In a match in which 3 points once again could be a must, Rafa Benitez brings his Chelsea team back to his old haunt, Anfield, for the first time since the Spaniard left Liverpool in 2010 by mutual consent. The response for the former manager should be interesting, in what most certainly will be a match that the Blues will think that they can win.
On current form, Chelsea have been the better side as of late with four wins from their last five matches, while Liverpool have been in a bit of a slump, winning just twice in the same period and drawing twice.
Not only will Benitez be facing his old club, but once again, Chelsea supporters will get a glance at Brendan Rogers, the former youth team manager and protégé of Jose Mourinho during his time at the club.
With the first meeting between the clubs ending in a 1-1 draw, all bets are off as far as which team has the decided edge, and there is history there, given the number of times the two teams met between 2005 and 2010 in all competitions.
What effect will Benitez’s return to Anfield have, and better question, if Fernando Torres starts, what effect will it have on him?
For Benitez, I expect the effects of his return to be a nonfactor. His major concern shouldn’t be on his past accomplishments, though I do expect Liverpool supporters to shower him with praise in hopes of unsettling the team. The big key for Benitez is that he must achieve the aim of Champions League qualification and possibly a trophy in order to leave Stamford Bridge with his head held high and his CV bolstered. Failure to do that could be catastrophic, and I’m not sure what jobs will be out there for him anyway.
For Torres, it’s different. He’s only returned to Anfield once since his move on deadline day in January of 2011, and it was in last year’s 4-1 defeat. Torres had a quite muted performance in that match, though the same could be said for much of the team on that day. It will be interesting because Torres will be expecting to play given his current form, though I do expect Demba Ba to start with the rotation policy of the squad.
If there’s a team that’s very close to being a one-man team, Liverpool are as close as anyone.
Watching Liverpool this season, it’s very much becoming Luis Suarez’s team. Prior to this year, it was very much Steven Gerrard’s team, though I don’t think Gerrard is quite the creative talent that he was in his younger years, nor is he quite as influential in the way Liverpool like to play.
Instead, that role has been passed on to Suarez in such a way that if Suarez doesn’t score or doesn’t create the chances for others, Liverpool tend to have a problem scoring goals. The signing of Coutinho has definitely lessened the burden, but it can’t be coincidence that Suarez was not at his brilliant best over the last two matches against West Ham and Reading, and both ended in 0-0 draws.
Everything Liverpool does starts and stops with Suarez, for better or worse, and when he’s on, he’s as good as any player on the planet with his ability to run at, around, and sometimes through defenders at will. The knock on him, though, is that sometimes he snatches at chances and might not be the greatest finisher, but he does make defences have to account for him at all times. I expect him to start up front with Daniel Sturridge, and we’ll see where they go from there.
Daniel Sturridge will have a point to prove.
Sturridge departed Chelsea in January feeling rather hard done by. I think he felt that he was never given his chance to play in his preferred striker position, and that he was somehow disrespected because of it. I personally don’t think he quite fit the mould for what we ask our center forwards to do, so to get £12 million for him was a good deal.
At times for Liverpool, Sturridge has been good. He’s always had the ability to get you a goal, but the problem is that he sometimes has to take six or seven shots to do it. If he plays against us, the key will be to try to get in his head and make him force the issue. He always played better when he kept things simple and didn’t do too much, but often when he tried to exert himself on the game, he would end up looking as if he was playing for himself and not the team.
However, he and Suarez are a rather potent tandem in that Sturridge gets himself in positions to finish chances that Suarez can create. Together, their ability to move off of each other can be very lethal, and with the ability of both to run at a defence, they can be as good as any strike partnership.
I don’t expect any surprises from Brendan Rodgers tactically, unlike the first meeting.
In the first matchup, Rodgers came out and played three at the back, just as his predecessor Kenny Dalglish did the previous season and how Manchester City and Juventus had done earlier in the year. The one formation that Chelsea do tend to struggle with is three at the back, mostly because of the fact that Oscar, Eden Hazard, and Juan Mata all eventually come to the inside, and it makes it quite congested and counter productive, given that three at the back’s weakness is down the flanks and overlapping the lone wing backs.
Since that time, Rodgers has settled on playing Jamie Carragher more regularly alongside Daniel Agger as his center backs and appears to not entirely trust Martin Skrtel or Sebastian Coates at the back. In the absence of three center backs that he trusts and the absences of Joe Allen and possibly Stewart Downing to injury, I don’t think he’ll try that tactic again. It didn’t really work well in the first meeting because Liverpool weren’t able to get enough penetration from Suarez and Raheem Sterling, and it was only when Suso came on and the formation shifted to 4-3-3 that Liverpool started finding space.
I expect him to not try anything tactically surprising and stick with what has worked, or not worked (depending on who you ask) over the last few matches.
Whoever starts up front must be incisive on the counter attack and exploit the overall lack of pace in the Liverpool lineup.
The one major area of weakness is the inherent lack of pace in the Liverpool side. Carragher’s never been the fastest in central defence, and his lack of pace is getting magnified, as he gets older. Gerrard has never been the fastest to cover ground, nor has Lucas. In fact, in their defeat to Southampton, Southampton were able to impose their quick passing game on Liverpool and pick them off on the counter every time Liverpool came and attacked and made them look slow and ponderous.
With the trio of Hazard, Mata, and either Oscar or Victor Moses, Chelsea have the same capability or more, but it all depends on the man up front to get in the right positions to receive the out ball and distribute. That’s something that Torres has been better at than Ba, but the likelihood is still that Ba will start given the rotating of the squad ahead of a trip to Switzerland on Thursday. But make no mistake about it, outside of Suarez and Sturridge, there is an inherent lack of overall recovery pace in the rest of the squad, and they are open for the counter a lot.
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