Verdict: Home win
Best odds: 20/23
A weekend of highly interesting Premier League matches awaits, starting with a clash of the season’s arguably greatest underachievers, the last two English teams to have won the Champions League, when Liverpool host Chelsea at Anfield on Saturday. Both sides obviously have a lot of lost ground to make up and a big point to prove.
Having missed out on the Premier League title by a single point last season, as well as finishing the Champions League campaign with a defeat to Real Madrid in the final, and all that on top of lifting both domestic cups in England, Liverpool’s drop-off this term has been especially painful for their supporters.
Their ability to avoid conceding big chances has particularly fallen off the cliff, along with the ability to convert big chances of their own at the other end, and the ability win duels in the middle of the park. These things have obviously caused them to lose or draw some matches that they really should’ve won, given the amount of quality in their ranks.
A major overhaul of the midfield section is expected to happen at the end of the season, with Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain set to leave as free agents, and with heavy links with the likes of Borussia Dortmund star Jude Bellingham and Wolverhampton Wanderers’ Matheus Nunes appearing daily in the press. Brighton’s Moises Caicedo and Benfica’s Enzo Fernandez have been mentioned as well.
For the time being, it seems it’s always one step forward two steps back for Liverpool as they continue to shoot themselves in the foot every time they start looking like they might get into stride. Their last-six run in all competitions comprises of a 1-3 triumph away to Aston Villa, a 2-1 win at home over Leicester City, a 3-1 defeat away to Brentford, a 2-2 FA Cup draw at home against Wolves, a 3-0 hammering suffered at the hands of Brighton away, and a 0-1 win away to Wolves in the FA Cup replay.
As for the league table, there hasn’t been talk about the title race since October, at least no realistic talk, and now there’s barely talk of the top four at the end of the season too. Liverpool are now in ninth place with 28 points from 18 matches, 10 less than Newcastle in fourth, though they have a game in hand on the Magpies. Tottenham Hotspur, Fulham, Brighton and Brentford all make a significant barrier between them. A place in one of the two lesser UEFA competitions seems realistic for Liverpool next season. A place in the Champions League doesn’t.
And speaking of the Champions League, Liverpool are yet to face Real Madrid in the round of 16, with the first leg set to take place on February 21st at Anfield, followed by the rematch at the Santiago Bernabeu three weeks later.
It’ll still be more than a month, possibly two, until Luis Diaz is back in contention following his knee operation, and there’s no news yet as to when we could see Roberto Firmino (calf) back in action. There’s been good news regarding Diogo Jota recently – he should rejoin team training soon and is expected to be ready to face Real Madrid, but he obviously remains out for the time being. Darwin Nunez, on the other hand, should be in contention on Saturday after recovering from a minor hamstring problem.
Manager Jurgen Klopp won’t be able to count on Arthur Melo in the middle of the park or Virgil van Dijk at the back (hamstring both). The Juventus loanee should be back at the start of next month, but there’s no date set for the Netherlands captain yet. Left-back Kostas Tsimikas is a doubt, having suffered a back problem in the cup victory over Wolves.
Klopp fielded a heavily rotated lineup for that match, obviously desiring to show some of the more established players that he’s not afraid to drop them if their bleak performances continue.
But while there have been calls for the German to field the same starting XI against Chelsea as he did at the Molineux, Alisson Becker, Andy Robertson, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Fabinho and Mohamed Salah are set to be given their places back on Saturday. It remains to be seen whether that turns out the case for Joel Matip or Jordan Henderson, with genuine options existing for their positions on the pitch.
While it’s quite obvious that a lack of fresh legs in the squad is giving Klopp serious issues this season, it’s simply not the case at Chelsea. Since their owners changed in the spring last year, they’ve signed a host of new players on which they’ve spent close to €400 million so far. Their latest activities include signing winger Mykhaylo Mudryk from Shakhtar Donetsk for €100m, reportedly agreeing a deal for PSV Eindhoven winger Noni Madueke, and strongly pursuing Brighton’s Caicedo to strengthen the midfield.
Manager Graham Potter, who joined the club earlier this season from Brighton, has a host of options at his disposal, but it will likely prove a great challenge to keep all those players happy and such a number of incoming transfers in a short span might cause contempt among those already at the club, particularly those who remain from the team that won the 2021 Champions League.
Transfers aside, not much has gone right for Chelsea this season either. They’re actually sitting (directly) below Liverpool, with the same number of points but with one game played more. At this point, you could probably say that their prospects towards the end of the season and participation in the European competitions next term appear about the same as those of Liverpool, and it remains to be seen what each of the two teams does between now and May.
Chelsea will have a slightly easier task in the Champions League round of 16 next month, facing Borussia Dortmund in Germany first on February 15th and the rematch being played at Stamford Bridge three weeks later.
As is the case with Liverpool, Chelsea’s last-six run isn’t exactly a glorious one. It starts with a 2-0 win over Bournemouth, followed by a 1-1 draw away to Nottingham Forest and a 0-1 defeat to Manchester City. Then came another defeat to the reigning champions, this time in the FA Cup away by 4-0, a 2-1 defeat away to Fulham, and a 1-0 win at home over Crystal Palace several days ago.
The big question at the moment is whether Potter deems that Mudryk has adapted sufficiently to the new surroundings and teammates to play against Liverpool. If the debut of Joao Felix is anything to go by, he might, though it didn’t go quite as planned with Felix – he earned a straight red card against Fulham and is now suspended for the second of the three matches he received as a consequent ban.
Felix and his suspension aside, Potter has a lot of injury problems at the moment in his squad. The list of the players set to miss the Liverpool trip consists of goalkeeper Edouard Mendy (wrist), defenders Wesley Fofana (knee), Reece James (knee) and Ben Chilwell (hamstring), midfielders N’Golo Kante and Denis Zakaria (both hamstring), as well as forwards Raheem Sterling (hamstring), Christian Pulisic and Armando Broja (both knee).
Kepa Arrizabalaga will certainly start between the posts, with Thiago Silva joined by either Kalidou Koulibaly or Benoit Badiashile in the heart of defence and Cesar Azpilicueta on the right defensive flank, and Marc Cucurella should be expected to regain his spot ahead of young Lewis Hall on the left. Without Zakaria and Kante, Kovacic will start in the middle of the park alongside Conor Gallagher, though Jorginho is also an option. Further up, Potter will choose how to best utilize the versatility of Kai Havertz, whether to play him as the furthest man upfront, or alongside Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
Not too long ago, these two teams played each other in the finals of the Carabao and the FA Cup, with Liverpool emerging victorious on penalties on both occasions. This time they’ll be fighting each other in a desperate battle to pull away from the middle of the table, and given what we’ve seen so far from them this season, any outcome is possible.
However, boosted by the advantages of playing at Anfield, a Liverpool victory does seem closer to coming into reality than anything else.
Verdict: Home win
Best odds: 20/23
- Soccer News Like
- Be the first of your friends!