Ayodeji Itasanmi (Twitter: @aryhorblueblood)
Stamford Bridge/May 6, 2018
This is the most pivotal week of the season for Antonio Conte’s team as we hold on to the faintest of hope of qualifying for the world’s biggest club competition the UCL next season. The Liverpool team will be in high spirit after their trip to Rome yielded the desired result on Wednesday night as they booked their tickets to Kiev for the UCL final against perennial winners Real Madrid later this month. In preparation for that showpiece match Jurgen Klopp would be forgiven if he decides to pick a weakened side for their two remaining Premier League fixtures against Chelsea on Sunday and Brighton and Hove Albion in front of the Kop a week on Sunday but with Champions’ League qualification not assured yet the German may have to pick his big stars on Sunday and hope they get the job done. With the last matches of the Premier League season coming less than two weeks to the UCL final match Klopp’s men cannot afford to go into that match needing points to secure the qualification especially against a team that may still need points to keep their Premier League status. I’ll certainly be hoping for a better endeavour than was shown when Spurs visited Stamford Bridge last month and get all three points on offer especially if West Bromwich Albion do the unthinkable and deny Spurs all three points when Pochettino’s men visit the Hawthorns on Saturday. This match is delicately poised for both these Premier League giants with Chelsea having more to lose than Liverpool should result not go the Blues’ way at the end of the match but I trust the players to continue to fight until it’s mathematically impossible to make it to next season’s Champions’ League. Liverpool had better come prepared to face a wounded lion on Sunday.
This match was first played on Christmas Day in 1907 with Chelsea running out 1-4 winners at Anfield on the day over a century ago and there had been a further 177 matches between these two historic clubs with Liverpool leading the head to head with 77wins, 40draws and 61losses. Liverpool and Chelsea have faced off in every competition you can think of which makes this match one of the fiercest rivalry in the Premier League today. Chelsea are without a win against Liverpool since ousting the Merseysiders in the semi-final of the 2015 League Cup – en route to lifting the three-winged trophy against Spurs at Wembley – losing two and drawing four in the six matches (all in the Premier League) since. Interestingly though both losses came at Stamford Bridge under Jurgen Klopp 1-3 in the 2015/16 season and 1-2 last season. Antonio Conte is still without a win against Jurgen Klopp since arriving in England (his worst record against any opposing manager since switching Italy for England in June last year) even though he has only lost once in four against the German and will be looking for that all-important first win against the Sunday’s opposition. Chelsea has lost three of the last twelve Premier League fixtures against Liverpool (W4 D5) and you have to go back almost eight years for the last time a Chelsea team failed to score against Liverpool when we lost 0-2 in the 5th round of that season’s League Cup. That match in November 2011 was also the last in a sequence of four successive losses to the Reds in which we failed to score in three of them. Chelsea has won just one of our last five Premier League home matches against Liverpool (L2 D2) with Liverpool on a six-match unbeaten run against Chelsea (W2 D4).
Antonio Conte will welcome Marcos Alonso back into the team after the Spaniard served out the last of his three-match suspension last weekend and given the way the season has played out so far he’s likely to walk straight back into the starting eleven even though Emerson Palmieri gave a very good account of himself during Alonso’s enforced absence. Antonio Conte didn’t report any new injuries during his pre-match conference on Friday afternoon meaning the duo of David Luiz (Knee) and Ethan Ampadu (Ankle) remains out with Danny Drinkwater now back in the first team fold after his recent calf strain. Ross Barkley is yet to feature for Chelsea since January after his latest injury setback even though he was listed in the last three match day squad but if he’s fit enough he might get called upon on Sunday with his experience of playing against Liverpool for Everton likely to come in handy. Antonio Conte chose to line up with the 3-5-2 formation at the Liberty Stadium last weekend opting to play Eden Hazard behind Olivier Giroud in attack with the Frenchman having a somewhat subdued performance perhaps because he was often too isolated and thus outnumbered by the Swans’ three central defenders but Conte might need to rethink that strategy against Liverpool who has one of the most lethal strike force in the Premier League this season but they also have one of the weakest defence something Antonio Conte should be looking to exploit. Willian was a late substitute in South Wales last Saturday hence should be fresh on Sunday should Conte decide to deploy the three-pronged attack of Eden Hazard, Olivier Giroud and Willian. Pedro’s ability to run in behind defenses may also come in handy against a Liverpool side that likes to keep a high defensive line. Gary Cahill seem to have brought some kind of solidity into the back line two clean sheets in the last four matches we have played – all of which were won – and I expect the captain to continue in defence either as the central figure in the back three or as the LCB in place of Antonio Rudiger with Andreas Christensen likely to return to the heart of our defence having being an unused sub in our last three matches. I’ll be very surprised if Tiemoue Bakayoko starts the game on Sunday given the mobility in the Liverpool midfield and the Frenchman seem to be finding adapting to the Premier League very hard so Antonio Conte may likely keep faith with the midfield partnership of Cesc Fabregas and N’Golo Kante on Sunday with Victor Moses and the returning Marcos Alonso occupying the wingback positions.
