Verdict: Both teams to score
Best odds: 6/10
Chelsea and Liverpool are preparing to face each other at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, in a match that, if it goes ahead, is likely to play a big role in this season’s title race in the Premier League.
Having strengthened their ranks significantly over the last two summers, not to mention winning the Champions League in between, Chelsea started 2021-22 in good form. There were moments when plenty of people considered them the most serious candidates to finish top at the end, given their formidable quality, squad depth and the knack possessed by Thomas Tuchel to set the team up in the right way.
However, things gradually took a turn for the worse, and the Blues are now in second place, whole eight points behind leaders Manchester City. And with the defending champions going as strong as they are, it’ll be very difficult to overtake them.
To make matters worse, Romelu Lukaku, the club’s €115m signing from this summer, has recently revealed he isn’t happy at Chelsea and expressed hope to return to Inter Milan one day soon, surprising everyone at the club.
The last six matches played by Chelsea include a 3-2 win over Leeds United at home, a 1-1 draw at home against Everton, a 0-0 draw away to Wolverhampton Wanderers, a 0-2 win away to Brentford in the Carabao Cup quarterfinals, a 1-3 triumph away to Aston Villa, and a 1-1 draw at home against Brighton and Hove Albion. Hardly an impressive run.
Lukaku scored in the 28th minute against the Seagulls, only to see Danny Welbeck snatch an equalizer past the expiration of the 90.
The main complaint Lukaku made about his situation at Chelsea is that Tuchel prefers a system which doesn’t really suit his qualities, and it’ll be interesting to see if the manager deems it right to name him to start after those words. If not, it could be a chance for Kai Havertz to stake his claim to a spot in the team.
There are several doubts for the Liverpool clash – wing-back Reece James and centre-back Andreas Christensen, who picked up back problems in the Brighton match, centre-back Thiago Silva (hamstring), midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek (ankle), and forward Timo Werner (post-COVID fitness issues). These problems could mean a start for the likes of Trevoh Chalobah and Malang Sarr.
Liverpool have also fallen far behind Manchester City in the title race. They’re currently third, one point behind Chelsea, though they have a game in hand on both rivals following the postponement of their clash with Leeds United last week.
The last six matches the Merseysiders did play saw them beat AC Milan away in the Champions League by 1-2, beat Aston Villa at home by 1-0, beat Newcastle at home by 3-1, draw 2-2 away to Tottenham Hotspur, edge past Leicester City in the Carabao Cup on penalties after drawing 3-3, and lose to the Foxes at the King Power Stadium 1-0 earlier this week.
Ademola Lookman scored the only goal of that match, with Mohamed Salah providing a late penalty miss for Liverpool, and Sadio Mane and Diogo Jota wasting a couple of excellent chances.
In fact, almost the whole team played rather poorly against the team managed by former Reds boss Brendan Rodgers, and speaking afterwards, Jurgen Klopp made it perfectly clear that they can forget about the title if they don’t improve quickly and significantly. Whether his words have reached the ears of his players or not will best be seen on Sunday.
Klopp has revealed that there were three more positive cases in the latest round of COVID-19 tests which are yet to be confirmed by PCR, but he refused to divulge the names of the players in question.
Be that as it may, forward Divock Origi (knee), midfielders Thiago Alcantara (hip) and Harvey Elliott (ankle) are out, as is left-back Andy Robertson, serving the final match of suspension following the straight red card he picked up against Spurs. It means Kostas Tsimikas is set to be on the left side of defence again on Sunday.
The good news for Klopp and his team is that forwards Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane, as well as midfielder Naby Keita, will not leave for the African Cup of Nations until after this match. They’re available for selection.
It will be a tough match for both sides, a contest neither will want to lose, but neither will they be happy with a share of the spoils. Both need to win to keep as close as possible to Manchester City. Still, both sides will likely take a cautious approach, particularly Chelsea, with Tuchel likely aware of the difficulty of controlling the match against the team run by his compatriot.
If Chelsea score first they’ll likely do the best they can to close shop, and they’ve shown at Anfield with a man down that that’s something they’re perfectly capable of doing. But if Liverpool take the lead, we’ll likely see an open contest right to the very end.
Verdict: Both teams to score
Best odds: 6/10
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