Preview: Liverpool vs Chelsea, Two early season title contenders, now fight for a place in the top 4
Liverpool host Chelsea at Anfield on Thursday night in a huge Premier League clash as the race to finish in the top four heats up.
Liverpool will be looking to avoid a fifth home defeat in a row but will have a tough battle on their hand with the visit of an improving Chelsea side on Thursday night.
The hosts sit one place and one point behind their visitors, and victory for either team would be enough to lift them into the Champions League spots with fourth-placed West Ham United not in action in midweek.
The Reds ended a run of four successive league defeats with victory over Sheffield United on Sunday, but there is more work to do if a season shredded by injury problems is to be salvaged with Champions League qualification.
DrogBANG! 💥 Who else never gets tired of seeing this strike against the Reds? ✋🔥 pic.twitter.com/avirz00gnF
— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) March 3, 2021
Chelsea are unbeaten in nine matches under Thomas Tuchel, a run that includes some impressive results such as victory over Atletico Madrid in a Champions League round-of-16, first-leg meeting.
Indeed, Tuchel is yet to taste defeat since taking over as manager, winning six and drawing three of his nine games at the helm – only Jose Mourinho and Luiz Felipe Scolari, with 10 games and 12 games respectively, have enjoyed longer unbeaten starts as Chelsea boss.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of that is the fact that Chelsea have conceded just two goals in those nine games.
For Liverpool, two draws either side of the New Year against West Brom and Manchester United extended their remarkable home run to 68 league games unbeaten, since when Burnley, Brighton, Manchester City and Everton have all taken three points there.
That is already the worst run Liverpool have suffered since 1923, and incredibly as many home defeats as they had suffered in their first 100 such games under Klopp, and another loss on Thursday would see them fall to five successive home defeats for the first time in their entire history – either in the league or across all competitions.
While Chelsea have remained defensively stubborn since Tuchel’s arrival at the Bridge, there are some concerns over their inability to create enough chances to score goals.
Against what is set to be a makeshift Liverpool rearguard, Tuchel will aim to change that record.
The two managers will also know each other well having faced off 14 times in the past, with Tuchel winning just two of those and losing nine – the most matches he has lost against anyone in his top-flight managerial career.
Alisson was left out of the squad for the trip to Brammall Lane following the passing of his father but could make a return for what is a crucial match against Chelsea, with youngster Caoimhin Kelleher injured.
Fabinho may be back in contention to replace Nathaniel Phillips at the back, with Van Dijk, Gomez, Joel Matip and Jordan Henderson all still sidelined.
Diogo Jota has recovered from a long-term injury but is now suffering with illness and may miss out once more.
Liverpool possible starting lineup:
Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Phillips, Fabinho, Robertson; Thiago, Wijnaldum, Jones; Salah, Firmino, Mane
Callum Hudson-Odoi picked a slight injury at the weekend but trained on Tuesday and will make the squad to face Liverpool. Thiago Silva was also in training as he nears a return from a hamstring injury.
Elsewhere there is a fully fit squad to choose from, so the likes of Timo Werner, Kai Havertz, Tammy Abraham and Christian Pulisic will hope to come into an attacking trio that drew a blank last time out.
Chelsea possible starting lineup:
Mendy; Azpilicueta, Christensen, Rudiger; James, Kante, Kovacic, Chilwell; Mount, Havertz, Werner
Liverpool could find themselves struggling to get through a very structured Blues side, and if Jurgen Klopp opts for a high line, it could pave the way for Chelsea and Timo Werner to run in behind.
Werner needs the confidence, although his performances have warranted more goals than he has, and we’re backing the German to exploit Liverpool’s defence and get a goal at Anfield on Thursday.
For Liverpool, it all depends how much trouble their misfiring front-3 can cause to Chelsea’s watertight back-3. To sum it up, it is a game that would be decided on who wins the battle between Mane, Salah, Firmino and the back-3 of Chelsea.
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) February 25, 2021
Earlier on in the season, you’d have been forgiven for billing this game as a clash between two title chasing sides.
The last time Chelsea visited Anfield there were goals galore and Liverpool ended the night by lifting the Premier League trophy aloft. Thursday’s showdown is likely to be very different.
There is no doubt that this is going to be an incredibly tight game. Chelsea’s lack of goals combined with Liverpool’s instability in defense makes for an interesting battle.
It’s still very early in Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea reign, and it’s evident that the players are still adapting to the system he wants to implement. Defensively, things have improved and there is a more definitive shape, but that solidity has seen the goals column take a bit of a hit.
There have only been three goalless draws between these two sides in the Premier League era, so goals are likely, but while a top-four spot awaits the winner, defeat would be a huge blow for either side’s Champions League hopes and therefore , FootTheBall says, Liverpool 1-1 Chelsea.