Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Liverpool vs Chelsea Match Preview (26/09/18): Team Selection Key to Colossal Carabao Cup Clash

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As we know, there are many different ways to play the beautiful game.

In the good old days the general tactic was to get the ball from back to front as quickly as possible; the genesis of ‘route one’ football.

In more modern times, through the great Dutch sides of the 1970s through to Barcelona’s tiki taka revolution, the desire to keep possession at all costs has infiltrated the sport.

It’s all horses for courses, of course, and both can be successful.

The problem comes when you adopt a specific strategy but without the key dynamics that underpin it. Barca, for instance, do play a lot of meaningless sideways passes, but the objective is to tire the opposition and then hurtle forwards with slightly longer passes that break the lines and turn an opponent around.

In Chelsea’s lacklustre 0-0 draw with West Ham on Sunday, you saw outstanding ball retention without the killer touch going forward.

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The excellent Barney Ronay in The Guardian wrote in depth about Jorginho, who broke the Premier League record for most successful passes in a match. But what kind of passes were they? The kind that split defences in two, or the clever sort that get a winger in behind a full back?

No, they were largely sideways or backwards, retentive at best, that offered the Blues little in the way of dynamism of progression.

In the same column Ronay writes that a midfield without a genuine attacking force – we all know N’Golo Kante is not a real number eight – is causing huge problems to the evolution of ‘Sarri-ball’.

It cost us the game against the Hammers too, who recognised that all they needed to do, if we are being honest, was ensure Eden Hazard was doubled up on when in possession. Lo and behold, we couldn’t find a breakthrough with the Belgian stifled.

Indeed, West Ham could have won but for Andriy Yarmolenko’s head-scratching miss, and for all the impressive possession statistics – 72% for what it’s worth – did Chelsea look like they were ever going to win this match?

There’s lots for Sarri to work on then, but unfortunately his training ground regime will be disrupted this week by a Carabao Cup fixture on Wednesday night against Liverpool at Anfield.

Chelsea Team News

The Carabao Cup is one of those competitions where team selection – a reflection of how much/little a team is prioritising the tournament – ultimately governs success.

This is Sarri’s first taste of the cup and we have little idea of how seriously he will take it. That said, it is notable that Napoli did not progress beyond the last eight of the Coppa Italia in his two seasons at the club.

Consequently, we can expect changes to the starting eleven.

Both Pedro and Antonio Rudiger are thought to be struggling with injuries, so they are unlikely to feature anyway, and otherwise it’s take your pick of who starts and who doesn’t.

Cesc Fabregas needs game time – if he’s fit, he may get the nod, while Alvaro Morata may be summoned after dropping to the bench against the Hammers.

Liverpool vs Chelsea Head to Head

Two of the most iconic teams in English football will meet for the 180th time on Wednesday.

Chelsea have hit the bullseye on 62 occasions, losing 77 and with 40 ending in stalemate.

In modern times, the Blues have had the wood on the Reds, losing just two of the last fourteen meetings (W5 D7 L2).

Last season, we beat them 1-0 at the Bridge in the league following a 1-1 draw in the reverse fixture at Anfield.

How the Match Will Be Won

Without knowing the starting elevens, it is hard to get an accurate picture of how this match will pan out.

Mind you, regardless of the personnel on show we know how the two teams will play: Liverpool, as ever, at 1000mph with pace and guile even if messrs Firmino, Salah and Mane are given the night off.

And we will attempt to control possession and dictate play, which as we know is Sarri’s preference.

Actually, this is probably the best way to stifle the Reds: simply don’t let them have the ball!

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We’re making dangerous assumptions, but you could argue that Liverpool’s second string isn’t up to all that: for instance, if you swap out Salah, Firmino and Keita for Shaqiri, Sturridge and Lallana, clearly that is a severe weakening of their obvious attacking force.

Chelsea’s fringe players are rather more interchangeable, and perhaps that gives us the edge. In truth, with assaults on four different competitions each, this match is something of an annoying sideshow.

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