11am, live in the US on FSC
Last 4 head-to-head:
4-4 (a; CL) 04.14.09
1-3 Chelsea (h; CL) 04.08.09
2-0 Liverpool (h) 02.01.09
1-0 Liverpool (a) 10.26.08
Last three matches:
Liverpool: 0-2 Fiorentina (a); 6-1 Hull (h); 1-0 Leeds (a)
Chelsea: 1-0 APOEL (a); 1-3 Wigan (a); 1-0 QPR (h)
Liverpool: Torres 8; Benayoun, Gerrard, Kuyt 3; Babel, Johnson 2; Ngog 1
Chelsea: Drogba 6; Ballack 3; Anelka, A Cole 2; Deco, Lampard, Malouda 1
Referee: Martin Atkinson
Guess at a squad:
Johnson Skrtel Carragher Aurelio
Kuyt Gerrard Benayoun
The sooner Tuesday’s forgotten the better. And what better way to get it out the memory than a trip to Stamford Bridge?
All eyes are on Mascherano’s fitness after his absence against Fiorentina. Lucas/Aurelio were overrun against La Viola and Lucas/Gerrard is too attacking for an away game against a top-four club. According to Benitez, Masch trained today, so he should be fit for Sunday. Let’s hope so. If not, I have to imagine it’d be Lucas/Gerrard in midfield, but the captain would have to have a disciplined performance where he defends more than attacks.
The other major squad question, especially if Mascherano is fit, is the left flank. Benayoun or Riera, Insua or Aurelio? I’m tempted to suggest Riera simply because Chelsea is vulnerable to width in the midfield diamond formation and Riera could get in behind Boswinga, but Benayoun’s been in better form and has been more important to the team. I think Aurelio’s 90 minutes on Tuesday – setting aside the merits of his midfield performance – show he’s fit enough for a left back berth, and I suspect Benitez will prefer the veteran in a match like this.
After six or so weeks of questionable defending, I’m more than wary of Drogba against the centerbacks. The Ivorian’s scored for fun against Liverpool in the past, and that’s been when the backline’s playing well. It’s superfluous to suggest that Skrtel and Carragher will need to be on top form. The other defensive worry is set plays, as Chelsea has a lot of dangerous attackers: the aforementioned Drogba, Terry, Ballack, and Ivanovic (if Ashley Cole misses out through injury) can all cause problems.
Chelsea had been in blistering form, with 18 points from six matches, before losing at Wigan a week ago. More importantly, Cech picked up a red card against the Latics, so Hilario will start for the Blues, which could make a massive difference. I’ve been impressed with the way Ancelotti’s blended the team; Ballack, Lampard, and Essien have been able to play together, while Drogba and Anelka have sparked a partnership – something Scolari couldn’t accomplish. Chelsea will have a lot of possession, Torres will be isolated at times, and there’s a chance the game could turn on a piece of magic from the striker. Not to mention how crucial a solid defense will be. Liverpool’s beaten Chelsea seven times under Benitez. Five of those victories were accompanied by clean sheets.
Last season, Liverpool took 14 points from ‘big four’ matches, but the campaign stuttered against lesser opposition. So far this season, Liverpool’s smashed the likes of Hull, Stoke, and Burnley and lost to every decent side they’ve faced. This’ll be their first test against title contenders. Liverpool can’t let it pass by.