Stamford Bridge is once again the venue for the opening clash between Liverpool and Chelsea in this Premier League season. This rivalry has seen the two clubs meet a total of 24 times in all competitions since 2004, so suffice it to say, both teams are quite familiar with the other. Even the two managers, Rafa Benitez and Carlo Ancelotti are no strangers to one another, with both having bested each other for Champions League honours, Benitez’ Liverpool side having defeated Ancelotti’s Milan side on that fateful night in Istanbul in 2005 and Ancelotti getting revenge in Athens in 2007.

It was this fixture last season that ultimately ended our 86-game unbeaten run at home and provided the blueprint that would lead to the eventual end to the tenure of Luiz Felipe Scolari, as Liverpool would expose the lack of a plan B from the Brazilian.

Both teams also enter this contest in a similar position as they did in the opening fixture of last season, with both teams having dropped similar amounts of points as they did at this point last season. And once again, we enter with a new manager after a blinding start to the season.

Liverpool have rebounded well this season after two losses to Aston Villa and Tottenham to start the season. Since that loss to Villa, the Merseyside squad have thoroughly beaten Hull City and Burnley and the only blemish on their record was the

2-0 loss to Fiorentina at the Stadio Artemio Franchi this past Tuesday.

Chelsea have emerged as a serious favorite in the league having only dropped three points in the league and challenging the start that Mourinho’s title winning side made in 2005. However, that would hit a snag at Wigan last Saturday, as Chelsea turned in a fairly lackluster performance in a 3-1 loss. We would rebound with a victory 1-0, though not in convincing fashion, against APOEL Nicosia this past Wednesday.

For Liverpool, their strength is clear. The entire system is based off of the finishing of Fernando Torres and the workrate of Steven Gerrard. It is through those two that everything Liverpool hopes to accomplish in an attacking sense. Gerrard’s creativity and runs create space for Torres and there is no doubt that Torres is one of the world’s best strikers on current form. Liverpool’s weaknesses are also clear. Jamie Carragher lacks the pace that he once had and the back four can be caught out if Glen Johnson pushes forward and Carragher cannot get over to cover. An emerging weakness is the midfield with injury concerns for Javier Mascherano. Without the Argentine, Benitez fielded a center midfield of Fabio Aurelio, a left-back by trade, and Lucas who gave away possession.

Quick Analysis and Prediction

Depending on the fitness of Mascherano (which as I’m writing this, I’m not sure about), this match could go different ways. The midfield Liverpool fielded against Fiorentina were continuously overrun by Cristian Zanetti and Ricardo Montolivo. That’s a concern for Liverpool because our midfield is just as good, if not better.

The other notable absence for Liverpool is the sale (and lack of a good replacement) of Xabi Alonso. His playmaking has been absent this year, and let’s not forget his history with Frankie.

Without Mascherano, Liverpool will not win this match. That midfield looked terribly shaky midweek and can be overrun. With Mascherano, this match could easily be a draw. Right now, he’s the only quality central midfielder they have, besides Gerrard.

2-0 Chelsea without the Argentine, 1-1 draw if he plays.