Premier League | Anfield | Sat 8 Nov | 12:45pm
The triumphant return of Liverpool’s first team.
- Real Madrid 1-0 Liverpool (CL)
- Newcastle 1-0 Liverpool (Prem)
- Liverpool 2-1 Swansea (LC)
- Liverpool 0-0 Hull (Prem)
- Liverpool 0-3 Real Madrid (CL)
- Maribor 1-1 Chelsea (CL)
- Chelsea 2-1 QPR (Prem)
- Shrewsbury 1-2 Chelsea (LC)
- Man Utd 1-1 Chelsea (Prem)
- Chelsea 6-0 Maribor (CL)
Liverpool fans must be feeling confident due to the return of several key players from the mystery illness that plagued them midweek. With Raheem Sterling, Jordan Henderson, Steven Gerrard and more on the bench for the Champions League game at the Bernabeu, permasub Brad Jones must have been looking around, asking: “So, who are you guys?” They probably replied with the same question.
The resulting 1-0 defeat was far less disastrous than the bad PR it created, creating parallels with Chelsea’s 2-1 win over QPR last weekend. Despite the victory, Jose Mourinho criticised the club’s fans for making Stamford Bridge sound more like the Emirates.
Those Blues who travelled to Slovenia responded with “Jose, give us a song”, not that he was interested (“Forget it,” he grumbled when asked about the outcry).
Everything Mourinho says is tactical – he’d be a nightmare in the pub – and his harsh words smacked of a ploy to provoke supporters into making more noise.
But while Chelsea fans are surely used to his games, they’ve not been the targets before, and many have questioned the sense in giving ammunition to opposition fans by grousing to the media when a nudge in his programme notes might have been a better approach.
So both managers have added motivation to win this match. Meanwhile, Kolo Toure has done his finest impression of a WWE SmackDown contestant (“We’re gonna make you PAY!”) and Gerrard is traversing the UK in search of special non-slip studs.
The two teams could return to the heady days of their regular Champions League match-ups before their next league meeting in May. This is the fourth season in a row that Liverpool and Chelsea have played each other in the last few matches of the campaign. Just coincidence, of course.
Back in the present, Liverpool have kept two clean sheets all season and Chelsea are averaging two-and-a-half goals per game. Maybe the half-goal was offside.
Mourinho can choose from a fully fit squad, Diego Costa set to start despite being left out of the Spain squad. Liverpool are without Mamadou Sakho (thigh injury), Diafra Sakho (plays for West Ham) and Adama Alpha Amadou Sakho, author of Transports a Grandes Vitesses en Afrique (not a footballer).
There’s an outside chance that Daniel Sturridge may return against the club that sold him, but it’s unlikely. Jose Enrique and Jon Flanagan still have knee problems and Suso is carefully nursing his groin.
Player to watch: Mario Balotelli (Liverpool)
Chelsea are going to score. That will happen. So it’s up to Liverpool to score as well, and if possible, score more than them. That’s football. Balotelli has been a piñata since joining Liverpool, with detractors queuing around Stanley Park to beat him with a stick. Jamie Carragher has called him lazy, saying “he has a tendency to walk around”, and an incandescent, incoherent, incogitant Robbie Savage slated him for not being on the end of a good ball into the box that the Italian himself played, which would have created some kind of Earth-melting paradox. And it’s true that at times, Balotelli seems to forget he’s actually playing.
But the problem doesn’t solely lie within Mario himself. Rodgers doesn’t seem to be sure if he wants the 24-year-old in the box, drifting wide or dropping deep to link up play. The forward has no obvious role – possibly because he’s temporarily playing in Sturridge’s position – and the two chief criticisms levelled against him, that he isn’t scoring goals and goes missing in big games, are both linked to him coming short to find the ball. Against Chelsea, Liverpool may need Balotelli to stay central and let others play around him. That makes him more of a goal threat and means that John Terry and Gary Cahill must be constantly on their guard.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- L’pool 0-2 Chelsea (PL, Apr 14)
- Chelsea 2-1 L’pool (PL, Dec 13)
- L’pool 2-2 Chelsea (PL, Apr 13)
- Chelsea 1-1 L’pool (PL, Nov 12)
- L’pool 4-1 Chelsea (PL, May 12)
For a man whose team are top of the league, unbeaten and have only dropped points at Old Trafford and the Etihad, Jose’s been a bit mardy about his team of late. After the 1-1 draw with Maribor he complained, “In the first half we were not good: very slow, no intensity, no creativity” (although he did also blame the officials); last week it was his fringe players who were under fire, for failing to impress against Shrewsbury and therefore making it “easy” for the manager to choose his starting XI in the league. He’s setting some high standards – and who can blame him?
‘High standards’ hasn’t been a phrase associated with Rodgers this week, thanks to his team selection against Real Madrid. However, with Liverpool fans rallying around their manager in the usual ‘I can call my sister ugly but if you do it I will kill you’ kind of way, the Ulsterman looks as though he might just get away with it – mainly because the players he dropped haven’t exactly been setting the world alight. Admittedly, you wouldn’t actually want them to do that. That’s arson on a very grand scale.
Facts and figures
- Jose Mourinho’s side have been the most clinical in the top flight scoring with 23% of their attempts.
- Chelsea have netted 4 goals in the opening 15 minutes of matches this season, more than any other team in the top flight.
- Only 4 players set up more goals in the whole of last season’s Premier League than Cesc Fabregas has created this term (Gerrard 13, Suarez 12, Lambert 10, Rooney 10).
More FFT Stats Zone facts
Jose to remain chummy towards Brendan while his former apprentice is no threat. Chelsea to win 2-0.