25 September 2018

Liverpool v Chelsea 09.26.18

2:45pm ET, live in the US on ESPN+

Last four head-to-head:
0-1 Chelsea (a) 05.06.18
1-1 (h) 11.25.17
1-1 (h) 01.31.17
2-1 Liverpool (a) 09.16.16

Last matches:
Liverpool: 3-0 Southampton (h); 3-2 PSG (h); 2-1 Tottenham (a)
Chelsea: 0-0 West Ham (a); 1-0 PAOK (a); 4-1 Cardiff (h)

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

Referee: Kevin Friend (LFC History) (WhoScored)

Guess at a line-up:
Clyne Matip Lovren Moreno
Milner Fabinho Keïta
Sturridge Solanke Shaqiri

It ain’t quite the battle of who could care less, but this is at best an amuse-bouche before the weekend.

The League Cup remains the League Cup. Liverpool’s squad is both better and deeper this season, more capable of contesting all four competitions, but this one remains a distant fourth on the list of priorities.

Normally, the tie being against Chelsea would make it more meaningful, if not more important, but that Liverpool subsequently play the same side in the league on Saturday means that no one’s going to want to tip their hands. And after Chelsea comes Napoli and Manchester City. So it seems we're back to the League Cup still being the League Cup.

That said, Klopp’s league cup lineups have often been somewhere between slightly stronger and much stronger than we’ve expected. But it’s hard to see that being the case tomorrow, especially since Liverpool have a surprising amount of actually good players who’ve hardly seen the pitch so far this season.

Guessing a brand new back five may be foolish, but at least one of Clyne or Moreno will come in at full-back, if not both. Matip will keep his place, and Lovren’s supposedly fully fit and ready to go. I’d vastly prefer Alisson stay in goal, but the obviously-out-of-favor Simon Mignolet’s definitely starting according to Klopp so *shrugs vehemently*.

The front six is as much a guessing game. We all would really like to see Fabinho finally start, while both Keïta and Milner were substitutes against Southampton. Firmino’s definitely not starting, and it’s not hard seeing both Mané and Salah left out as well. Maybe one keeps their place, alongside Sturridge and Shaqiri. Maybe it’s the above, with Sturridge ostensibly on the right, where he’s kinda sorta capable of playing. Maybe it’s the above players in a 4-4-2 diamond, with Sturridge and Solanke up front, Shaqiri as the most advanced midfielder, and Milner and Keïta pushing a bit wider than usual – something both are very much able to do.

It’s the League Cup. Who knows.

Meanwhile, Chelsea will almost certainly approach the match similarly. Wholesale changes. Something like Caballero; Zappacosta, Cahill, Christensen, Emerson; Fabregas, Ampadu, Barkley; Moses, Morata, Hudson-Odoi. Rudiger, Pedro, and Loftus-Cheek are probably absent, all recovering from respective injuries. There has been talk that Hazard will play, but I’d be surprised; he’s too important to Chelsea. Similar goes for players like Marcos Alonso, Kanté, Jorginho, and Willian, but honestly have no idea.

Chelsea have started the season well, unbeaten and having won all of their matches until Sunday, when they drew 0-0 at West Ham. Venue notwithstanding, that’s a West Ham side that Liverpool whomped last month. It’s a West Ham side that has won just two matches this season, at Wimbledon in the League Cup and at Everton nine days ago. Maybe these results against Chelsea and Everton are a sign that West Ham are coming together with a vastly different side and new manager. Or maybe it’s a sign that West Ham knew that if they just kept Hazard quiet, they’d have a good chance of getting something from the match. And they did, and then they did. Which might explain why there’s talk Hazard will play tomorrow.

Wholesale changes, including players who've featured far less, may make Chelsea less capable of Sarri-ball, but they will still be a compact, pressing, possession-dominating side. Which could upset a changed Liverpool XI or feed into Liverpool's compact, pressing, blitzkrieg-counter side. I'm honestly curious to see.

So, yeah, League Cup. Another chance to watch a fun Liverpool side, and a chance for players not featuring regularly to stake stronger claims. To see what the players and the side are capable of in situations like these. That’s what the League Cup is for. That's all the League Cup is for, at least at this stage of the competition.

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