After an intense match against Bournemouth this past weekend, Chelsea will look to regain composure and build momentum in tonight’s FA Cup fifth-round clash against Liverpool, who are also looking to bounce back after their shock defeats to Atletico Madrid and Watford last week. With Jürgan Klopp’s side currently holding a commanding 22-point lead over Manchester City, and Chelsea holding onto fourth place despite pressure, Frank Lampard will undoubtably be demanding nothing less than peak performances from his squad as the race for top four accelerates.
Liverpool’s previous FA Cup tie against Shrewsbury saw a very different lineup than what the Reds are used to. Klopp was openly dissatisfied about scheduling the replay during winter break, and not only handed the head coaching responsibilities to Neil Critchley (who is no longer at the club after being appointed as Blackpool’s Head Coach), but likewise rested his first-team players fielding instead a team of youth players- the youngest side to ever play in a senior match. Despite the success of the younger players involved in the matches against Shrewsbury and Everton beforehand, expect Klopp to name a close-to, full-strength side. Joe Gomez and James Milner will be returning from injury, though Naby Keita will be sidelined after picking up a hip injury against Watford. Also out of contention for the Reds are Jordan Henderson and Xherdan Shaqiri. The Liverpool fansite This Is Anfield predicts Klopp will select a lineup similar to the one that faced Shrewsbury in the initial fourth-round meeting, with Adrian, Joel Matip, Divock Origi, Takumi Minamino and Adam Lallana to all feature. A victory at Stamford Bridge would ensure Liverpool advancing to the quarter finals for the first time under Klopp as the Reds continue to pursue the elusive treble.
Frank Lampard will be limited in his team selection as injuries continue to plague the Blues. Christian Pulisic and N’Golo Kante (both adductor), Callum Hudson-Odoi (hamstring), and Tammy Abraham (ankle) remain sidelined, with Andres Christensen also now expected to miss tonight’s clash due to picking up a slight knock. Chelsea have been severely limited in their attack, and will rely on veterans Willian (31), Pedro Rodriguez (32) and Olivier Giroud (33) to lead the way. Michy Batshuayi is another option Frank might use as striker, though his inconsistency and lack of clinical finishing have recently left him as the third choice striker behind Tammy and Giroud. Against Bournemouth, Frank utilized Mason Mount upfront on the wing in a 3-4-3 formation instead of centrally in the midfield, and there is a chance Frank will revisit this option against Liverpool. However, considering how important maintaining fourth place and thus securing Champions League football for next season is to Lampard, he may choose to rest Mount (who has been invaluable to him so far this season) and go with Pedro and Willian on the wings- his other two options (Pulisic and Hudson-Odoi) are not available as aforementioned. Newly promoted Billy Gilmour could get the nod and start in midfield, partnering with either Ross Barkley, Jorginho or Mateo Kovacic.
Defensively, Lampard has been switching between either a back four or three- depending on the opponent- but arguably preferring three at the back as it allows Reece James more freedom to make offensive runs and deliver the amazing crosses he is becoming known for. If he does go with three, a combination of Dave Azpilicueta, Kurt Zouma (or Fikayo Tomori) and Antonio Rudiger seems likely, with Marcos Alonso and James as wingbacks. Alonso has been instrumental delivering clutch goals for the Blues as they continue to endure an ‘offensive rough patch’- though we create numerous scoring chances every game, there is little or no actual end product. It will be a daunting task for whichever defensive line takes the pitch; they will face a formidable Liverpool offense who have scored a combined 77 goals this season so far in both league and Champions League matches. This will unquestionably be on Lampard’s mind when determining who will start in goal. Willy Caballero has been first choice for the past five games, but the controversial (normally first-choice) Spanish keeper Kepa Arrizabalaga could be given a chance despite being overlooked in recent weeks.
The FA Cup is the most attainable trophy for Lampard in his inaugural season, so it will be a difficult choice deciding which first-team players to risk chasing silverware, while at the same time preserving enough fresh legs for the league games. Fan frustrations have been mounting, not only from the seemingly never-ending injury spree, but also from Chelsea’s tendencies to drop points against weaker sides. A victory against the first place team at home would bring a much needed morale boost and instill positive momentum for the Blues. But at the same time, more injuries would be devastating and certainly end any hope of safeguarding our top four spot. Overall, it should be an exciting match, and perhaps even opportunity to pinpoint potential Liverpool weaknesses that can be used against them when we meet again at Anfield in league play (when points will be so critical). But I think what is most paramount to fans at this point is avoiding further injuries. At any cost.