26 January 2015

Liverpool at Chelsea 01.27.14

2:45pm ET, live in the US on BeIN Sports

Last four head-to-head:
1-1 (h; League Cup) 01.20.14
1-2 Chelsea (h) 11.08.14
0-2 Chelsea (h) 04.27.14
1-2 Chelsea (a) 12.29.13

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 0-0 Bolton (h); 1-1 Chelsea (h); 2-0 Villa (a)
Chelsea: 2-4 Bradford (h); 1-1 Liverpool (a); 5-0 Swansea (a)

Previous rounds:
Liverpool: 1-1 Chelsea (h); 3-1 Bournemouth (a); 2-1 Swansea (h); 2-2 Boro [14-13 pens] (h)
Chelsea: 1-1 Liverpool (a); 3-1 Derby (a); 2-1 Shrewsbury (a); 2-1 Bolton (h)

Goalscorers (all):
Liverpool: Gerrard 9; Sterling 7; Lallana 4; Henderson, Lambert 3; Balotelli, Coutinho, Markovic, Moreno 2; Borini, Can, Johnson, Lovren, Rossiter, Skrtel, Sturridge, Suso 1
Chelsea: Costa 17; Hazard 12; Oscar 7; Drogba 6; Schürrle, Terry 5; Fabregas, Remy 4; Matic, Ramires, Willian 3; Cahill, Ivanovic, Zouma 2; Mikel 1

Referee: Michael Oliver

Guess at a line-up:
Can Skrtel Sakho
Markovic Henderson Lucas Moreno
Gerrard Coutinho

There's honestly not very much to preview here.

We all know what Liverpool's XI will be. Maybe Lallana comes in for Gerrard, if he's not fully fit, or Coutinho, who disappointed (along with a fair few others) on Saturday, but that's about it. Rodgers is threatening to have Sturridge on the bench, but Tuesday seems too soon considering how long he was out. But Liverpool's medical staff obviously knows far, far more about that situation than I do.

Otherwise, the defense is settled, the midfield is settled. If Liverpool's more defensive wing-back back-ups were any better, one of them could be included – because Liverpool will have to defend far more than they did last week – but both Manquillo and Enrique were fairly terrible against Bolton.

First and foremost, Liverpool will have to be defensively solid; it will be a massive, massive game for Markovic and Can, again. But Liverpool will also have to score to advance, and chances will most likely come on the counter. Liverpool will need to press effectively – despite many players involved having played three matches in a week – Liverpool's build-up play will need to be quick and clever, Liverpool's finishing will need to be better than it's been for the majority of the season. Simple, right?

Similar goes for Chelsea. If the home side makes any changes from last Tuesday, it'll be Oscar for Mikel, dropping Fabregas into midfield. Mikel's already doubtful because of a head injury suffered against Bradford, but I expect he'd have been left out regardless. And that's about it. Courtois; Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Filipe Luis; Matic, Fabregas; Willian, Oscar, Hazard; Costa. From that XI, only Oscar and Cahill started in Saturday's surprising loss to Bradford, although Hazard, Fabregas, and Willian all came off the bench. And Bradford scored three of their four goals after those substitutions.

As if Chelsea needed any more motivation, they're coming off that 2-4 loss to League One Bradford City in the FA Cup. That was Chelsea's first home loss this season. That was the first time that Chelsea lost at home to lower league opposition since October 1995. As a reference point, Raheem Sterling was only 10 months old when that happened.

But both Bradford and Tottenham demonstrated that Chelsea can be beaten with swift counter-attacks: speedy runners on the flanks – which Liverpool have in Markovic and Moreno – and overloading the middle (especially the vulnerable Fabregas), which Liverpool can do with Sterling, Gerrard, Coutinho, and Henderson. And taking advantage of set plays – which Bradford did, which Liverpool often did last season – would be fairly helpful as well.

So here we are. 90 minutes – maybe 120, if extra time is needed, but let's go with 90 – for a trip to Wembley, a chance at a trophy. 90 minutes against the best side in England, a wounded animal, on their own ground. 90 minutes to demonstrate just how far Liverpool have come over the last few months. 90 minutes from greatness.

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