Following a nail-biting opening-day win over Leeds at an empty Anfield, Liverpool travel to Stamford Bridge on Sunday looking to make it two wins from two to start the new Premier League campaign.
Whilst the Reds’ record in West London was once very poor, they have only lost one league game since Jürgen Klopp’s arrival in 2015.
Chelsea are a club bursting with optimism, following a summer of huge investment, spending more than twice as much on transfers this summer as any other club in world football, per Transfermarkt.
However, the Blues did not impress particularly in their Monday night victory over Brighton, missing a certain chemistry, perhaps.
Stamford Bridge new boys Ben Chilwell, Hakim Ziyech and Thiago Silva are not expected to be ready to start this weekend, with Christian Pulisic – who showed signs of brilliance at Anfield in July – also expected to remain on the sidelines.
As for the visiting champions, only Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is assumed to be unavailable. It also seems too early for new signing, Thiago Alcântara to make the squad.
Here are five key clashes ahead of the big game:
Trent Alexander-Arnold vs. Kepa Arrizabalaga
Trent will looking to make it ‘three in-a-row’, having scored free-kicks in both of last season’s Premier League contests against Chelsea. Whilst his effort at Stamford Bridge was unstoppable, the strike in the reverse fixture could well have been kept out, with Kepa’s struggles against long-shots very well documented.
Chelsea continue to be linked with a potential replacement in Senegalese number one Edouard Mendy, currently of Ligue 1 side Rennes. While that remains merely in the pipeline, it looks more and more likely that it will once again be the Spaniard between the sticks for the visit of Liverpool. If that is the case, long-shot specialists Trent and Fabinho will likely be encouraged to fire from range.
Kepa has continued his struggles dealing with aerial balls and claiming set-pieces, and with the Reds’ right back a regular corner taker, there is yet further opportunity for this duel to prove a decisive one.
Mohamed Salah vs. Marcos AlonsoEmbed from Getty Images
Marcos Alonso’s time at Stamford Bridge has been encapsulated by plenty of excellent work going forward, amongst many poor defensive showings, with a lack of work-rate and willingness to track back often brought into question.
His tracking back ability is less likely to be an issue this weekend, as one would not expect Frank Lampard’s side to set themselves high enough to allow Liverpool to counter-attack at will. Alonso’s position, assuming he plays, will likely be deeper than normal, but it will require extreme concentration, with Mohamed Salah looking bang in-form following a sensational opening day performance against Leeds.
The Egyptian failed to score in either game against his former club last campaign, so will be desperate to change that in this fixture, whilst maintaining – or even extending – his early lead atop the Premier League goalscoring charts.
Andrew Robertson vs. Kai Havertz
Having pushed long and hard for Liverpool to target German Wunderkind Kai Havertz, I was both disappointed and surprised that he settled on a move to Chelsea this summer. Not only was there regret that Liverpool missed out on his huge talent, but I am concerned for Havertz’s sake that any system deploying both him and Timo Werner will likely force the former Leverkusen man out wide, as we saw in Chelsea’s 3-1 win in Brighton on Monday night.
Even though the twenty-one-year-old has plenty of top-level experience on the right flank, most of his minutes in 2020 have come in central roles, particularly thriving when deployed as a ‘false nine’. Out on the right, however, the starlet looked uncomfortable at the Amex Stadium, as he failed to register a single shot.
The German’s defensive work rate could be considered a significant strength to his game. However, it is unlikely that any Bundesliga full back will have tested his willingness to work up and down the channel quite as much as Andrew Roberston will on Sunday.
While Liverpool’s defence disappointed both against Leeds last Saturday and in the Community Shield last month, the Scottish international performed extremely well in both, and has already found his first league assist of the new season. With the threat down that channel prevalent from both players, Havertz and Robertson will be targeting the other in this mouth-watering battle.
Timo Werner vs. Joe Gomez
At his best, Joe Gomez is one of the best defenders in the Premier League, if not the world. We saw that last winter as he put together a string of great performances alongside Virgil van Dijk. Liverpool only conceded two goals from the thirteen games the pair started together between December and mid-February.
Gomez’s form post-lockdown however has been less solid, as he looked extremely uncomfortable against Leeds, a contest in which van Dijk also admittedly made a rare error, which led to a Patrick Bamford’s goal. The pair will need to return to their very best if they are to keep Timo Werner quiet on his home debut.
Long linked with a move to Anfield, Werner had a more successful opener than his countryman Havertz, seizing on a defensive mistake to win a first-half penalty that Jorginho dispatched. I would expect the former Leipzig forward to target Gomez and feed on any nerves that he might have displayed in recent performances. That said, Gomez is blessed with elite quickness, which will hopefully help to counteract Werner’s effectiveness at finding space in behind. This will be something to keep an eye on.
Frank Lampard vs. Jürgen KloppEmbed from Getty Images
Tensions reached a boiling point between this pair at Anfield in July, with Lampard supposedly hurling insults at Klopp over his perceived arrogance and that of his team. This past week the media have revelled in trying to stoke further flames, with each manager discussing the money spent by their counterpart on transfers.
On the pitch it seems fairly safe to assume that Klopp will continue with his tried and trusted 4-3-3 system, although whether Fabinho is brought in to replace Gini Wijnaldum or Naby Keita remains to be seen.
As for Chelsea, the 3-4-3 system most often used towards the end of the last campaign was assumed to have made way for a 4-2-3-1, in light of the summer recruitment. Nonetheless, in a search for defensive solidarity against the reigning champions, it would not be surprising if Lampard were to revert to a potentially more compact system.
These tactical decisions could be pivotal to deciding whether Liverpool can continue to match last season’s early run of form.
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