Chelsea head to Anfield on Saturday to face Liverpool (7:45 AM EST), on the heels of yet another underwhelming performance, in which they drew 1-1 with Maribor, in the Champions League on Wednesday.
Chelsea’s inability to put away teams after controlling play during a majority of the game has hurt them throughout the season. In fact, late equalizers from both Manchester clubs are the only results separating Jose Mourinho and co. from a perfect league record. They’ll be looking to avoid that same fate against a Liverpool team seeking revenge from last season’s embarrassment.
In one of the most memorable moments from last season, Liverpool captain, Steven Gerrard, slipped, giving the ball away to Demba Ba who went clear in on goal, effectively ending Liverpool’s hopes of winning their first title since 1990.
The relationship of Jose Mourinho and Liverpool boss, Brendan Rodgers, is another point of interest. The two worked together for a few years after Mourinho hired Rodgers as Chelsea’s youth team coach in 2004. Since then the relationship has soured, culminiating this week in Mourinho’s criticism of Rodgers team selections.
Now back at Chelsea, Mourinho will be keen to out coach his younger counterpart, while Chelsea players will want to silence their critics following recent performances. This could mean changes in both personnel and tactics come Saturday.
As he has in all Premier League games this season, Thibaut Courtois will start against the reds. The 6’6” Belgian is excellent at defending crosses and set pieces and has improved his shot stopping since arriving at Chelsea. He is already being talked about as one of the world’s best keepers at just 22-years-old.
Mourinho has a difficult choice to make with the return of Cesar Azpilicueta from suspension.
Prior to his suspension Azpilicueta was among the best performers in the Premier League. It is then, more of question of whether or not Mourinho wants to go with the more attacking player in Filipe Luis, or the defensively sound Azpilicueta. Given that Chelsea haven’t kept a clean sheet in their last six Premier League away games, Azpilicueta is the favorite to start.
Gary Cahill, John Terry and Branislav Ivanovic, have started all ten of Chelsea’s league games and there is little reason to think that will change on Saturday. Terry and Cahill provide a strong backbone to this balanced Chelsea side, and the familiarity amongst the back four only adds to their individual quality.
Chelsea have not given up more than one goal since September 13th (against Swansea) and will look to do the same against a Liverpool attack who is still without talisman, Daniel Sturridge.
Chelsea’s midfield is as good as any in the Premier League and the performances of certain players make in nearly impossible for anyone on the bench to crack the midfield five.
Nemanja Matic has been incredibly reliant in the defensive role. The only player who could replace him, John Obi Mikel, is out with an injury. Either way, the Serbian was never going to be replaced in a big game such as this.
Cesc Fabregas is the fulcrum the makes Chelsea’s attack swing. He has flourished in the deep lying role Mourinho has placed him in, recording nine assists and one goal in ten League games.
Furthermore, the performances of Oscar and Eden Hazard have made them irreplaceable. Their interchanging play causes all sorts of problems for opposing defenses. Additionally, Hazard remains the Premier League’s most fouled player, and performs the most key dribbles per game at 5.4 (the next best is Victor Moses with 3.8).
The only issue with The Blues’ midfield is on the right side, where neither Andre Schurrle nor Willian have played well. Their inability to finish off chances, resulted in them both being withdrawn at half time against Maribor in Midweek.
One option, is to start Ramires. He can either play on the right or through the center, though, Mourinho will want to keep Oscar and Fabregas in the positions in which they’ve excelled, so look for Ramires to start on the right.
Didier Drogba got the start on Wednesday, but Diego Costa came on in the second half as the Blues finished the game in a two striker system.
Given the injury to Loic Remy, it is unlikely The Special one will start with two men up top, but if Chelsea are in need of goal we could very well see that system in the second half. Costa is the man to start, and he will be anxious to reopen his goal scoring account come the weekend.
Via – Lineup Builder