Preview: Liverpool vs. Chelsea
Preview: Liverpool vs. Chelsea
Liverpool and Chelsea face off at Anfield on Saturday evening in the pick of this weekend’s Premier League fixtures, each looking to build on their impressive recent top-flight form.
The Reds are still playing catch-up following a slow start to the campaign, but they have won three in a row domestically to haul themselves back into top-four contention, while the Blues sit three points better off.
For those who have watched Liverpool regularly over the past 11 months, it perhaps came as little surprise to learn that last weekend’s 3-0 win over Southampton earned them three league wins on the spin for the first time this calendar year.
Ever since Jurgen Klopp was appointed two years ago, the Merseyside outfit have lacked the consistency required to see through a title challenge, but nine points from the last nine on offer is a good return heading into the final throes of a mixed 2017.
Even accounting for the dramatic 3-3 draw away to Sevilla in the Champions League in midweek, when somehow throwing away the most comfortable of three-goals leads at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, Liverpool are still in a good position both at home and in Europe.
With one defeat in their last 10 overall – 4-1 away to Tottenham Hotspur a month ago – and a string of winnable fixtures to come after this weekend’s tasty showdown, Klopp’s men now have a chance to build some momentum as they attempt to end their prolonged trophy drought.
Winning the Premier League is surely already out of the question, though, with Manchester City currently 12 points better off and showing little sign of slowing down, but another top-four finish is a realistic target as they are just one point behind Spurs in that last Champions League spot.
Once again it was Liverpool’s defensive unit that came under fire in Andalusia, with chief culprit Alberto Moreno confessing after the game that his teammates emerged for the second period “half-asleep”, yet on home soil in the Premier League they look entirely different – more composed and far less likely to completely destruct.
Just one top-flight goal has been shipped at Anfield in the Reds’ last eight games, accruing seven clean sheets in that time – most recently against Southampton last weekend when the visitors failed to muster a single shot on target for the second season running.
Liverpool have also suffered only two defeats in 33 home league matches since January 2016, winning back-to-back games here by a 3-0 scoreline. A similar result on Saturday and all of a sudden that slow start to the season will have been forgotten about.
Recent form in Premier League: DDLWWW
Recent form (all competitions): LWWWWD
Chelsea have also found their feet in the Premier League in recent weeks, recording four wins in a row – and keeping clean sheets in three of those – since a shock 2-1 loss to London rivals Crystal Palace on October 14.
As ever with the Blues, though, all four of their defeats this term have led to talk of a behind-the-scenes crisis, including in the aftermath of their 3-0 loss away to Roma earlier this month when Antonio Conte’s future again came into focus.
Reports at the time suggested that Conte and his players held a frank discussion when returning to their Cobham training base the following day, with players and coaching staff laying their problems on the table – David Luiz going a little further than others and losing his place in the side as a result.
Chelsea have won six games either side of that Roma setback, seeing off Manchester United on home soil immediately after and racking up successive 4-0 wins on their travels at West Bromwich Albion and Qarabag FK.
They are not quite at the same level as this time 12 months ago, when in the midst of their record-equalling run of wins, but Conte has at least managed to bring back the winning feeling as he balances the demands of three different competitions.
For all the talk of Conte still being unhappy with life in West London, the Italian has certainly made a major impression during his short time in the Premier League, collecting 118 points from his first 50 games – a tally that no other manager or team can match over the same timeframe.
Chelsea have crept into third place with their latest winning streak, but the gap to leaders Man City remains at nine points – as was the case following their defeat at Selhurst Park – as the Citizens pass each and every challenge that comes their way.
An 11th away win in 13 attempts this weekend will stand the Blues in good stead to push on and potentially close the gap on the pacesetters, before then returning to Stamford Bridge for three-successive home matches. Now is the time to take inspiration from last winter and ruthlessly see off all comers.
Recent form in Premier League: LLWWWW
Recent form (all competitions): WWLWWW
Liverpool may be without Joel Matip, who has been forced to sit out their last two games with a thigh injury, but Klopp is confident of seeing the centre-back return to full fitness.
Versatile defender Joe Gomez was surprisingly overlooked for selection against the Saints, despite impressing on his senior England bow, and he faces a battle with Trent Alexander-Arnold to start this one.
Klopp has plenty of options in midfield, meanwhile, where Emre Can, Georginio Wijnaldum and James Milner will all be hoping to replace skipper Jordan Henderson, who performed poorly away to Sevilla.
In terms of the visitors, Conte took a risk by leaving out Alvaro Morata, Tiemoue Bakayoko, Andreas Christensen and Gary Cahill against Qarabag – a gamble that very much paid off as the Blues cruised to victory.
All four players are likely to return to the starting fold following the six-hour trek across the continent, with Christensen being preferred to outspoken Luiz in recent league matches.
Eden Hazard was as impressive as ever through the middle in Azerbaijan and may well remain in an advanced role just off Alvaro Morata, but Pedro and Willian’s places in the starting XI are at risk if Conte packs out the midfield.
Liverpool possible starting lineup:
Mignolet; Alexander-Arnold, Matip, Lovren, Moreno; Can, Milner, Coutinho; Mane, Firmino, Salah
Chelsea possible starting lineup:
Courtois; Azpilicueta, Christensen, Cahill; Zappacosta, Fabregas, Kante, Bakayoko, Alonso; Hazard; Morata
Head To Head
These two Premier League ever-presents have met on 50 previous occasions in this competition, sharing an equal mix of wins and draws.
Liverpool have not lost to Chelsea in the top flight since November 2014, however, winning two and drawing three matches since then, including a 1-1 tie here in the most recent encounter in January.
The Blues had won three out of four in all competitions prior to that, and have the better overall record in this fixture when taking into account the last 14 matches since the start of 2012.
Premier Bet odds
Liverpool to win 2.17
Chelsea to win 3.60
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