Chelsea v Liverpool
Chelsea play host to Liverpool in the day’s only Premier League fixture this afternoon with both sides looking to pick up points to move them closer to the targets they’d set out to try and reach before the season began.
For Chelsea that target would have been the league title, with Andre Villas-Boas installed to repeat his success in Portugal. They are currently in fourth place with Manchester City sitting on top with seems already to be an unassailable lead, at least from Chelsea’s perspective, with a gap of 12 points and 22 goals between the two rich-men’s playthings. Chelsea do have a game in hand on Chelsea and would close the gap to nine points, moving up to third (overtaking yesterday’s Man City victims Newcastle) with a win today. In reality the season still has a long way to go.
Liverpool’s target was top four and the Reds go into today’s game in seventh place, meaning defeat today would give the usual critics the opportunity to jump on the club, and its manager, amidst cries of the season being over after just 12 games. A win would guarantee Liverpool moved up the table, how far up the table would depend on the margin of victory. 1-0 would be enough to overtake Arsenal for sixth, 2-0 would be enough to move above Spurs (who play tomorrow) into fifth and a rather unlikely 3-0 would actually be enough to move above Chelsea and into the top four.
A draw would leave both sides in the same spots as this morning.
Liverpool have Jamie Carragher available for selection again having missed Liverpool’s last two-and-a-half games with a calf injury. Liverpool haven’t conceded a single goal in that rather brief spell meaning there might be something of a dilemma for Dalglish – does he stick with the same back four as last time out or does he re-introduce the vice-captain? Although Carragher has missed games in the past when fixtures have been close together and a manager felt he’d benefit from a rest, his absence from the starting line-up today would be a brave decision to make. Carragher returned from a shoulder injury in the same fixture last season, the game that also saw Fernando Torres make his Chelsea debut having left Liverpool for £50m at the end of the January transfer window. Torres will be looking to wipe the smiles off the faces of Liverpool fans who didn’t exactly take kindly to the manner of his departure.
The absence of Steven Gerrard, still recovering from an ankle infection, could give Carragher an extra boost when Kenny weighs up his options and works out who he wants to name as captain for the day in what is always a controversial fixture.
Luis Suarez came back from Uruguay with a back problem picked up in the game against Chile, the game he scored four goals in, but Liverpool are hopeful that he’ll be fit. He also came back to find the FA had charged him, in a statement filled with “and/or”s, over the allegations made by Patrice Evra over a month ago.
For Chelsea Didier Drogba is fit again after a minor arm operation and they also have Daniel Sturridge available for selection.
With the two sides having played so many times in recent years (28 times in seven years, but who’s counting?) the word “revenge” will never be too far away. Chelsea’s plastic flags (given out free by the club to try to build up an atmosphere) have embarrassed many of their fans but have also helped build up a certain amount of bad blood between the clubs. That all began when Jose Mourinho was boss but from Liverpool’s point of view the feelings toward the London club don’t even approach the levels of the true rivalries.
The two managers have no history with each other and Fernando Torres had already made his mind up about leaving long before Kenny Dalglish was installed as boss but “revenge” may be sought by one person in particular. Raul Meireles was a popular signing – arguably the only one of Roy Hodgson’s brief reign – but was allowed to leave at the end of the transfer window. His agent had spoken towards the end of last season of a gentleman’s agreement over an improved contract – but that “gentleman’s agreement” had been with the old ownership regime, a regime not exactly led by gentlemen. No improved contract was offered but as the pantomime of the transfer window came close to the end and with him featuring and scoring in Liverpool games it looked like he was staying. The speed with which the last-minute deal was done to take him to Stamford Bridge suggests it was one that had been worked on for some time. Should Meireles perform well today the usual critics will have predictable ammunition.
Chelsea haven’t managed a goal in five of the last seven meetings between the two sides, although that hardly stretches a long way back in time. At Stamford Bridge they’ve only scored in one of the last four games between the two sides, but with so many changes at both clubs that doesn’t exactly count for a great deal. Keeping a clean sheet will be tougher for Liverpool today than it was in that second half against Stoke and the league games against West Brom and Swansea, so today has to be about looking to get something from their efforts at the other end of the pitch. The woodwork has been mentioned as many times as the strikers and the stats suggest LFC have been pummelling their oppositions’ goals.
Kenny’s record against Chelsea as a manager sees him unbeaten in the 11 matches he’s taken charge of against them, eight of which were wins, but of course it’s only a stat and it only includes one game against the Russian-owned Chelsea. And both of Liverpool’s wins over Chelsea last season came courtesy of goals from the two players they have since sold to Chelsea.
As any old-school manager would tell you, the stat that matters is the one that comes under the heading of “result”.
The charges against Suarez and the allegations against Terry mean there’ll be a side-show to today’s fixture but during the game itself that circus will be forgotten. However the referee will still have his work cut out – Chelsea are top of the card charts this season with 28 yellows and three reds, but Liverpool aren’t too far behind with 18 yellows and two reds. The ref is Martin Atkinson who received a lot of criticism for sending Jack Rodwell off in the Merseyside derby, a decision later overturned by a three-man FA panel. Atkinson has officiated one other LFC game this season, the 2-0 win for the Reds at the Emirates, where he sent Emmanuel Frimpong off. This is the first time he’s refereed a Chelsea game this season.
Kick-off: 4pm GMT
Chelsea (possible): Cech, Ivanovic, Alex, Terry, Cole, Ramires, Meireles, Lampard, Sturridge, Torres, Mata
Liverpool (possible): Reina, Kelly, Carragher, Agger, Enrique, Lucas, Adam, Kuyt, Suarez, Downing, Carroll