11am EST, live in the US on FSC
Last 4 head-to-head:
0-2 Chelsea (a; League Cup) 12.19.07
1-1 (h) 08.19.07
1-0 Liverpool (h; CL) 05.01.07
0-1 Chelsea (a; CL) 04.25.07
Last 3 matches:
Liverpool: 3-0 Sunderland (h); 0-1 West Ham (a); 5-2 Havant (h)
Chelsea: 1-1 Pompey (a); 1-0 Reading (h); 2-1 Wigan (a)
Liverpool: Torres 12; Gerrard 8; Babel, Benayoun, Kuyt, Voronin 3; Alonso, Crouch 2; Hyypia, Sissoko 1
Chelsea: Drogba, Kalou, Lampard 5; Shevchenko 4; Ballack, J Cole, Essien 3; Alex, Belletti, Pizarro, Wright-Phillips 2; Anelka, Malouda 1
Referee: Mike Riley
Guess at a squad:
Finnan Carragher Hyypia Riise
Pennant Gerrard Mascherano Benayoun
So with Torres out, Alonso suspended, and Liverpool at Stamford Bridge (where they haven’t taken three points in the league since Cheyrou’s winner in 2004), there’s a good chance that Liverpool could go with a lone striker (Crouch in place of Torres?) and a five-man midfield.
But more often than not, and with no real regard for the players available, Benitez has stuck with a 4-4-2, with games like Reading away the exception to the rule.
Torres’ injury raises many questions, and I’m still hopeful it’s not serious and he’ll be back for Inter on the 19th. And while Benitez has been talking about Kuyt on the official site, this is an opportunity for Crouch as well. Neither striker has been at their best, or even at the level they hit last season. While Crouch has at least been getting goals of late, I don’t know if playing either as a lone striker with the form they’re in is a good idea.
Torres, Arbeloa, Aurelio, Agger, and Voronin will be out due to injury, and I’ve heard conflicting reports on Babel’s status. He was taken off early in Holland’s game this week and the BBC is reporting that he’s doubtful with an ankle injury, but nothing’s been put up on the official site.
While Lucas lined up on the left against Sunderland, Chelsea is a completely different prospect. Were Kewell playing to his potential (or at least where many, including myself, hoped he’d be at following the extended injury), he’d be a nailed-on starter, but only Benayoun and Pennant have truly impressed on the flanks this season. And both have shown the ability to play on either side, which is why I’ve got them both starting. Pennant, with his crossing ability and willingness to stay wide, will be especially important if Crouch plays.
Lucas may play in central midfield, with Alonso suspended and Mascherano late returning from international duty, but as it’s Chelsea, if Masch is fit enough, Masch will play.
Much has been made of Liverpool's inability to get all three points against one of the ‘big four,’ but Chelsea’s in the same boat so far this season, having lost to Arsenal at the Emirates and United at Old Trafford, while holding Liverpool at Anfield.
Drogba, Kalou, and Essien will all miss out due to the African Cup of Nations, but given Nigeria’s exit, Obi Mikel may return. Shevchenko and Terry are also still out injured. Chelsea’s side is still exceptionally strong, and as mentioned in predictions a couple of weeks back, even with players missing they still find a way to win. But reading that list of players absent, Liverpool will know they’ve an opportunity to take advantage, no matter who's missing from Liverpool’s squad.
I’ve gotten this far without mentioning the tragedy that was August’s match at Anfield. Recent form and injuries have taken precedence in many minds, and rightfully so, but I’d hope Benitez makes the result from the last league meeting foremost in the players’ minds.
Liverpool frequently struggles at Stamford Bridge. But Liverpool can ill-afford to drop many more points, even against teams higher in the table. And one would hope that the team is more than ready to avenge the two points lost thanks to Rob Styles and Chelsea’s theatrics.