19 January 2007

Liverpool v Chelsea 1.20.07

7:45am, live in the US on Setanta.

Liverpool: 3rd place; 43 points out of 23 games
Chelsea: 2nd place; 51 points out of 23 games

Last 4 meetings:
0-1 Chelsea (a) 09.17.06
2-1 Liverpool (Community Shield) 08.13.06
2-1 Liverpool (FA Cup) 04.22.06
0-2 Chelsea (a) 02.05.06

Last 3 games:
Liverpool: 3-0 Watford (a); 3-6 Arsenal (h); 1-3 Arsenal (h);
Chelsea: 4-0 Wigan (h); 1-1 Wycombe (a); 6-1 Macclesfield (h)

Goalscorers (league; more than one goal):
Liverpool: Kuyt 7; Bellamy 6; Crouch 5; Gerrard 4; Alonso, Garcia 3; Gonzalez 2
Chelsea: Drogba 14; Lampard 8; Ballack, Shevchenko 3; Carvalho, Robben 2

Referee: Rob Styles

Guess at a squad:
Finnan, Carragher, Agger, Riise
Pennant, Gerrard, Alonso, Aurelio
Kuyt, Bellamy

Thirteenth time that Liverpool has faced Chelsea in the two and a half years Benitez has been in charge. Liverpool’s unbeaten in Cup matches; Chelsea’s won every single league outing.

It doesn’t look likely that Benitez will use 3 strikers as he did last weekend at Watford. If Chelsea plays with Lampard, Ballack, and Makalele, as they are wont to do, the ball will get congested in the midfield, and I fear that Liverpool would end up resorting to the long ball. The BBC is claiming that John Obi Mikel will get a start in place of Makalele, which could easily lend itself to a 4-3-3, but the real question is whether Shevchenko will start alongside Drogba or not. In addition, John Terry still hasn’t returned from his back injury, while I find it hard to believe Cech will start after resuming training earlier in the week.

It seems that Liverpool would be far better served to utilize the full width of the field. Games like this, against top-level opposition, worry me in regards to Pennant, as the lad has had a habit of forcing things in these situations, but he’ll be needed tomorrow. If he can turn in a performance similar to his outing against Bolton, it will go a long way. He wasn’t bad against Chelsea earlier in the season; he caused them trouble down the flanks but was below average delivering the final cross. Garcia and Gonzalez (Gonzo’s included in the squad, but I find it hard to believe he’ll start or even feature so soon) will be sorely missed on the left, but Aurelio has played better of late when he’s gotten opportunities, and I’d be surprised if he and Riise didn’t comprise the left flank.

Agger’s included over Hyypia simply because I still have nightmares of Drogba running at Sami in the 4-1 victory at Anfield last season. He also started with Carra against Chelsea in September and played well, but Drogba was as a lone striker, whereas I expect to see Robben or Kalou/Mikel, if not both, start for Chelsea tomorrow.

There’s a lot of recent history in this fixture. I can rattle off things like Tiago’s handball, Mike Riley in general, Essien’s tackle on Hamann, 6 minutes of stoppage time, and the red card on Reina, and Liverpool fans should immediately know what I mean. At the same time, all you have to say to a Chelsea supporter is “it was over the line” to start an endless debate.

I hate to put a lot in one game, especially with home fixtures against United and Arsenal still to come, but this is easily one of the most important games left in the season. It’s dangerous to believe, but playing Chelsea could come at a worse time too. It’s hard to believe a media claiming the team’s in crisis when they’re second in the league, unbeaten in however many matches, and easily progressing in the Champions League, but it’s readily apparent Chelsea is more beatable this season than last, and at this stage in the season than earlier on. Liverpool has had trouble taking advantage of, and winning games against, the best league opposition. Let’s see that change.

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