Verdict: Both teams to score
Best odds: 3/4
Liverpool are set to welcome Chelsea to to what should be a full Anfield on Saturday afternoon in the third round of the 2021-22 Premier League season. This match is obviously a contest between two of the best teams in the English top flight and Europe at the moment. Liverpool won the Champions League in 2019 and followed it up with the long-awaited Premier League title in 2020. Chelsea are now the Champions League holders, and it remains to be seen what the current league campaign holds for them, but they’ll sure be hoping to repeat what Liverpool did last year.
Last season was a most difficult one for Jurgen Klopp’s team. They were without their first three centre-backs for more than half of it, and the manager’s decision to use midfielders Fabinho and Jordan Henderson in the role after the turn of the year started telling not only on their back line, but the lack of those two in the middle of the park disturbed the balance in the remaining parts of the team. The emergency signings of Ozan Kabak (on loan from Schalke 04) and Ben Davies from Preston North End helped very little, and their title defence efforts were hampered severely. At one point, even top four placement became a huge doubt with even Henderson ruled out, but then Klopp chose to return Fabinho to midfield and put his faith in Nathaniel Phillips and young Rhys Williams at the back, and the Merseysiders bounced back with a series of wins late on, eventually finishing third.
The problems have been addressed in the transfer market with the arrival of Ibrahima Konate from RB Leipzig, and with Virgil van Dijk, Joel Matip and Joe Gomez now back, the centre-back department seems as strong as ever. Further more, midfielder Naby Keita seems to have overcome his own injury issues, and he put in excellent performances of the opening two matches of the new season.
Much has been said about the need to replace Georginio Wijnaldum. The Dutch midfielder left as a free agent and joined Paris Saint-Germain, but instead of signing a ready-made replacement for the Dutch international, Klopp has chosen to give a bigger role to youngsters Curtis Jones, and most especially 18-year-old Harvey Elliot. So far, his decision seems to have been the right one. Speaking to the press ahead of this match, the German tactician said he expected the remaining four days of the window to stay quiet, but he didn’t rule out something being done if the right kind of player becomes available.
Liverpool secured two wins from the two league matches so far, beating Norwich City away by 0-3 in the opening round, as well as Burnley at Anfield 2-0 last week. The two clean sheets will have given the defence confidence, along with the fact that four of their forwards found the opposition net in those games.
In the Champions League, the Merseysiders have been drawn in Group B, where they will face Atletico Madrid, FC Porto and AC Milan.
Klopp has confirmed that left-back Andy Robertson, who missed the first two matches with an ankle problem, is in contention against Chelsea. He should slot straight into the starting XI instead of Kostas Tsimikas, even though the Greek played very well against Norwich and Burnley, producing one assist.
With Alisson Becker in goal, Van Dijk and Matip should retain their places in the heart of defence, flanked on the right by Trent Alexander-Arnold. Neither Fabinho nor Henderson started in the first two games, but they could both be picked on Saturday. Thiago Alcantara is also ready to play, along with the likes of Keita, Elliott and Jones.
Klopp also has a decision to make upfront, and he could opt to make use of Roberto Firmino’s relentless pressing style against such strong opposition, rather than the scoring prowess of Diogo Jota. Nonetheless, it would seem harsh of the Portuguese, who scored both against Norwich and Burnley. There should be no questions about Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane on the attacking flanks, though.
The previous campaign was a strange one for Chelsea as well, though in a completely different way. It started in a shaky manner, and their early results included a 0-2 defeat to Liverpool at Stamford Bridge. Not satisfied with what the team had done in the autumn, the club eventually parted ways with Frank Lampard in January and appointed Thomas Tuchel in his place, the man who once upon a time succeeded Klopp at Borussia Dortmund.
Tuchel was fresh from his Champions League finalist campaign with PSG, and it didn’t take him long to put things in order at Chelsea. A solitary strike by Mason Mount in early March at Anfield made sure they got their revenge on Liverpool, and Tuchel managed to do what he couldn’t with PSG – he led the team to Champions League triumph, beating Premier League champions Manchester City in the final by 1-0.
Chelsea had invested heavily in their attacking ranks in 2020, signing Hakim Ziyech from Ajax, Timo Werner from RB Leipzig and Kai Havertz from Bayer Leverkusen. Tuchel quickly made use of Werner and Havertz, but Tammy Abraham lost a rather prominent role he had enjoyed under Lampard and he consequently left to join AS Roma this summer.
Nonetheless, the quality of Chelsea’s attack has been improved overall – in the place of Abraham, Romelu Lukaku made his return to the club, and the Belgian international made his mark straight away, scoring on his second debut, a 0-2 win over Arsenal at the Emirates last week. Before that, Chelsea had comfortably beaten Crystal Palace.
As for the Champions League, Chelsea will be playing in Group H, against Juventus, Zenit St. Petersburg and Malmo FF.
In his pre-match press conference, Tuchel confirmed the truth of the reports claiming defender Kurt Zouma was a subject of talks with West Ham. He also revealed Zouma wouldn’t be in the squad for the Anfield trip. Not because of the said talks, but because of some personal issues which he has to resolve. He’s been given permission to fly to France.
Edouard Mendy was named the Goalkeeper of the Season by UEFA on Thursday, and his place between the posts is in no danger. Captain Cezar Azpilicueta will likely join Andreas Christensen and Antonio Rudiger in a back line of three. N’Golo Kante, UEFA’s Midfielder of the Season, and Jorginho, the Men’s Player of the Year after his triumphs with both Chelsea and Italy, will be contesting the middle of the park against Liverpool counterparts, flanked by Reece James and Marcos Alonso as wing-backs. Upfront, Lukaku is likely to have Mount and Havertz in support.
As both coaches said, this match will be very far from an easy one for either side. Most eyes will look to see the battles between Lukaku and Van Dijk, but there will certainly be more to the contest overall than these two players, fantastic though they are. Chelsea are not the team that Liverpool beat at Stamford Bridge last August; Liverpool are not the team Chelsea beat at Anfield in March. Both are a different proposition these days, and this should really be as close as it gets to a ‘clash of titans’.
Both teams have scored five and conceded none so far, but neither goalkeeper is likely to keep a clean sheet on Saturday. Chelsea are far more than just Lukaku upfront, and Liverpool have the quality to match them at the other end. The two defences, also of high quality, will be hard put to it.
Verdict: Both teams to score
Best odds: 3/4
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