By Matt Ramirez – @Matt_J_Ramirez
Jürgen Klopp’s men maintained their 100% success rate at the weekend and now it’s the turn of Chelsea to try and keep the Reds from continuing on their run.
The Reds welcome the London club to Anfield on Wednesday afternoon for their first Carabao Cup game of the season, and with the former dropping their first points of the season against West Ham, Klopp’s men will be quietly confident of progressing to the next round of the competition.
Chelsea, who missed out on a Champions League spot by five points last season, have started the season with a bang. New coach Maurizio Sarri took over the reins from Antonio Conte at Stamford Bridge this summer and has seen his side make an undefeated start to the season.
There have been high-profile exits and arrivals at the Bridge, with Thibaut Courtois being replaced by Kepa Arrizabalaga for a world-record fee of £71.6 million. Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic were also brought in to bolster the Chelsea midfield and have seemingly hit the ground running – with Jorginho in particular breaking Premier League records for most passes in a game (180) and most touches in a game (191).
Last time out, the former Premier League Champions were held to a nil nil draw at the London Stadium and could be considered lucky to not have lost it, with West Ham’s Andriy Yarmolenko squandering a brilliant headed chance towards the latter half of the game. The Blues currently sit in third place behind both Manchester city (on goal difference) and Liverpool (by two points).
Liverpool’s recent win over Southampton saw Jürgen Klopp’s men make it seven wins from their first seven games of the season, the first time this feat has been accomplished in the club’s history. The win over the Saints also saw Liverpool register a victory immediately following a European game, something they only accomplished once last season.
In seasons gone by, Liverpool would have been stumped by a visiting Saints team whose game plan was to play for a draw. However, this season, the Reds look fitter and more able to break down teams who come to Anfield trying to defend.
Klopp made some rotational decisions at the weekend, bringing in Joel Matip and Xherdan Shaqiri for their full first team debuts, and also bringing skipper Jordan Henderson back into the starting line-up.
Both Matip and Shaqiri made huge impacts, with the centre back heading home the second goal of the game, and the Swiss attacker being heavily involved in both the first and third goals.
Chelsea have had a brilliant start to the season themselves too, only dropping points for the first time this weekend. The Blues have scored the same amount of goals as the Reds, so a busy game for both keepers is expected on Wednesday night.
It is expected that both managers will have one eye on the weekend’s fixtures, with both clubs going head to head yet again, only this time it’ll be a Premier League game at Stamford Bridge. In my opinion, victory in the Premier League on Saturday is the priority, therefore I would give the squad a complete (or at least a substantial) overhaul.
Klopp has already come out and stated that Simon Mignolet will be awarded his first game of the season, and rotation is expected throughout the rest of the squad. Nathaniel Clyne and Alberto Moreno can both expect starts, with the gaffer also hinting that Dejan Lovren could make his return to the starting line-up.
Having come off at the weekend with a knock to the ribs, it’s almost certain that Virgil Van Dijk will be rested. Joe Gomez has partnered the Dutchman for all but one game this season, therefore it is expected for Klopp to opt for Matip again, allowing Gomez to rest for the weekend’s game.
With regards to the midfield, it seems only natural that Liverpool fans will get their first highly anticipated look at Fabinho. The Brazilian is yet to make any notable contributions on the field of play, and his involvement would allow for Klopp to rest Gini Wijnaldum – a player who has been a mainstay in the starting line-up so far this campaign.
Adam Lallana could provide creativity and allow for the resting of Naby Keïta, and then it’s a coin toss between James Milner and Jordan Henderson for that final starting berth.
It is more than likely for the attacking trio of Mohammed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mané to be rested, and despite being subbed off against Southampton, Shaqiri should expect to start, having impressed all in attendance at the weekend. Daniel Sturridge is also likely to get some game time, especially after impressing against PSG, with the third and final spot in the trident up for grabs.
Dominic Solanke, Divock Origi and even ‘the forgotten man’ Lazar Markovic are all available for selection meaning that Klopp, should he choose to, has more than enough personnel to make a complete reshuffle.
In the case of Chelsea, much of the same is expected. In the Europa League against PAOK, Sarri rested main-man Eden Hazard, and it is likely that the Belgian will again be spared.
Another likely omission will be centre back Antonio Rüdiger. Although having not been deemed too serious, the German was replaced due to injury at the weekend, and seems an unlikely risk, especially given how important he has been and will continue to be this season.
With regards to the rest of the squad, Andreas Christensen, Victor Moses, Davide Zappacosta, Emerson, Cesc Fabregas, Daniel Drinkwater and Ruben Loftus-Cheek have all had limited minutes so far this campaign and could be given a chance to impress their new boss at Anfield.
Unlike Klopp, Sarri is yet to make any announcements regarding his personnel for the cup clash, and if their visit to Greece is anything to go by then a relatively full-strength Chelsea side could be fielded. Sarri was expected to completely overhaul his squad for the Europa League tie, however the new boss caught pundits and journalists off guard when the only notable change was Hazard.
With this being said, given the weekend’s result and the fact that they play host to Liverpool in the league mere days after, it does seem more likely that the former Napoli boss will be more inclined to chop and change.
Danger man – Olivier Giroud
When you think of Chelsea you immediately think Hazard, but given the likelihood of him being rested, Chelsea’s next biggest threat to us is Olivier Giroud. I know you’re probably laughing right now but let me make a case for the Frenchman.
Apart from the fact that he was a mainstay in France’s World Cup triumph, Giroud has the most goals against Liverpool than anyone else in the Chelsea ranks (go ahead, Google it). The former Arsenal man has six Premier League goals in 11 meetings against the Reds, and although he is yet to register a goal this season, the striker already has three Premier League assists to his name – the most for any Chelsea player so far.
