18 November 2011

Liverpool at Chelsea 11.20.11

11am ET, live in the US on FSC

Last four head-to-head:
1-0 Liverpool (a) 02.06.11
2-0 Liverpool (h) 11.07.10
0-2 Chelsea (h) 05.02.10
0-2 Chelsea (a) 10.04.09

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 0-0 Swansea (h); 2-0 West Brom (a); 2-1 Stoke (a)
Chelsea: 1-0 Blackburn (a); 1-1 Genk (a); 3-5 Arsenal (h)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Suarez 4; Adam, Carroll 2; Bellamy, Gerrard, Henderson, Skrtel 1
Chelsea: Lampard 6; Sturridge 4; Ramires, Terry 3; Mata, Torres 2; Anelka, Boswinga, Drogba, Malouda 1

Referee: Martin Atkinson Lee Probert

Evidently the Premier League wasn't that upset with Atkinson sending off Rodwell last month or he wouldn't have gotten another Liverpool game so soon. Incidentally, Howard Webb is the fourth official.

Guess at a line-up:
Johnson Carragher Agger Enrique
Lucas Adam
Kuyt Henderson Downing

No more internationals until the spring. Enough speculating about Suarez's possible sins. Football. Finally. Back to the football.

For once, an international break was kind to Liverpool in regards to injuries, with everyone coming back fit. In addition, the two-week break means Carragher's fit and Gerrard, while still out, is well on the road to recovery. Of course, Carra's recovery poses a question: does he slot straight back into the back four after Liverpool kept consecutive clean sheets with the Skrtel-Agger pairing? Almost assuredly yes, yes he will, like it or not. It's a big game, away from Anfield, and Liverpool's defense will probably be sitting quite deep.

In addition, many of Liverpool players impressed for their countries. Suarez scored four in his one appearance for Uruguay. Kelly tallied twice in the two England u21 games while Henderson, who captained the side, provided three assists (two from set plays). Agger scored for the Danes, Downing was England's best player in the win over Sweden (setting up the lone goal), and Kuyt was Holland's best player in a 0-3 loss to Germany. Needless to say, it's far more important they do similar (or better!) for Liverpool.

While the most-frequently used lopsided 4-2-2-2 has come under a lot of criticism, mainly for Liverpool's multiple disappointing draws, the side has lined up in a 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 for the "big" games: at Arsenal, at Spurs, and against United. I expect we'll see much the same on Sunday. There seems little chance of repeating last season's three-man defense.

Given Villas-Boas' preference for a high-line, high pressing 4-3-3, I think Liverpool's formation will look most like the side which faced Arsenal but with Suarez in for Carroll. Suarez's pace could pierce Chelsea's rearguard as Van Persie did multiple times when Arsenal traveled to the Bridge, and that vulnerable defense might also be an argument for Bellamy starting in place of Downing. We've criticized the side for being too reactive, but away from Anfield, Chelsea will have far more of the initiative. Liverpool will be "defensive," will have to be patient, and will rely far more on counter-attacks. And as both Chelsea full-backs (especially if Boswinga starts over Ivanovic ) look to get forward at every opportunity, Liverpool will need to play quick and direct, and use any available width. With Gerrard absent, Henderson's forward runs from midfield could be crucial, which is a main reason why I think he'll be playing between the lines.

Chelsea have few injuries as well, with Essien out long-term and Drogba doubtful. Villas-Boas will pick three from four in midfield – Lampard, Ramires, Meireles, and Mikel – and will probably deploy Sturridge and Mata on either side of Torres. Regardless of participants, it'll be a very fluid front six, which means Liverpool defenders will have to be both clever and perpetually aware of who to pick up, not necessarily limited to who lines up opposite them at the opening whistle.

With Liverpool having done the double over Chelsea last season, the Blues will have even more motivation than usual. Of course, both Liverpool's goal-scorers in those meetings now ply their trade in West London. Chelsea are three points ahead of Liverpool after 11 games. As a reminder, Chelsea were 10 points ahead of Liverpool at this stage last season, top of the table while Liverpool sat in 9th, 24 goals better on goal difference rather than the current five.

With the end of internationals for the next few months, matches will start stacking up. There'll be no more two-week layoffs following a disappointing draw. After this week, Liverpool will have faced all its competitors for a Champions League place (sorry Newcastle) at least once, with three of five away from Anfield. It's more than tempting to agree with the Anfield Wrap's conclusion that the season starts on Sunday. Chelsea's growing pains give Liverpool a clear opening, but it's not as if the Reds are free from similar issues.

1 comment :

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