Verdict: Total goals under 2.5
Best odds: 19/20
Liverpool are set to play host to Chelsea at Anfield on Thursday in the 27th round of the Premier League roller coaster. It is an immensely important contest which could have a big impact on the battle for Champions League qualification at the end of the season.
Going through an extremely rough patch in the middle of a injury-riddled campaign, the still-reigning champions find themselves outside of top four at the moment, even though they topped the table not too long ago. It is a consequence of a difficult stretch which could be said to have started as far back as November, when a 1-1 draw away to Brighton and Hove Albion brought their problems to the fore.
Looking at their more recent form, Liverpool won two of their last six matches, encasing four defeats in between. A 1-3 win away to West Ham was followed by a 0-1 home defeat to Brighton, a 1-4 defeat to title favourites Manchester City, a 3-1 loss away to Leicester City and a 0-2 defeat at home in the Merseyside Derby against Everton, before they managed to beat bottom-of-the-table Sheffield United at Bramall Lane on Sunday by 0-2.
At the moment, the Reds are in sixth place, 22 points behind Manchester City who have played a match more, seven behind Manchester United in second place, six behind Leicester in third, two behind West Ham in fourth, and one behind Chelsea in fifth. The three teams that sit directly below should also be taken into account; Everton who have the same tally (43) with a game in hand, Tottenham Hotspur with four points less but also with a game in hand, and Aston Villa with the same tally as Spurs but with two games in hand on Liverpool.
Apart from the Premier League, Liverpool also have to think about the Champions League where they have a two-goal advantage over RB Leipzig after the first leg of their round-of-16 clash.
A lot has been said about the injury crisis at Liverpool this season. Not one of Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip is expected to play again this term, and the same goes for their captain, midfielder Jordan Henderson.
On the other hand, manager Jurgen Klopp will have been happy that midfielder Naby Keita is back in contention, as is Fabinho, who has mostly played centre-back this season. Diogo Jota is also back from a long absence due to a knee problem, though he missed the Sheffield trip through illness and remains a doubt for Thursday. Goalkeeper Alisson Becker was also left out on that day after his father tragically lost his life a few days earlier, but Klopp has confirmed the Brazil No.1 will be ready to face Chelsea.
With Keita and Fabinho back in the fold, it will be interesting to see how Liverpool line up for this match. Most expect Fabinho to slot into a centre-back role once more, but with newcomers Ozan Kabak and Ben Davies also in the mix, as well as youngsters Nathaniel Phillips and Rhys Williams, Klopp could choose to put Fabinho into his preferred position as the shield ahead of the back four.
This season has been a mixed bag for Chelsea. Having saved up by not bringing anyone in the previous two windows, they spent a lot of money on attacking reinforcements last summer, with a few defensive additions as well. But it can be said that it only put additional pressure on the shoulders of Frank Lampard, and what was seen as an underwhelming half of the campaign saw him eventually replaced by Thomas Tuchel at the helm.
Chelsea still haven’t lost a game since then, in any competition. In the Champions League, they managed to beat Atletico in Madrid by 0-1 in the first leg of the round of 16, and in they’ve reached the quarterfinals of the FA Cup but beating Championship side Barnsley in the fifth round.
As for their last six Premier League matches, they won four and drew two, beating Burnley at home by 2-0, Spurs away by 0-1, Sheffield United away by 1-2, Newcastle at home by 2-0, then drawing 1-1 away to Southampton and 0-0 against Manchester United at home.
Tuchel has revealed that his team will once again be without Thiago Silva. The veteran defender has been out since the win over Spurs more than a month ago with a thigh problem. Striker Tammy Abraham has had a minor ankle issue, and he remains to be assessed between now and the kick-off.
Everyone else is available for selection, including winger Callum Hudson-Odoi who was substituted at halftime against United on Sunday, which gives the former Paris Saint-Germain boss a lot of options to choose from, particularly upfront where he’ll get to choose from the likes of Timo Werner, Olivier Giroud, Abraham (if he’s fit), Christian Pulisic, Hakim Ziyech, Kai Havertz, Mason Mount and Hudson-Odoi.
This contest will see the two teams weighing up their approaches carefully. They both have strong reasons to win; Liverpool will be looking to build on the Sheffield result and prove that the worst part of the campaign is behind them, as well as to win the points that would see them go above Chelsea, but the Blues will not only be looking to extend the gap in the table, but also to get some revenge for the Reds beating them at Stamford Bridge early in the season.
Needless to say, it could go both ways despite the bookies favouring Liverpool, but first and foremost, neither side will want to lose. Looking at it logically, a cautious approach is to be expected, with both sides looking to exploit any potential defensive mistakes to put the opposition ‘keeper under threat. And unless there are many of those, there shouldn’t be many goals either.
Verdict: Total goals under 2.5
Best odds: 19/20
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