Wrongly regarded mainly as a target man by many, Giroud has shown that he is also one of the classiest players around, consistently being labelled with the cliché: “He’s got good feet for a big man”.
At Arsenal (a ball playing side) he was able to show off his skill at linking up play and joining the attack from deep, as opposed to being an ‘Andy Carroll’ type big-man-up-top. With this being said it is his ability to be able to play as a target man that may cause Liverpool the most trouble on Wednesday night.
With van Dijk likely to miss the game, Klopp will be without his defensive General, and will be forced to most likely return to a centre back pairing which had major issues when it came to defending high balls last season.
This will suit Giroud, not only due to his ability in the air but also his ability off the ball. Liverpool’s defence before van Dijk’s arrival lacked leadership and was often guilty of losing concentration and ball watching.
Apart from his stature and aerial quality, Giroud is also a very intelligent footballer who possesses the know-how of when and where to run, and where to position himself both in and out of possession, therefore any lack of concentration by the Red defence could result in a goal.
Although he is yet to register a goal this season, the Frenchman did grab the only goal of the game when we visited Stamford Bridge towards the back-end of last season. His record against Liverpool is impressive, and if Chelsea manage to get on the score-sheet it is very likely that Giroud will have had a hand in it.
Giroud v Van Dijk-less defence – Liverpool’s defence were hardly covering themselves in glory prior to the arrival of VVD. In the 23 competitive games prior to the Dutchman’s arrival, the Reds shipped 28 goals. Southampton at the weekend saw Liverpool play their 23rd competitive game since his arrival, and in the same amount of games, the reds have only conceded 17 goals. His importance to the backline is immense, and his lack of leadership may be sorely missed.
As touched upon above, Giroud is as much a threat with the ball on the turf, as he is with the ball in the air. The Frenchman is a seasoned Premier League veteran and has a track record of beating Liverpool’s defence. The lack of cohesion in our back line before Van Dijk was plain to see.
Think back to when Tottenham demolished us 4-1 at Wembley, we were all over the place. The defence on a whole has improved ten-fold since then, however, an unsettled centre-back pairing (which is expected), could allow for the World Cup Winner to leave a mark on the game.
Mignolet v Spotlight Jitters – Cast your minds back to the 2013/2014 season, Simon Mignolet made his Premier League debut for the reds in our opening game of the season against Stoke, instantly becoming a Kop hero when he saved an 88th minute Jon Walters penalty to secure Liverpool the win.
Skip forward five years and Mignolet hasn’t featured for the club since a 3-2 FA Cup home defeat to West Brom on the 27th January 2018. Since then he lost his spot to Loris Karius and, although the German departed for Besiktas JK during the Summer, Mignolet has now found himself playing backup to Alisson Becker.
The Belgian’s time at Anfield has not exactly gone smoothly, much criticised by fans and pundits alike, Mignolet made no secret of his desire to leave Anfield earlier on this season. In fact, when Karius was allowed to leave instead of him, the number 22 decided to publicly criticise the decision, which wasn’t met kindly by Klopp or by the Anfield faithful.
Apart from his recent off field antics, Mignolet hasn’t had the best of time between the sticks either. Although a more-than-capable shot stopper, the Belgian was prone to the semi-regular error and never really seemed to inspire confidence in his defence.
His greatest weakness, however, seemed to come from set-pieces and without the towering presence of Van Djik, this could again be something which will benefit Giroud.
Putting all this aside however, Mignolet now has his first chance in months to make a good impression on the Anfield faithful. Moreover, Mignolet should see this as an opportunity to remain as Jürgen Klopp’s back up goalkeeper.
It is inconceivable that Alisson will ever be dropped as number one, however, given his track record of breeding youngsters, should Mignolet fail to impress, it isn’t unlikely that Klopp will opt to give the number two slot to an up and coming youngster such as Caoimhin Kelleher or Kamil Grabara (both of whom impressed during pre-season).
Last five results (all competitions)
11/05/2016 Premier League Liverpool 1 – 1 Chelsea
16/09/2016 Premier League Chelsea 1 – 2 Liverpool
31/01/2017 Premier League Liverpool 1 – 1 Chelsea
25/11/2017 Premier League Liverpool 1 – 1 Chelsea
06/05/2018 Premier League Chelsea 1 – 0 Liverpool
Due to the importance of the upcoming Premier League match at the weekend, it’s very likely that the game at Anfield will be slow-paced and very much a stop-start affair. Both teams are likely to use the game as a tester before unleashing their full force on Saturday. With this being said, it is a Jürgen Klopp team, so expect a somewhat high-intensity press from whatever side he picks, and a very animated German on the sidelines.
Sarri himself has come out this week stating that he believes his side are still roughly a year away from reaching Liverpool’s level. Regardless of whether he was using this as a ploy to relieve pressure from his players or not, it is a statement that I can fully get behind, and ultimately it is the main reason that, in my opinion, Liverpool will come out on top.
The victory won’t be a clear one, and I believe the tie will need penalties to be decided but, ultimately the winning streak will continue for the Reds.
However, it is important to remember that this is a very talented Chelsea squad who are more than capable of beating anyone on their day. Should the winning streak come to an end, Liverpool fans should not be disappointed as it can also be viewed as a positive in the long run.
The season for an English team competing in Europe is demanding – Premier League, FA Cup, Carabao Cup and Champions League/Europa League duties await any team who break the top six.
Cutting down the workload of competitions from four to three will only give Klopp and his players more time to prepare and rest which, in turn, will bolster their chances of making a push for the Premier League Title – which, let’s be honest, is definitely the priority this season (at least for us fans).