07 November 2014

Liverpool v Chelsea 11.08.14

7:45am ET, live in the US on NBC Sports

Last four head-to-head:
0-2 Chelsea (h) 04.27.14
1-2 Chelsea (a) 12.29.13
2-2 (h) 04.21.13
1-1 (a) 11.11.13

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 0-1 Real (a); 0-1 Newcastle (a); 2-1 Swansea (h)
Chelsea: 1-1 Maribor (a); 2-1 QPR (h); 2-1 Shrewsbury (a)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Sterling 3; Gerrard 2; Coutinho, Henderson, Lallana, Moreno, Sturridge 1
Chelsea: Costa 9; Hazard, Oscar 3; Ivanovic, Schürrle 2; Drogba, Fabregas, Matic, Ramires, Remy, WIllian 1

Referee: Anthony Taylor

Liverpool are unbeaten in the eight matches Anthony Taylor has been the referee for since Brendan Rodgers became manager (5W-3D). There's a first time for everything.

Guess at a line-up:
Manquillo Skrtel Toure Moreno
Henderson Can
Borini Balotelli

Did we learn anything after Tuesday's loss to Real Madrid?

Yes, Kolo Toure can be a comedic figure. Yes, I very much remember massive mistakes against West Brom and Fulham, among others. Yes, I know that the Toure-Skrtel pairing kept just one clean sheet in 10 matches last season. Yes, I worry about Toure and Skrtel's lack of speed against Chelsea's attack. But I don't really care. The Toure-Skrtel pairing looked far, far better against Real Madrid than Skrtel-Lovren has looked at any time this season.

Emre Can was the other player to make a strong case for continued inclusion. Pairing Henderson and Can would give Liverpool two willing runners in midfield able to press Chelsea's midfielders relentlessly – specifically Fabregas – and both have the ability to break the opposition's lines with strong runs from deep, even if neither is an especially strong finisher.

Could we see the return of the 4-Diamond-2? Chelsea's attacking line of three interchanges early and often, but whether it's Hazard, Oscar, or Willian out wide, they often come into the center. Liverpool shouldn't be as reliant upon wingers tracking back, and both Henderson and Can are mobile shuttling midfielders capable of covering a lot of ground. In addition, Borini was another who played well against Real despite Liverpool's overwhelming lack of an attack. I'd still like to see what he and Balotelli are capable of in a front pairing.

The other diamond alternative is Sterling up front with Balotelli and Coutinho as the #10, a formation that allows both Sterling and Coutinho to play without relegating them out wide. More specifically, without relegating Sterling to the right. Once again, please don't play Sterling on the right.

Do I think any of this – Toure, Can, diamond – is likely to happen? Probably not. 4-3-3 (whether 4-2-3-1 or 4-1-2-3) with Henderson, Allen, Gerrard in midfield, Coutinho, Balotelli, Sterling up front, and Johnson and Lovren back in defense still feels like it's the "preferred" formation, for reasons beyond my explanation. Maybe this time will be different than all the other times.

Regardless, Liverpool will have to be their best, up against the Premier League Champions-in-waiting.

As much as it pains me to say, Chelsea are good. Really, really good. After adding Diego Costa and Fabregas, they've no weaknesses. They were already defensively sound and well-organized, as Mourinho teams always are, and now they've got the firepower that's been lacking. Courtois is also an upgrade on Petr Cech. The starting XI is the strongest in the league, and the bench is usually made up of players such as Schürrle, Ramires, Drogba, Remy, and Salah.

The Chelsea XI seems simple to predict. Courtois; Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Azpilicueta; Fabregas, Matic; Willian, Oscar, Hazard; Costa. The only question is at left-back, where Mourinho could pick either Azpilicueta or Filipe Luis. Loic Remy and Mikel, two players who usually come off the bench if they feature, are Chelsea's only injury doubts.

It's safe to assume that Chelsea won't play as they played in their last visit to Anfield. They've no need for that style, in outstanding form with the weapons to play on the front foot on any ground. And Liverpool obviously don't have the weapons they did last season. If anything, Liverpool will be the more defensive side, first attempting to be secure at the back before launching potential counter-attacks.

Liverpool are unfavored, unfancied, out of form, and up against the wall. There's an excellent chance they'll be completely outclassed once again tomorrow. But we've seen backs-against-the-wall deliver brilliant performances before, even if we're yet to see it this season. There's no time like the present.

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