Courtois; Azpilicueta, Christensen, Cahill; Moses, Kante, Fabregas, Alonso; Hazard, Giroud, Willian.
Last Five Matches: WWWWD
Injuries: David Luiz (Knee/Fitness) – Out; Ethan Ampadu (Ankle) – Out.
Jurgen Klopp will certainly be in a selection dilemma ahead of his team’s trip Stamford Bridge which will come just under two weeks before his team take on Real Madrid in the UCL final in Kiev. He stated before Liverpool’s last Premier League game against Stoke City at Anfield that sending out a weakened team against the Potters will be unfair to the other relegation-threatened teams and he’s likely to still hold on to that thought even though the showpiece final against Real Madrid carries more weight than any Premier League fixture. The German will have no choice but to reshuffle his team after the exertions in Rome on Wednesday even if the injury to his team will limit his changes to the team. Simon Mignolet may finally get a look in after being frozen out of the team for recent matches and Virgil van Dirk, who has been an ever-present in the team since his January arrival, may also get to start this one on the bench paving the way for the central defensive partnership of Dejan Lovren and Ragnar Klavan with Trent Alexander-Arnold and Albert Moreno likely to complete the back four. With injuries to the trio of Emre Can, Adam Lallana and Alexander Oxlaide-Chamberlain Klopp may be forced to keep the same midfield three of James Milner, Jordan Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum as he used in Rome on Wednesday but with Danny Ings and Dominic Solanke fit and available he may decide to freshen up his options in attack and give deserved rest to his trusted attacking trident of Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mo Salah. But no coach in his right senses will omit Mo Salah from his team in his current form so I expect the start in his old stomping ground (even though there wasn’t much stomping during his one-year spell at Stamford Bridge) however Roberto Firmino may have to make do with a place on the substitutes’ bench
Mignolet; Alexander-Arnold, Lovren, Klavan, Moreno; Milner, Henderson, Wijnaldum; Mane, Ings, Salah.
Last 5 matches: LDWDW
Injuries: Adam Lallana (Hamstring) – Doubt; Joel Matip (Thigh) – Out; Alex Oxlaide-Chamberlain (Knee) – Out; Joe Gomez (Ankle) – Out; Emre Can (Back) – Out.
Marcos Alonso vs. Mohammed Salah
This is likely going to be one of the standout battles on Sunday in Alonso’s first match back after his recent suspension and Mo Salah’s return to Stamford Bridge since being sold to As Roma in January last year. The Egyptian has proven to be a star for the Reds this season and the thirty-four million pounds paid for his services his looking like a bargain after notching 43 goals in just 41 matches for the Reds. Alonso will have to be at his optimal best to stand a chance against Salah on Sunday but I wouldn’t at all be surprised if Conte opted to start the more defensive Emerson against Salah on Sunday.
Willian vs. Andy Robertson
Andy Robertson is another Liverpool player that has justified the money spent on him with his numerous high-catching displays for the Merseysiders this season but I doubt he has faced a more direct and tireless runner like Willian. When the Brazilian is in his element he’s almost unplayable and I expect Sunday to be one of the days that the Samba boy crave and I wouldn’t want to be in Robertson’s shoes.
Eden Hazard vs. Trent Alexander-Arnold
Eden Hazard has been almost unplayable in his last three matches for Chelsea and I doubt Jurgen Klopp will want to put Alexander-Arnold up against the Belgian after his exertions in Italy on Wednesday night but with Joe Gomez out injured and Nathaniel Clyne a long way from match fitness the task of stopping Hazard may rest on the young shoulders of the Liverpool academy graduate on Sunday and he better be on his A-game or he’ll be skinned by Hazard on Sunday.
Liverpool need at least a point from their trip to Stamford Bridge on Sunday to be guaranteed a place in next season’s Champions’ League and Chelsea need all three points against the Reds on Sunday to keep their slim hope of qualification of next season’s UCL alive and it’s all set for a mammoth clash with far-reaching consequences for the losing team. Antonio Conte said during his pre-match conference that the fact we’ve had a clear week to prepare for this match while Liverpool has been on the plane to Rome and back in the last week but that trip to Italy will surely take its toll on the Liverpool team for sure and it remains to be seen how our Italian manager intend to take advantage of the fatigue that may be coursing through the Reds’ team. Should Tottenham fail to take maximum points against West Bromwich Albion on Saturday evening then the Blues’ will have a better chance of in the top four with the Lilywhites still to host both a resurgent Newcastle United and their nemesis Leicester City but we’ve got to handle business on our own end should both Liverpool and Spurs slip up. Impossible is nothing! KTBFFH, Blues!
Thumbnail image courtesy of: UK Mirror
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