8:30am ET, live in the US on Fox Soccer Plus
Last 4 head-to-head:
0-2 Chelsea (a) 10.04.09
4-4 (a; CL) 04.14.09
1-3 Chelsea (h; CL) 04.08.09
2-0 Liverpool (h) 02.01.09
Last three matches:
Liverpool: 2-1 Atletico aet (h); 4-0 Burnley (a); 0-1 Atletico (a)
Chelsea: 7-0 Stoke (h); 1-2 Spurs (a); 1-0 Bolton (h)
Liverpool: Torres 18; Gerrard, Kuyt 9; Benayoun 6; Ngog 5; Babel 4; Johnson 3; Aquilani, Kyrgiakos, Maxi, Skrtel 1
Chelsea: Drogba 25; Lampard 20; Malouda 12; Anelka 9; Ballack, Kalou 4; A Cole, Essien 3; J Cole, Deco, Terry 2; Alex, Sturridge 1
Referee: Alan Wiley
Guess at a squad:
Johnson Carragher Kyrgiakos Agger
Maxi Aquilani Babel
Emotionally exhausted and physically spent after a crushing European exit and the season from hell. Stories about Benitez’s “imminent” departure to Juventus have intensified in the last 24 hours. And a win tomorrow could help hand United the title that sees them overtake Liverpool in number of championships. So, everyone’s all excited for a huge match against Chelsea? Super.
It’s a complete surprise to see malignant articles about Benitez’s future the day before a big match. That’s never happened before. But it’s hard to dismiss rumors that haven’t been fully dismissed by those involved even though they’ve been public for months, and especially when written by credible journalists like Barrett and Kay. Sigh. Hopefully that Sword of Damocles can wait for another day; let’s get to the others…
When the fixtures came out in August, everyone circled this as a potential title decider. It might decide the title, but Liverpool won’t be involved. I can’t blame people for not wanting a Chelsea win tomorrow – damn United, save the Empire – but I can’t do it. Yes, I’ll be furious to see United pass Liverpool’s record mark, but it’s seemingly inevitable. And I can’t bring myself to root against this club. Plus, in a perversely comical way, handing the Mancs this title would be a fitting final act for this awful, awful campaign.
As for the squad (yes, I’m embarrassed I’ve gone more than 200 words without discussing the possible team), I’ve little idea how Liverpool will approach the match, tactically or psychologically. It’s been a tough two weeks, physically and mentally (in contrast to the rest of the season, natch), with four games in ten days capped off by Thursday’s tragedy.
I’m tempted to just say ‘fuck it,’ and suggest ‘fan favorites’ and youngsters. The slight mathematical possibility for fourth is so massively slight (and might be gone in two hours), and so many senior players are either injured or jaded or both, that maybe it isn’t worth it. Play Pacheco, play Aquilani, play Babel, play Ayala; give the fans something to cheer for. But it’s not in Rafa or Liverpool’s DNA. Even given circumstances, I’ll be surprised if there’s much deviation from the norm.
And the norm in these matches is a tight, physical battle with only a smattering of half-chances. The above isn’t even my best guess at a squad – although it’s a better possibility with how coherent the attack looked at times on Thursday. Lucas in place of Aquilani, with Gerrard further forward, is. No surprise.
Benayoun’s unlikely to play after such a long shift on Thursday. The same might go for Kuyt with his calf strain, in which case Babel would probably play up top. Kyrgiakos seems almost certain to come back, and hopefully he’ll offer Spartan protection against a Chelsea team that ran riot in its last match.
A seven-goal demolition of Stoke, led by a hat-trick from Kalou and a brace from Lampard, was the right reply to a surprising loss at Tottenham the week before. It’s been a strange month as they fight for the title: they beat United at Old Trafford to secure pole position, then stuttered to a narrow 1-0 home win at Bolton in their next league outing before losing to Spurs. And when you’d assumed Chelsea had thrown away their advantage, they utterly annihilated the Potters.
John Terry will return from suspension, while Ashley Cole will be back in the side after an extended injury. Essien, Mikel, and Boswinga are the only players assuredly out. Drogba always has engrossing battles with Agger and Carragher, and it should be interesting to see how Kyrgiakos copes with the beast if he plays.
All I’m hoping for is what Reina’s been quoted saying in the press. Fight for pride, fight for the shirt. It’s the last home game of the season, and if rumors are true, could be Benitez’s last match at Anfield. Make it count.