Sports Editor of The Saint and Liverpool Fan Adam Robertson previews tomorrow’s game at Anfield from the opposition standpoint. You can get in touch with Adam on Twitter (@AdamRob500) or Online (www.thesaint.scot).
Liverpool’s form since the Premier League restart at the end of June has somewhat split opinion. This might seem remarkable given that after a 0-0 draw with Everton and a 4-0 win over Crystal Palace, Jurgen Klopp’s side was crowned Premier League champions for the first time in 30 years. Football is never one to miss out on irony as it was Chelsea, who so cruelly denied Liverpool a title victory with a win at Anfield back in the 2013/14 season, that would so kindly hand it to us after a 2-1 win over Manchester City.
As complex as modern football can be made, Liverpool’s recent form has primarily been down to a lack of concentration. The goals they’ve conceded (the two against Arsenal the other night serving as prime examples) have often been down to individual errors rather than something inherently wrong in Liverpool’s system. To my mind though, the squad’s form has been somewhat exaggerated. Liverpool have still created chances and any accusations of a lack of effort have always been brushed away by the manager.
For all the criticism though, Klopp ultimately achieved what he was hired for and a dip in form was bound to come eventually. When you’ve been relentlessly pursuing the title in the manner Liverpool have for the last two seasons, when you’ve fallen short by one point and failed yet again to lift the burden of the 30-year wait, it’s no surprise there is a little bit of a lapse in concentration. It wasn’t really that long ago us Liverpool fans were trying to take the positives from the sale of Luis Suarez and acquiring Rickie Lambert. As often happens in football, a bit of perspective is required.
Much like the reigns of Rafa Benitez and Jose Mourinho, Liverpool and Chelsea cannot stop meeting each other this season. The UEFA Super Cup provided a thrilling 2-2 draw in Istanbul, Liverpool triumphed in the Premier League 2-1 away from home and, for the third meeting, Chelsea knocked Liverpool out the FA Cup by beating them 2-0.
Where the game on Wednesday will be won or lost is really a matter of where Liverpool’s heads are at. Ultimately, it is their final home game of the season and, fans or no fans, they will be desperate to see out yet another Premier League season unbeaten at Anfield. They will also want to end on a high before legendary striker Kenny Dalglish presents Jordan Henderson with the Premier League trophy that has so long eluded the club.
Chelsea though will take confidence from their strong performance over Manchester United. Given that Spurs also beat Leicester 3-1, this will give them the opportunity to wrap up Champions League qualification and thus potentially rest players on the final day with the FA Cup final in mind. Mason Mount was particularly impressive in that game, as was Olivier Giroud, although Lampard has been tactically flexible this season with regards to formation and so it’s hard to tell what he’ll use when he comes up against Klopp. Mount for instance took up a role off the left, similar to where the likes of David Silva began, but if Christian Pulisic starts, his position will likely shift.
The reverse Premier League fixture saw Liverpool triumph 2-1 at Stamford Bridge. One of the key battles that day was Fabinho against Jorginho. Liverpool’s holding midfielder (arguably their best since the restart) pushed up and stopped the Italian from being the centre piece of kick-starting Chelsea’s attacks. Perhaps more significantly though, both Liverpool’s goals that day came from set pieces.
The first, admittedly, was a wonderful strike from Alexander-Arnold. The second, however, was a poor piece of marking which left Roberto Firmino with a free header. Crosses into the box seem to have been a problem for Chelsea and after conceding against West Ham, Lampard’s side have now given away 12 goals from set pieces – the fourth highest in the division. With the aerial prowess of Van Dijk and the pinpoint accuracy of Liverpool’s full backs, there’s a chance the Reds may look to exploit this weakness again.
Returning to Chelsea going forward, Christian Pulisic is where I think Liverpool’s main worry lies. Given the space that Trent Alexander-Arnold vacates when he pushes forward, its likely that’s where Chelsea will look to create opportunities. Pulisic actually almost scored in this manner in the Super Cup final when Liverpool were in the early stages off operating their new extremely high line. He found the ball on the left, cut inside and had the ball in the back of the net. The goal was ultimately ruled out for offside but only just.
From my own perspective of Chelsea, Lampard has done a good job in his first season as blues manager. There have been inconsistency issues and game management (the recent 3-2 win over Crystal Palace being an example) has been a bit stretched at times. That being said, you’re generally going to have consistency issues in a manager’s first season at a club; even more so when its only his second season in management at all.
From the outside though, what marks a clear change is that Abramovich is, at long last, focused on a long-term project and, at least from a Liverpool perspective, it is that model that has brought great success to the club and, hopefully, has put us in a position to continue to challenge for the big trophies. This is of course not to criticise Abramovich’s approach, whose business model has brought the club a great amount of success; it just seems like a noteworthy change of approach if you compare it with other managers.
Jose Mourinho with Diego Costa, Antonio Conte with Alonso and Moses and, to a certain extent, even Maurizio Sarri with Jorginho, all looked to sign players that fitted the mould there and then. Lampard of course had the transfer ban which played its part but even the signings of Timo Werner and Hakim Ziyech (24 and 27 respectively), whilst already exceptionally talented, feel like they are yet to hit the peak of their careers. In particular though, what’s been impressive is that Lampard himself has never looked to use the transfer ban as any form of excuse. If players make mistakes or if things are set-up wrong, he is willing to take full responsibility and it seems as though he is not afraid to make his players do the same.
I can only compare, but in Klopp’s first full season in charge, his aim was Champions League qualification, and everybody was happy with that. If Lampard can do the same and get a trophy, there’s no reason not to be very positive for the future. Liverpool vs Chelsea has for years now provided us with an entertaining fixture more often than not so let’s hope Wednesday is the same.
What do you think will happen tomorrow night? Will Chelsea secure top four with the win? Let us know in the comments below! UTC!