The best of enemies, Liverpool and Chelsea will reconvene at Anfield tonight for the first leg of their Capital One Cup semi-final.
It’s rarely quiet when these two meet, but what are the areas which will determine who takes an advantage to Stamford Bridge for the second leg?
Here Mark Jones takes a look at five key elements of the evening:
How will Diego Costa fare against a back three?
He grabbed the winner when the sides met in the league at Anfield in November, but Diego Costa will be up against a different type of Liverpool defence here.
Costa took on Martin Skrtel and Dejan Lovren and came out the victor back then, but it will be Skrtel, Mamadou Sakho and Emre Can – a defence which has only conceded twice in their four-and-a-half games together – this time around.
Skrtel will again take care of the physical stuff against a man who certainly relishes that side of the game, but unless Chelsea get players around him then Costa – who has surprisingly not scored for Chelsea outside of the Premier League – might find himself getting isolated and overrun by a defensive trio which have certainly solidified the Reds in recent weeks.
Does Steven Gerrard start?
Unsurprisingly going into a Liverpool v Chelsea game all the talk has been about Steven Gerrard, but surely the key question centres on whether or not he should start the game.
Without him, the Liverpool midfield looked controlled and composed in the win at Aston Villa at the weekend, where Lucas Leiva calmly set the platform for victory (and later jumped in the crowd) and Jordan Henderson’s boundless energy helped create the opening goal.
Does Brendan Rodgers sacrifice that – perhaps moving Henderson to right midfield – to bring back a player he’s going to lose in the summer? Or is this the perfect opportunity to show that Liverpool life goes on without their talisman?
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Is Fabio Borini good enough to worry Chelsea?
A goalscorer in both the semi-final and final of this competition last season whilst on loan with Sunderland, Fabio Borini is likely to have a large say over whether or not his parent team make it to Wembley this time around.
Thrust into the Reds frontline due to a combination of injuries and inconsistencies elsewhere, the Italian – a former Chelsea youth – showed impressive movement to score only his third goal for Liverpool at Villa on Saturday, but he is likely to have to do more than that to get the better of a largely rock solid visiting defence, and one which is primed to deal with occasions such as this.
How will Liverpool’s wingers cope defensively?
There is likely to be some rotation on both sides, but whichever two of Eden Hazard, Oscar, Willian, Andre Schurrle or perhaps even Mohamed Salah line up for Chelsea is sure to provide Liverpool’s wingers with a tough defensive job to do.
One of the more impressive things about Lazar Markovic’s game in recent weeks has been his willingness to track back, whilst Alberto Moreno also seems perfectly suited to the new Reds system. But that system will be up against its toughest challenge to date, with world-class players primed to expose it if they are given space.
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Will both sides just think about the second leg?
Ultimately, the very fact that this is a first leg might be the most important element of it.
Although not likely to reach the almost chess-like levels of some of the Champions League matches we saw between Rafael Benitez and Jose Mourinho, both managers here will be acutely aware that the winners of the semi-final will be decided at Stamford Bridge in a week’s time.
A tight, tactical game is likely to suit the visitors, and if Liverpool go into it with thoughts of just remaining with a fighting chance then they might find that that approach causes them more problems.
It could pay for them to attack their visitors, but then as we saw at Anfield last April, Mourinho lives for games like that.
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