Premier League Tactical Preview: Liverpool v Chelsea



The Sunday afternoon game between Liverpool and Chelsea is a huge fixture, particularly for Chelsea. The Blues are vying for fourth place in the Premier League and will be playing after both Arsenal and Spurs this weekend. Liverpool will want to demonstrate their progress under Rodgers by earning three points, and beat the Londoners 4-1 at Anfield this time last season. Just as significantly, this fixture will see the return of former Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez to his old stomping ground.

Liverpool are 2.10 favourites to win, with the draw at 3.45 and Chelsea at 3.40.

Probable line-ups

Liverpool are likely to opt for the same side that drew at Reading last week, meaning Daniel Sturridge should face his former club for the first time since leaving in January. Martin Skrtel will be on the bench with veteran Jamie Carragher continuing in defence, whilst Jordan Henderson will play alongside Steven Gerrard and Lucas in midfield.


Rafa Benitez is likely to ring the changes for this tie. Demba Ba will likely come in for Fernando Torres, with Branislav Ivanovic replacing John Terry (who doesn't play twice in a week under Benitez) at centre-back. Oscar, who was rested against Fulham, will also return to the midfield, starting alongside Eden Hazard and Juan Mata.

The midfield battle

Liverpool play with three relatively deep midfielders, while Chelsea use two holders to free up three more attacking players. Oscar will have to drop back to support the two deeper midfielders on occasion, so Chelsea don't find themselves outnumbered. If he fails to so, they will relinquish possession to a Liverpool side who enjoy seeing a lot of the ball.

Liverpool's trio will try to dominate possession and bring the three attackers into play. We will see Luis Suarez drop off and come deep to collect the ball at times, meaning that Chelsea's centre-backs might also get dragged out of position. With Liverpool playing this way things can get compact in the middle, which means both teams will have to rely on their full-backs to provide good outlets when they are in possession.

Gerrard will have a major role to play in this game. The England captain has adopted a much deeper role under Rodgers, sitting in front of the centre-backs and looking to pass the ball rather than bombing forward. Despite his more reserved role, his impact is still evident: he is the fourth-highest passer in the league this season with an average of 66 per game. This graphic of his action areas against Spurs shows how deep he has been playing:


In this fixture Gerrard is primarily sat in front of his back four, stroking the ball around and adopting a more disciplined approach.If Chelsea want to win the midfield battle, it will be essential to nullify Gerrard by putting a player on him to disrupt Liverpool's flow.

A tale of two (or three) strikers?

Luis Suarez has had an excellent season, scoring 22 goals so far and establishing himself as Liverpool's biggest threat. Fernando Torres, by contrast, has not scored a league goal since Chelsea won 8-0 against Aston Villa back in December. The Spaniard's form has picked up in the cups but he doesn't offer the all-round menace of Suarez, who has also created 87 chances for his team-mates this season.

With Demba Ba also inconsistent, Chelsea tend to rely on Frank Lampard (their top domestic goalscorer), Mata and Hazard for goals and creativity. Without these three the club are very short on consistent goalscoring options. Ba will probably be picked and he owes Chelsea a big performance in the league given his lack of goals for the side.

Conclusion

Chelsea really cannot afford a slip-up at Anfield. Having beaten Fulham midweek, a victory against Liverpool would be a huge boost to their bid to finish in the top four. Much of the focus will be on Rafa Benitez's return to his former club, but the chase for Europe is of central importance for both clubs. Given the history between the two sides this will undoubtedly be a fiery encounter, which is likely to be settled by a moment of magic from a player like Luis Suarez.

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