The big story going into the Liverpool v Chelsea game has been Rafael Benitez and his connection with the Liverpool fans, but he’s unlikely to have a significant impact on the game – returning managers rarely do.
More importantly, Liverpool v Chelsea as a fixture tends to go against the trend – form doesn’t matter and both sets of players, fuelled by powerful emotions, raise their games and turn in memorable performances.
Liverpool have little left to play for this season – the last European slot is almost out of reach and they’re out of all cup competitions – but their fans don’t tolerate giving up and you can expect Liverpool to turn in a strong performance on Sunday, even if it only proves that they can mix it with the top teams.
Liverpool are expected to start with Daniel Sturridge up front and Luis Suarez playing behind him, and while Suarez hasn’t scored in the last four games and generally goals have dried up for the Reds, they are likely to find the net more than once in this game.
Too often this season Liverpool have slumbered through the first half and only really given games a go in the second 45 minutes – they can’t afford to do that here against Chelsea. An expected 4-2-3-1 line-up will give Liverpool protection against Chelsea’s highly skilled forward players, and Brendan Rodgers’ main challenge will be to ensure that his players don’t get bogged down in their own half and are able to push forward and create scoring opportunities.
Chelsea haven’t found creating chances to be a problem – Juan Mata and Eden Hazard lead the club’s assist charts – but they have lost their way this season with players not performing at 100 per cent and in some cases unable to quickly adapt to what their new manager wants them to do.
However, Chelsea are still favourites for third place in the Premier League and are in the semi-finals of the Europa League. A strong finish to the domestic season and a European trophy will be considered a success. However, in order to get there Chelsea must rotate their players to stay fresh in a congested end to the season, and this is likely to see players rotated in defence and midfield as Benitez works out a way to beat his old team.
John Terry is expected to return to the bench on Sunday and despite his goals midweek, he’s not fast enough to deal with Sturridge and Suarez whereas Luiz and Ivanovic offer a better central-defensive pairing. It’s not just pace – The Luiz-Ivanovic axis fits in better with the high-tempo pressing/vertical game Benitez tends to prefer.
If Ashley Cole is fit he may return to the starting line-up but you can expect Ba to replace Torres up front and possibly Frank Lampard to start alongside Ramires in midfield to help Chelsea control the game.
Lampard, two goals shy of breaking Chelsea’s all-time scoring record, is 4.25 to score any time in the game.
Chelsea have failed to win any of their last five Premier League matches against Liverpool, with the Reds coming out on top in four of those.
Liverpool have kept a clean sheet in five of their last seven home matches in the Premier League.
I don’t think Liverpool will be able to keep a clean sheet – Chelsea are too good and Liverpool too prone to defensive mistakes to let that happen. However, I also don’t think Chelsea can stop Liverpool from scoring twice – especially since Liverpool are at home and in a big game like this they will attack from start to end.
My recommended tip for this game is a 2-1 win for Liverpool at 8.00 (£20 wins you £160).
Gareth McKnight is the editor of Soccerlens.com.