28 September 2018

Liverpool at Chelsea 09.29.18

12:30pm ET, live in the US on NBC Sports

Last four head-to-head:
1-2 Chelsea (h; League Cup) 09.26.18
0-1 Chelsea (a) 05.06.18
1-1 (h) 11.25.17
1-1 (h) 01.31.17

Last matches:
Liverpool: 1-2 Chelsea (h); 3-0 Southampton (h); 3-2 PSG (h)
Chelsea: 2-1 Liverpool (a); 0-0 West Ham (a); 1-0 PAOK (a)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Mané 4; Salah 3; Firmino 2; Matip, Milner, Sturridge, Wijnaldum 1
Chelsea: Hazard 5; Pedro 3; Alonso, Jorginho, Kante, Morata, Willian 1

Referee: Andre Marriner (LFC History) (WhoScored)

Guess at a line-up:
Trent A-A Gomez van Dijk Robertson
Milner Wijnadum Keïta
Salah Firmino Mané

So Wednesday wasn’t fun. But this ain’t gonna be Wednesday. Maybe for better, maybe for worse.

Unlike in the League Cup, we’re getting the Liverpool we know and love. At least in the starting XI. For the most part. Whether we get the play we know and love obviously remains to be seen.

The one worry is that Virgil van Dijk won’t have gotten over his rib injury, requiring either Matip or Lovren to keep their place, probably alongside Gomez. And I hope that doesn’t happen. That’s only a marginal slight on Matip or Lovren; they’re better than usually given credit for, even considering the seemingly inevitable once-per-game mistake, but they ain’t Virgil. The full-backs have made a huge improvement, especially considering their respective ages. Gomez is coming along nicely. Alisson’s gonna be great. But van Dijk is the centerpiece, touchstone, leader, etc of this defense.

The only other question is the usual three from four debate in midfield. I’ve left Henderson out in the above guess, as I think the movement and running of Milner and Keïta is crucial and Henderson’s been better is games against lesser opposition that’s pinned back and we’ve seen this trio more than any other, but I honestly wouldn’t be surprised by any combination.

Otherwise, you know this lineup. And it ain’t the lineup which lost on Wednesday.

Liverpool will be better, stronger, more coherent than they were in the League Cup, but so will Chelsea. To be fair, Chelsea made almost as many changes to their starting XI as Liverpool did in that meeting.

Tomorrow we’ll get Marcos Alonso, bombing forward from full-back with far more threat, on Chelsea's much more dangerous left flank, even if his replacement in the last match scored the equalizer. Jorginho, controlling play from deep midfield, the architect of what Sarri wants to do, pass pass pass away from and around Liverpool, allowing Chelsea to better control tenor and tempo, especially at home. Kanté, no longer the deepest midfielder, but energetic further forward in both pressing and breaking lines. Giroud, far more potent than Morata, especially against Liverpool, with six goals in his last seven matches against Liverpool, including the winner the last time these sides met in the league.

But most importantly, Eden Hazard will start. You saw the impact he had on Wednesday.

And you saw what Chelsea are without him. 0-0 at West Ham the last league match when West Ham focused solely on keeping him quiet. 1-0 to Liverpool, with the score line arguably unfair to the home side, until he came on. And it finished 1-2. Hazard delivered the set play leading to Barkley’s shot leading to the corner that Chelsea equalized on. Hazard scored an unbelievable winner, whomp whomp whomping Keïta and Moreno (especially Moreno) before beating Mignolet all ends in all directions.

I don’t much care for Eden Hazard.

So tomorrow’s XI is likely to be Kepa; Azpilicueta, Cahill, Luiz, Alonso; Kante, Jorginho, Kovacic; Willian, Giroud, Hazard. As on Wednesday, Pedro, Rudiger, and Loftus-Cheek are doubtful. Maybe we’ll get Christensen instead of Cahill, or Rudiger if available, or Fabregas instead of Kovacic in midfield.

So, yeah, Chelsea’s a threat. Even more so than on Wednesday, a match they won at Anfield. And this is at Stamford Bridge.

But still-unbeaten-in-competitions-that-matter Liverpool will be no pushovers. Two of the best sides in the league in match-week seven. Pressing and verticality against pressing and verticality. Hilariously good attackers, diligent and combative midfielders, wild full-backs, the two most expensive goalkeepers in the world, and defenses that range from “can be gotten” to “you ain’t getting” depending on who’s available for either side.

This is what the Premier League’s supposed to be about. Try to enjoy it. And look out.

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