Third instalment is another tough away match this time the team travels to Anfield. Last season we picked up a rare 2-1 victory when Veron (anyone remember him?) gave us the lead, a retaken penalty after Carlo moved a hair length off his line for the first one that Owen had duly missed (anyone remember that refereeing fad?) and then Jimmy picked up the winner (we all remember him!).
Liverpool are starting to find some form having won convincingly 5-0 against West Brom and then winning less convincingly 1-0 against Southampton. Not the greatest of teams it has to be noted, but you can only beat what you’re up against. They have been playing with a 4-4-2 formation, with Riise bombing forward and chipping in with a few goals. Pongolle has started to find his feet, bagging the winner against the Saints. Star man and touted Chelsea target Gerrard is the opposition player to watch. He really is the main reason Liverpool are as high as they are. Being the home team you would expect Liverpool to continue with this system, although their manager is one of an elite 3 in the Premiership who has the CV to back whatever style they decide to play. There is a long list of injuries; most notably in the striker department hence the expected acquisition of Morientes, who failing a cup draw we won’t have to be tormented by. Finnan limped out of the last game and required stitches to an ankle wound so has to be considered slightly doubtful.
Stories before the match have focused on Mourinho snubbing an approach by Liverpool before the Man United Champions League match, and for that we are eternally grateful. Other stories have been on the impending opening of the transfer window. One player definitely not in the squad to face Liverpool is our longest serving player Babayaro. He has been a squad player in recent years after an impressive start to his Chelsea career. Famed for his goal celebrations despite not scoring very often, in fact 8 times in his 197 appearances (20 as a substitute), he has been cast down to third choice left back, with premises that Ferreira would be preferred. However, he is set to be Souness’ second signing as Newcastle manager, leaving for an undisclosed fee, signing on the 1st January 2005 coinciding with our trip to Anfield.
Chelsea have a healthier squad than to face Portsmouth and a slightly longer rest period between the games (still only 3 days). Carvalho is expected to have recovered from his broken toe and it is yet to be seen if he will return, with either Gallas moving to left back or Bridge returning after an unexpected rest against Pompey. Tiago should come back in for Smertin, with the ever-present Makelele and Lampard continuing in their midfield positions. Drogba started upfront in the last game so if rotation continues it should be Gudjohnsen back into the fray, and he is no stranger to scoring against Liverpool. With a flapping Dudek in goal, a clean sheet for Liverpool is unlikely for free scoring Chelsea, despite recent success. Both Lampard and Robben are teetering on 4 bookings, and mentioned in the forum are the consequences of a booking at Liverpool, more favourable suspensions against Scunthorpe in the FA Cup (but surely this doesn’t happen in football?). With Mike Riley as referee, bookings are always likely, averaging 3 bookings a match for this season.
With Arsenal failing to drop points against Newcastle, Cole’s handball and all, it remains imperative that we continue winning, and a win against an improving Liverpool side is a tougher challenge than we usually expect, although victory at the lively Fratton Park is no easy feat. Mourinho will have his players fired up for the win, and a draw is unlikely to be enough to continue our minimum of a 5-point lead at the top.
For those unable to attend the match is live on Sky Sports 2, coverage starts at 12.00, kick off is at 12.45.
Referee: Mike Riley, West Yorkshire
Team Prediction: Cech, Ferreira, Terry, Gallas, Bridge, Makelele, Tiago, Lampard, Duff, Robben and Gudjohnsen.
Score Prediction: 2-0, Liverpool defence fails to handle the dynamic movement of our attacking players.