By Padraig O’Callaghan – @AGameOfTwoHalfz
Liverpool welcome fifth-placed Chelsea to Anfield on Sunday for a match that represents the Reds’ last big test on paper – a victory will see Jurgen Klopp’s side keep their spot on the top of the Premier League albeit with a game in hand.
Manchester City travel to Crystal Palace where they have not won in the last two seasons, so Liverpool could potentially extend their lead at the top of the table if history repeats itself.
Both teams played in Europe during the week, Liverpool were not at their best but still managed to get the job done in a routine 2-0 victory over Porto.
The Reds dominated for large periods of the game but the visitors had chances of their own but were unable to capitalise. A 2-0 lead should see the reds through safely with it being unlikely that the Portuguese side will be able to keep a clean sheet.
Chelsea were victorious over their Europa League opposition Slavia Prague, they just edged the contests by a single goal scored late on by Marcus Alonso – the side from the Czech Republic had excellent chances of their own meaning they are not out of the tie yet, despite conceding an away goal.
Since the draw at Everton, Liverpool have now won six consecutive games in all competitions – a mixture of convincing victories and last-minute goals have seen the reds progress in Europe and still be in contention to win the Premier League.
The last three games have seen Liverpool snatch victory with late goals. Decisive goals have been scored beyond the 80th minute against Fulham, Tottenham and Southampton and, while this form is unsustainable from now to the end of the season, scoring three late winners can only do wonder for confidence and belief throughout the squad and do the opposite to out title rivals.
Mohamed Salah broke his goal scoring drought against Southampton, running the length of the pitch before slotting the ball into the bottom corner, while Jordan Henderson made sure the victory was theirs after Naby Keita’s first Liverpool goal cancelled out Shane Long’s opener.
Both Keita and Henderson were standouts in our Champions League victory – it’s been a long, long time since a Liverpool midfield has looked so balanced and rigid, as well as a player donning the famous No.8 to dominate a midfield. Keita scored his second goal in as many games via a deflected shot.
Henderson was true to his word and affected the match in a more forward role, splitting a well-drilled Porto defence with a through ball to Trent which led to Liverpool’s second and was unlucky not to claim an assist with Sadio Mané unfairly adjudged to have been in an offside position after a wicked cross from the Liverpool captain.
Chelsea have been on a good run of form over the past couple of weeks, as four consecutive wins since a 2-0 defeat to Everton has kept their hopes of qualifying for the Champions League alive but it still doesn’t tell the whole story.
A team of Chelsea’s quality should be beating the likes of Brighton and West Ham, but it was their match against Cardiff was were they struggled. Finding themselves a goal down with 10 to play, they equalised through a controversial goal with Cesar Azpilicueta heading in from an offside position before Ruben Loftus-Cheek scored the winner in injury time.
Against Slavia Prague they gave away too many chances and were lucky to come away with a win let alone a result. The home side missed multiple chances to go ahead but a mixture of poor composure and excellent goalkeeping they somehow failed to find the back of the net.
It was seemingly headed for a goalless draw before a terrific cross from Willian was headed in from Marcus Alonso to give the Blue’s a slight advantage, but the tie is still wide open.
Joel Matip, Sadio Mané and Gini Wijnaldum all are injury doubts for the weekend game – the trio all missed training sessions throughout the week but the latter duo are expected to at least make the matchday squad.
Andy Robertson should return to the staring line-up after being suspended against Porto, the Scotsman will have had a deserved rest ahead of a tricky encounter against a quite inconsistent Chelsea team.
Joel Matip will partner Virgil van Dijk if he is able to shrug off a slight knock – Dejan Lovren is now back fit if he can’t – and Trent Alexander-Arnold will take his customary place on the right of defence.
Naby Keita should earn his third consecutive start but, due to the magnitude of the game, I think Wijnaldum will replace him if the Dutchman is passed fit. Joining him in midfield will be Fabinho and Henderson who should be the more adventurous of the trio and will look to influence the game higher up the pitch.
Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mané will start up front and will look to continue their recent good form.
Maurizio Sarri has no injury concerns of his own and is expected to name a unchanged squad to Chelsea’s last game against West Ham. Starting in goal will be Kepa, the most expensive goalkeeper in the world made an excellent start to his career with the Blues but, like their form, he has dropped off massively.
David Luiz and Antonio Rudiger can be one of the better centre back partnerships on their day, but that day comes far too irregularly for a team that wants to compete for the title.
Knowing Liverpool’s luck, they will have one of their better days on Sunday, especially Luiz who has a habit of turning into prime Paulo Maldini every time he visits Anfield.
Marcus Alonso will be continuing to start on the bench as Emerson – rested in midweek – is a much better option and his form as of late has proved this, on the opposite flank is Azpilicueta. Jorginho, N’golo Kanté and Ruben Loftus-Cheek will form a midfield trio.
Jorginho has had a very underwhelming start to English football and is often a passenger in high intensity games. Playing Kanté in a more forward position stifles his best attributes but he has seemingly grown into his new role in recent weeks.
Loftus-Cheek will deservedly keep his place in the starting line-up. The English international has flourished after starting a number of consecutive games and boasts a high success rate in both dribbling and take-ons.
Eden Hazard likes to play against Liverpool. Anytime the Reds’ are in Chelsea’s horizon the Belgium always up his game. His record of five goals in 14 games may not that be all that impressive and is bettered by other players, but it is his overall play that shines through.
He scored two quality goals against West Ham last week and will prove to be a real danger all over the pitch. Starting next to him is probably Gonzalo Higuain who has failed to impress in the Premier League, and alleged Liverpool target Callum Hudson-Odoi.
Last five results
26/10/2018: Chelsea 1-1 Liverpool – Premier League
29/10/2018: Liverpool 1-2 Chelsea – League Cup
06/05/2018: Chelsea 1-0 Liverpool – Premier League
25/11/2017: Liverpool 1-1 Chelsea – Premier League
31/01/2017: Liverpool 1-1 Chelsea – Premier League
Chelsea are something of a bogey team for Liverpool. The last time the Blues suffered defeat at Anfield, Trent Alexander-Arnold was still in Year 8 of secondary school. If we are to be serious about winning the title then we will need to the game with clear minds, forgetting about what has happened between the two sides in recent meetings.
Liverpool should be well rested for the game. They took their foot off the gas for the final 30 minutes against Porto reserving energy for this very important fixture.
Chelsea however should be feeling the affects of a very tiring week, having played on Monday and Thursday already and arriving into London early Friday morning they should have little preparation ready for the game.
Liverpool possess the stronger team between the two clubs and their respective standing in the table proves that, if the Reds were to pick up three points, you would back them to win all remaining games of the season, putting the onus on City to try and match us which will be quite difficult due to their packed fixture schedule.
I think Liverpool will win by two goals. The clean sheets have dried up in recent weeks, but I think we will keep or second one this week against Chelsea. Salah will score both goals against his former club to continue his recent improved form after failing to find the back of the net for nine games.
Final score: Liverpool 2 (Salah x2) – 0 Chelsea