Chelsea make their annual pilgrimage up north to Anfield on Sunday, when the Blues take on Liverpool amidst much love and fanfare. This year’s trip takes on a different tone as the famed club of Merseyside find themselves three points clear of the relegation zone after 10 games. Chelsea are in the complete opposite position, sitting on top of the table with five point gap between them and second place Arsenal, having dropped just five points this season, with a goal differential of 24 after 10 games.
Carlo Ancelotti has named nine of the 11 that will start on Sunday. Cech, Ivanovic, Alex, Terry, Ashley Cole, Mikel, Zhirkov, Anelka, and Drogba were confirmed by the Italian’s press conference. The Blues are still missing their main thrust from the center midfield, with Frank Lampard still recovering from the effects of the hernia operation and subsequent groin strain, though Ancelotti is optimistic he could return next week. However, Florent Malouda has recovered from the ankle problem that kept him out of the 4-1 thrashing of Spartak Moscow in the midweek, while Michael Essien has a small problem with his toe, but Ancelotti hopes he will be available. Yossi Benayoun is the only other long-term absentee and he will miss a return to Liverpool where he played last season.
Liverpool enter the match having won their last two matches. The match last week at Bolton took a late goal from Maxi Rodriguez, though a hat-trick from captain Steven Gerrard provided the goals to comfortably see off the challenge of Napoli midweek.
The Reds may also be buoyed by the return of Dirk Kuyt to the lineup. The Dutchmen suffered an ankle injury on international duty last month, but has started to train and feels that he may be ready for the challenge of the league leaders. However, former Chelsea player Joe Cole will not meet his former club after suffering a hamstring injury at Bolton last week. Ryan Babel and Daniel Agger are also doubts for Roy Hodgson.
Tactically, this Liverpool team is different, but the same as under Rafa Benitez. The team is still reliant on two players, Gerrard and Fernando Torres, to generate the chances at goal. Torres has been quite short of form this season, while Gerrard is beginning to show signs of life. Interestingly, the purchase of Raul Meireles from FC Porto may be a change to look out for. The Portuguese midfielder may be the closest replacement that Liverpool have had for the departed Xabi Alonso, whose presence was sorely missed last season. His ability to distribute the ball from deep allows Gerrard to roam more, while being able to link up with Torres to create chances.
The question for Liverpool will be do they have enough firepower to beat Chelsea, even at home. The reigning champions have played like champions this season by showing ruthlessness in front of goal, even when not playing to their best. For much of the game at Blackburn and at home to Spartak, Chelsea’s opposition were able to create enough chances to get a result, but didn’t take them, and the Blues showed clinical finishing and won without being at their best. Liverpool will have to be at their best to gain a result and it’s crucial for them. Even though they may be three points above relegation, they’re also only five points from cracking the top four.