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Last four head-to-head:
2-2 (h) 02.03.13
1-1 (a) 08.26.12
4-1 Liverpool (h) 05.08.12
1-2 Chelsea (n; FA Cup) 05.05.12
Last three matches:
Liverpool: 1-2 City (a); 3-1 Cardiff (h); 5-0 Tottenham (a)
Chelsea: 1-0 Swansea (h); 0-0 Arsenal (a); 1-2 Sunderland aet (a)
Liverpool: Suarez 19; Sturridge 9; Gerrard, Sterling 3; Coutinho 2; Flanagan, Henderson, Moses, Sakho, Skrtel 1
Chelsea: Hazard 7; Oscar 5; Lampard 4; Schürrle 3; Eto'o, Terry, Torres 2; Ba, Cahill, Ivanovic, Mikel, Ramires, Willian 1
Referee: Howard Webb
Guess at a line-up:
Johnson Skrtel Sakho Cissokho
Sterling Suarez Coutinho
This'll be Liverpool's third match in eight days, tomorrow's coming just three days after the last. There will be another, against Hull on New Year's Day, just three days after that. You'd think Liverpool's XI would see a fair amount of rotation.
You'd probably be wrong. Because Liverpool don't really have players to rotate.
That Moses and Aspas were the players chosen when chasing the game against Manchester City demonstrates just how tied Rodgers' hands are. And Moses can't play tomorrow because of his loan agreement. Coutinho, removed in the 68th minute on Thursday, looked especially fatigued, but Liverpool simply don't have many other options in the front six.
The one area where Liverpool could rotate is at center-back. At City, Skrtel did bad Skrtel things, Sakho also looked fatigued, Liverpool conceded two goals they probably shouldn't have conceded. Skrtel and Sakho have started the last four fixtures. Toure could come in for Skrtel, Agger for Sakho. The reverse probably won't happen though. The Toure/Skrtel combination was abhorrent against Hull; Rodgers has refused to use Sakho and Agger together in a center-back partnership, and I doubt he'll start at Chelsea.
And Jon Flanagan will still be injured, limiting Liverpool's choices at fullback. I've absolutely zero clue what Martin Kelly's deal is. If the options are Cissokho again or a center-back at left-back, I'm going with the center-back, especially if that center-back is Agger, the reverse of what Rodgers chose against Southampton. But that's assuming Kelly is still unavailable, and Rodgers won't replace Sakho with Agger. And, to be honest, Cissokho again seems a lot more likely.
Mourinho, on the other hand, will almost assuredly rotate his squad, at least more than Liverpool will. Because Mourinho has a much bigger squad than Liverpool. Cech will obviously start in goal. There are three choices for two spots at full-back – Ivanovic, Azpilicueta, and Cole – and three choices for two spots at center-back – Luiz, Terry, and Cahill. Midfield is the one area where Chelsea are limited for options: Ramires' suspension coupled with van Ginkel's season-long injury means that Lampard and Mikel are almost certain to start. Chelsea have the most options in the attacking line of three, but Hazard and Oscar almost always start the big matches, meaning that Mourinho will probably choose from Willian and Schürrle to take the third spot. And Chelsea have three options up front, but none have really stood out; Torres is probably the most likely, facing his former club, as Eto'o again failed to impress in the last match against Swansea and Demba Ba is very much the third choice.
Chelsea have been very Mourinho this season, if slightly less impressively Mourinho than expected upon the "Special One's" return. Jose's still unbeaten in the league at Stamford Bridge, if only because of a wholly undeserved injury time penalty last month. Despite the big name attackers, Chelsea have struggled in front of goals; they've chance creators galore with Hazard, Oscar, Mata, Schürrle, Willian, and De Bruyne (only City, Liverpool, and Spurs have created more), but the strikers haven't been able to take those chances. Regardless, any and all of those attacking midfielders are threatening on counter-attacks, and Liverpool's second goal conceded against Manchester City most assuredly demonstrated Liverpool's vulnerability on counters. And, as always, Mourinho's side remains one of the toughest to score on. Only Everton have conceded fewer goals than Chelsea – 17 to Chelsea's 18 (Arsenal and Southampton have also conceded 18).
Last season, these sides drew both meetings: 1-1 at Stamford Bridge, 2-2 at Anfield. But Liverpool drew both of last season's meetings with their last opponent, and subsequently lost 1-2 to Manchester City on Thursday. Also, Chelsea scored on a set play in both of last season's meetings as well. Maybe that's not comforting precedent. Let's try this again.
Liverpool haven't lost a league match to Chelsea since May 2010, Benitez's last season, a 0-2 home loss where Liverpool, at best, simply went through the motions and, at worst, allowed Chelsea to win to prevent United winning the title.
Even in 2010-11 or 2011-12, when Liverpool was clearly an inferior side, they performed to maximum capacity against this opponent. Tomorrow, clinging to a top four spot, Liverpool have even more to play for. We'll need to see Liverpool at maximum capacity, the lack of rest or rotation be damned, to pick up the needed one point tomorrow, let alone all three.