Chelsea’s list of absentees is growing, and whilst Nemanja Matic is back from suspension, Thibaut Courtois is still out with his knee injury, Branislav Ivanovic hasn’t yet recovered from the hamstring injury he suffered on international duty, while Loic Remy and Pedro are both doubtful.
Liverpool welcome back James Milner, whose cross led to Christian Benteke’s goal against Southampton on Sunday, after he was suspended for the League Cup win over Bournemouth in midweek, but Jordan Henderson, Danny Ings and Joe Gomez are definitely out. The full extent of Daniel Sturridge’s knee injury remains unclear but he is, at best, a major doubt.
Chelsea’s form remains miserable: a win over a struggling Aston Villa and a draw away to Dynamo Kyiv did not, it turns out, mark a transformation. Perhaps in another context a defeat to a West Ham side who have started the season far better than anticipated, would not look disastrous, but to do so having collected seven yellow cards (two of which amounted to Matic’s red) and with Mourinho and his assistant banished from the dugout, speaks of a club desperately at odds with itself.
Even worse, to concede having got back into the game suggests that Mourinho, the master at killing games, has lost the capacity of doing so, despite speaking of the need to go back to a safety-first policy. Chelsea have won three and lost five of their first 10 games this season. Liverpool, meanwhile, are locked in a series of draws – four of their last five games in the Premier League have finished level.
Last season, Chelsea were relatively comfortable 2-1 winners at Anfield, before a flat 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge three games from the end of the season. The League Cup semi-final brought two pulsating games in which Liverpool’s pace troubled Chelsea but Mourinho’s side won 2-1 on aggregate after extra-time.
There were two great old-fashioned centre-forward goals at the weekend: one from Andy Carroll against Chelsea and one from Christian Benteke against Southampton. Benteke now gets to try his luck against Chelsea. The pairing of John Terry and Gary Cahill looked vulnerable at times last season if players got a run at them, which was why Nemanja Matic’s role was so vital. If they’re also vulnerable to headers then Chelsea really are in trouble. The positive for Chelsea, perhaps, is that Liverpool have lacked natural width under Klopp so far, with Milner perhaps their best crosser of the ball.
The assumption was that Klopp would fashion Liverpool into the 4-2-3-1 he’d tended to use at Borussia Dortmund – and that Brendan Rodgers had frequently used this season. Instead, he has used a 4-3-2-1, with Milner and Can flanking Lucas Leiva, and Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana behind Divock Origi.
Origi will presumably stand down for Benteke now he is back to something close to full fitness. It’s perhaps an understandable ploy given the shape of the squad, but it does seem to focus Liverpool very much down the centre, which perhaps explains why they have looked rather better at stopping the opposition under Klopp than at creating much themselves. The suspicion must also be that a team with good attacking full-backs could exploit the space to the side of Liverpool’s midfield; Can and Milner can’t always be expected to get across to cover.
Chelsea, though, are struggling at full-back with the likely pairing on Saturday Kurt Zouma and Cesar Azpilicueta.
Given Chelsea’s recent form, Liverpool seem remarkably long at 4.15. Perhaps three straight draws under Klopp means backing them outright for the win is over-ambitious, but on the other hand they have had more than 60 shots in those three games and they’ve only just got their first-choice central striker back fit enough to (probably) start. Safer, perhaps, is to reflect on how much tighter Liverpool have looked defensively and on Chelsea’s goalscoring problems and back Liverpool +0.5 at 1.97.