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Last four head-to-head:
2-0 Liverpool (h) 11.07.10
0-2 Chelsea (h) 05.02.10
0-2 Chelsea (a) 10.04.09
4-4 (a; CL) 04.14.09
Last three matches:
Liverpool: 2-0 Stoke (h); 1-0 Fulham (h); 3-0 Wolves (a)
Chelsea: 4-2 Sunderland (a); 1-1 Everton (a); 4-0 Bolton (a)
Liverpool: Gerrard, Kuyt 4; Maxi, Meireles 3; Kyrgiakos, Ngog 2; Cole, Johnson, Skrtel, Suarez 1
Chelsea: Drogba, Malouda 9; Kalou 7; Anelka 6; Essien, Ivanovic, Lampard 3; Terry 2; Alex, Benayoun, Ramires 1
Referee: Andre Marriner
Guess at a line-up:
Kelly Carragher Agger Johnson
Maxi Meireles Suarez
I highly doubt Liverpool will stay with same formation deployed against Stoke, whether 3-4-2-1 or 3-5-2. Primarily, Liverpool will have a lot less of the ball and the defenders will be up against the likes of Drogba, Anelka, Malouda, and yes, Fernando Torres instead of John Carew. Agger and Skrtel won't be bombing forward to join the attack as on Wednesday. If Chelsea continue with the 4-3-1-2 used against Sunderland, a three-man back line makes some sense on its face, with the center-backs canceling out two strikers and Lucas marking the withdrawn play-maker (probably Anelka). But Chelsea's pace on the flanks from full-back, specifically in Ashley Cole, would pin back the wingbacks, while both Lampard and Essien can join in from deep, overrunning the midfield and forcing at least one of the free attacking midfielders back to help out.
Yet Liverpool can still replicate some of the positives against Stoke in Dalglish's "original" 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 formation: width from fullbacks, Kuyt up front, and Gerrard/Meireles freely getting forward (although one will have more holding duties), among others. The fullbacks will be crucial; Kelly was masterful against Cole and Malouda when these sides met in November. Kuyt will also have a big role to play in bringing others into the attack, especially if new signing David Luiz starts at CB.
With Suarez starting, Liverpool will look even more a like a 4-3-3 than the 4-2-3-1 I often use for convenience. Suarez will ostensibly play on the left, cutting inside on his preferred right foot. Maxi would provide balance on the other flank, slightly deeper and able to move inside, but also clever enough to stretch play and contribute crosses. In addition, Kuyt will drop deep and shift positions in his all-action style, almost as a false nine.
Only fit enough for the bench against Stoke, I'm again guessing Carragher will return. It seems impossible that Carra would be available and not face Chelsea, even if he hasn't played in more than two months.
Top of the table when these two club met on November 7, Chelsea took 19 points from the next 13 games, falling to fourth. Comparably, even destitute Liverpool have earned 20 points since then, albeit having played one more match. But the Blues took nine of those points in their last three games, beating Blackburn, Bolton and Sunderland by a combined 10-2 margin.
Of course, all focus will be on Chelsea's new number nine. I forget his name. There's no assurance that guy will even start – at least Ancelotti refused to give assurances in today's press conference – but I'll be stunned if he doesn't. There's no way you pay £50m for a player and leave him out six days after signing just because his old team is the opposition. You'd think that'd be a bonus in Chelsea's eyes.
With what's-his-name in the lineup, Chelsea will probably play some variation of the diamond formation, which we saw a preview of against Sunderland last Tuesday. Drogba and Kalou formed a front two, while Mikel held the midfield, flanked by Essien and Lampard. It prompted the perpetually-enlightening Zonal Marking to run an article about Anelka as potential trequartista. Injury-wise, Ramires (who'd fit into this formation flawlessly) is out, along with long-term absentees Alex and Benayoun.
The hullabaloo over Torres will dominate airways, but the match is obviously bigger than one trophy-hunting mercenary. Liverpool have unmistakably improved under Dalglish, but let's not forget that the three wins came against the likes of Wolves, Fulham and Stoke – currently 20th, 12th, and 11th in the table. It's far more difficult to do it against the 4th-placed side on their ground. At least Liverpool have plenty of motivation.