Monday, 30 January 2017

Liverpool v Chelsea Match Preview (31/01/17): Blues Can Secure Positive Result at Anfield

They say that in life, timing is everything. If that is true, then Chelsea could not have picked a better time to travel north to take on a rather beleaguered Liverpool side in Tuesday’s season-defining Premier League clash.

We must beware the wounded animal of course, but a glimpse of the Reds’ most recent results suggests that we can have complete confidence:

  • Sunderland 2 vs 2 Liverpool
  • Manchester United 1 vs 1 Liverpool
  • Liverpool 2 vs 3 Swansea
  • Liverpool 0 vs 0 Plymouth
  • Plymouth 0 vs 1 Liverpool
  • Southampton 1 vs 0 Liverpool
  • Liverpool 0 vs 1 Southampton

Because we’re all guilty of that at times, aren’t we? Overcomplicating situations that are clear as day, as black-and-white as it gets. Yes, Liverpool are an excellent side on their day, and yes Jurgen Klopp has rotated his team for some of the fixtures listed above, but so have Chelsea in the FA Cup and yet we are still walking tall.

All of the results listed above have taken place in the last month or so, and so like we were saying there could not be a better time to take on the Reds.

They are struggling defensively, and the question we asked is how will Trent Alexander-Arnold and James Milner, a newcomer to top-fight football and a midfielder respectively, cope with the attacking forays of Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses? How will a backline that has shipped two against Sunderland and three against Swansea be able to keep out a Chelsea side that has scored two or more goals in 11 of their last 16 league starts?

Before we are accused of over confidence, let us make one thing clear: Liverpool are an excellent side. But we simply have to head to Merseyside with confidence; all of the stars have aligned in the Blues’ favour.

Chelsea Team News

Happily we have nothing to report! All of the squad has reported into training fit and firing on Monday.

Cesar Azpilicueta, Pedro and Willian all played more than an hour in the win over Brentford but none of them suffered any ill effects from what was a straightforward workout, and other than that it is as you were for Antonio Conte as far as team selection is concerned.

The great thing about this fixture is that he can select his preferred starting eleven, and play in the same style, as he has done for the past three months or so. You suspect that Liverpool will change their system to try and nullify the Blues; and that hands the psychological advantage straight to us.

The toughest decision Conte has to make is whether to pick Pedro or Willian in the inside right position; the Spaniard appears to have nudged his way in front of the Brazilian in the heart and mind of the Italian, so expect him to get the nod.

Liverpool v Chelsea Head to Head

It’s been six head-to-head matches since Chelsea last tasted victory over Liverpool, which would make a win on Tuesday evening all the more satisfying.

Of all the sides in English football, the Reds have perhaps a better record against us than any other side, and since 2010 our return reads W5 D5 L7. They might not have the domestic silverware to speak of, but they seem to turn it on when the blue boys are in town.

The good news is that we have fared rather better at Anfield than most do. We are unbeaten in five trips to the red half of Merseyside, and a return of W4 D3 L2 in recent times speaks for itself. We have nothing to fear – and everything to gain – on Tuesday night.

How the Match Will Be Won

The one real lowlight of Chelsea’s recent run of form – the 0-2 defeat at Spurs – identified a weakness in our system that has largely been untroubled before and since: crosses swung into the back post. Dele Alli bagged both of his goals by swooping on the far post ahead of Victor Moses, and the crumb of comfort we can take is that few sides have fathomed this out. Liverpool certainly don’t have the physicality to hurt us in terms of balls into the box.

Antonio Conte has spoken in the press of his desire to deliver a ‘hard hit’ on Liverpool’s season, and the sweetest thing is that he won’t have to tweak his set-up to achieve it.

He will be content for Liverpool to dominate possession, safe in the knowledge that without Sadio Mane – rated as ‘50/50’ to start’ - they lack the directness to get in behind. They will try intricate movements in front of us, and given how solid our back seven (the five defenders and Kante and Matic in front) are, that is unlikely to yield results. Going forward, remember how devastating we were against Manchester City on the counter? Expect a similar theme here.

The pace of Victor Moses will terrorise James Milner down Liverpool’s left, while Marco Alonso showed against Leicester what an attacking force he can be. Young Liverpool right back Trent Alexander-Arnold will have a tough time dealing with the marauding Spaniard.

And Eden Hazard and Pedro will do what they do best: drop into pockets of space either side of Jordan Henderson and create shooting chances for themselves or Diego Costa. That could be all it takes for Chelsea to end Liverpool’s title hopes tomorrow night.

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