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This’ll be the third time Liverpool’s faced Chelsea in domestic cup competition since Benitez took over. Liverpool won 2-1 in both last year’s Community Shield and the 05/06 FA Cup semi-final, while Chelsea won 3-2 in the 04/05 Carling Cup final. In five European cup games against Chelsea, Liverpool has two wins, three draws, and one loss.
Previous Carling Cup matches:
Liverpool: 2-1 Cardiff City (h); 4-2 Reading (a)
Chelsea: 4-3 Leicester (h); 4-0 Hull (a)
Last 3 matches:
Liverpool: 0-1 United (h); 4-0 Marseille (a); 1-3 Reading (a)
Chelsea: 0-1 Arsenal (a); 0-0 Valencia (h); 2-0 Sunderland (h)
Goalscorers (Carling Cup):
Liverpool: Torres 3; Benayoun, Gerrard, El Zhar 1
Chelsea: Lampard 3; Kalou 2; Shevchenko, Sidwell, Sinclair 1
Referee: Martin Atkinson
You may remember Mr. Atkinson from the Carling Cup postponement and subsequent 3-6 loss to Arsenal last year. Sigh.
To be fair, he’s presided over the 4-2 Reading cup win and 0-0 Blackburn draw this season.
Guess at a squad:
Arbeloa Hobbs Hyypia Aurelio
Gerrard Lucas Alonso Leto
I think we'll see a line-up in tune with the past Carling Cup games for both sides. I can't imagine Liverpool or Chelsea will deploy a full-strength side, but neither will trot out a team filled with reserves either.
First and foremost for Liverpool is the news that Alonso's back in training and in contention for a start. Agger's still out and Finnan's still doubtful, but Alonso's return will be warmly welcomed; I've little need to write about how his passing and playmaking will improve the team.
Since it's the first time's Alonso's in contention since the Arsenal game where he re-aggravated the metatarsal injury, Benitez may find it safer to bring Xabi off the bench, but with all we've heard about Alonso’s recovery of late, I have to believe he'll feature from the off.
We can divine more of the line-up from who’s featured in the past two Carling Cup games. Crouch, Lucas, Leto, Arbeloa, Aurelio, Carragher and Itandje all started against both Reading and Cardiff City. I don’t know if Carragher (who really deserves a rest; the only games he’s missed were against Toulouse and Derby around the end of August), Aurelio (same health issues as always) or Leto (although he did miss the reserves’ friendly last night) will feature, but otherwise I expect all of those players to see time.
It’s also potentially another chance to see Babel up top. I can’t explain why, but I’m fairly sure he’ll start on the left or as a striker, and I’d rather see him play up top like against Cardiff. Crouch should start as well (he hasn’t gotten a ton of games and Terry’s injured), and I think Babel would be a useful foil playing off Crouch, as was the plan in the last round.
I’m guessing Gerrard on the right, as I have to believe he’ll play, but I also want to see both Lucas and Alonso in the center. Resting Gerrard, as happened against Reading and would have happened against Cardiff were Sissoko not sick, could come into play, but I half expect to see the captain no matter the opposition. Although it’s worth a mention that El Zhar frequently sees time in the league cup, and scored a peach of a goal in the last round.
Chelsea has their own injury problems at the moment, with Terry and Drogba assuredly out and Carvalho a possibility to return after a six-game absence. Ballack may return from his long-standing injury as well, but given he hasn’t played all season, I doubt his inclusion is something Liverpool will focus on. Like seeing who’s played both cup games for Liverpool, Chelsea’s started Cudicini, Belletti, Ben Haim, Wright-Phillips, Sidwell, Scott Sinclair, and Pizarro in both of their CC matches.
Liverpool’s somewhat in a catch-22 tomorrow. After losing to United, and despite the fact this should be a completely different line-up, to go out of the Carling Cup would raise further questions about the club’s situation. But if Liverpool wins, I’m sure the talk will be about how Chelsea played a weakened side (granted, the word “rotation” wouldn’t be mentioned).
And while the Carling Cup is still a distant fourth in Liverpool’s priority, it’s a quarterfinal cup game against one of the biggest competitors in the Premiership. I don’t believe that any Carling Cup game is a must-win game, and honestly, tomorrow’s performance is more important than the result, but I’m hoping both the performance and result will be replies to what happened last Sunday.