (W2 D3) and I’m sure Antonio Conte and his players will be looking to make 6 matches unbeaten against Liverpool at their home ground. This sure carries the potential for an explosive encounter with the attacking talents on show on both sides, hence I personally cannot wait for kick off.
Antonio Conte suggested he and his coaching staff will use the long flight back from Baku to strategize ahead of our trip to Anfield to face Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool side. It won’t be a stretch to say that Conte already has an idea of what his team will look like on Saturday evening even though some of those brought into the team for Wednesday night’s match against Qarabag may have done enough to earn a place in the starting XI at Anfield, Willian and Rudiger being prime examples. It’s yet to be seen whether Conte will unleash Victor Moses on the Merseysiders, assuming he’s fit enough, just like he did with N’Golo Kante against United before the last international break, but should the Nigerian fail to make the trip to the northwest we’ll still be in Zappacosta’s capable hands. Eden Hazard has been virtually unplayable in recent matches and his link up with Morata is enough to make defenders shiver and it’ll take a disaster of the highest magnitude for either of them to miss the match on Saturday. Cesar Azpilicueta has played every minute of Antonio Conte’s first 50 Premier League matches and he’s already penciled down as a starter on Saturday whether as part of the three-man defense or as a wingback. Andreas Christensen should return to the starting XI having been rested for the duration of Wednesday night’s match same with Tiemoue Bakayoko who will pose a different kind of problem for the Liverpool midfield if he makes the starting XI. It’s yet to be seen whether the early substitution of Marcos Alonso in midweek is just so he could get enough rest before the weekend, or as a precaution, or just a tactical switch. Fabregas will be important to our play at Anfield in Antonio Conte’s new found 3-5-2 formation playing at the base of midfield alongside N’Golo Kante helping to dictate play and picking out our attackers with intelligent passes. Gary Cahill should also come back into the team to lead the time out at Anfield for the second time having been reduced to a substitute role in Baku in midweek. I’m sure Conte would have been working tirelessly on how to take advantage of Liverpool’s defensive frailties the same way Sevilla did in the Champions’ League on Wednesday night.
Courtois; Azpilicueta, Christensen, Cahill; Victor Moses, Fabregas, Bakayoko, Kante, Alonso; Hazard, Morata.
Last Five Matches: WWWWW
Injuries: Victor Moses (Hamstring) –Doubt;
Jürgen Klopp would surely have ripped into his team for letting a three-goal lead slip right through their fingers away to Sevilla in the Champions’ League in midweek which isn’t the ideal preparation for the visit of the league champions. I’m sure he’ll be looking to unleash his four-man attacking force (Mane, Firmino, Salah and Coutinho) but to accommodate his fantastic four he’d have to sacrifice one of Emre Can, Georgino Wijnaldum and Jordan Henderson, which will be tantamount to disaster when you have a disastrous defense like Liverpool do. Alberto Moreno had fought strongly to wrest his spot back from James Milner but he had a forgettable game on Wednesday having been accountable for two of the goals they conceded before he was substituted for Milner midway through the second half but he should be in the starting lineup on Saturday except of course if the coach is still pissed at him. Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren formed a very strong alliance at the at the heart of Liverpool’s defense last season but the pair have been nothing short of disaster this season particularly the Croat but they should still line up along each other on Saturday, except Matip failed to shake off his recent muscle injury, considering the alternative is 32-year old Estonian international Ragnar Klavan. Should Klopp decide to play all four of his attacking foursome, as is likely to be the case, then one of Emre Can and Wijnaldum will have to start from the bench with Henderson a certainty to lead the team out on Saturday. With Nathaniel Clyne likely to be out until the new year, Klopp will have to choose from youngsters Trent Alexander-Arnold and Joe Gomez who to fill the spot. Klopp is also likely to continue to rotate his goalkeepers with Simon Mignolet set to return having lost his place to German Loris Karius in midweek. Daniel Sturridge and Adam Lallana are two players Jürgen Klopp will be happy to welcome back from injury but neither of them is likely to play from the start on Saturday.
Mignolet; Alexander-Arnold, Matip, Lovren, Moreno; Henderson, Can, Coutinho; Mane, Firmino Salah.
Last 5 matches: DWWWW
Injuries: Joel Matip (Muscle) – Doubt; Nathaniel Clyne (Back) –Out.
Alvaro Morata vs. Dejan Lovren
Alvaro Morata seems to have finally got his mojo after his return to full fitness helped in no small part by his on-field relationship with Hazard. Lovren hasn’t had the best season so far and having only return to training this week he may not be in the best shape to face the Spaniard.
Eden Hazard vs. Trent Alexander-Arnold
Alexander-Arnold was brought straight into the line-up against Manchester United at Old Trafford last season and he more than held his own against Anthony Martial and he hasn’t looked back since. I doubt the young defender will be able to live with Hazard in the form he is in but it’s not like Klopp has much of a chance.
Marcos Alonso vs. Mo Salah
Mohammed Salah has taken the Premier League by storm since his return from Italy in the summer and it’s no surprise he’s shot to the top of the scoring chart having amassed an impressive 9 goals from 12 matches, and I think Alonso will have to be at his absolute best, with all the help he can get as well, to be able to keep up with the diminutive Egyptian.
Jürgen Klopp will be hoping for a better showing from his defenders than they showed in Seville in midweek because this Chelsea team doesn’t need a second invitation to kill teams off. The second best team on the road visits the fourth best home team in a match that’s sure to thrill the audience. Mohammed Salah will be coming up against former team for the first time since he was shipped off to AS Roma two seasons ago and he will surely be looking to make a statement but I’m sure our team should be ready for whatever he will bring. Until midweek when I’ll be previewing the visit of the Swans to Stamford Bridge, Keep The Blue Flag Flying High!
Thumbnail image courtesy of: Bleacher Report
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