You know that feeling you get when you bump into someone you used to knock around with at school and they’ve let themselves go so much that you think ‘Jesus, what has happened to them’? That is the feeling that Chelsea will be getting when they host Liverpool at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.
Just a few years ago, this was was one of the most anticipated fixtures of the season, which was a good job seeing as the teams met each other with such regularity. Under Jose Mourinho and Rafael Benitez, this became a grudge match of epic proportions, with the famous European nights going into Champions League folklore, while the domestic encounters were played with such intensity, the hatred on both sides was not merely consigned to the fans in the stadium.
Yes, the rivalry still exists, and always will do, especially with two sets of fans whose outlook could not be more diametrically opposed. But on the pitch? This match stopped being relevant years ago.
Just over four years ago, Benitez took his Liverpool team to Stamford Bridge and beat Luiz Felipe Scolari’s side, inflicting a first home defeat on Chelsea in 86 league games. It was a result that took the Reds to the top of the Premier League and a tilt at the title they eventually missed out on by just four points despite losing just two games all season.
On Sunday, Brendan Rodgers takes his side to the same ground with Liverpool languishing in 12th position with just two league wins, against Norwich City and Reading, to their name all year to face a Chelsea side only one point off the summit and coming into the match on the back of a great night in the Champions League.
Nothing could highlight the huge chasm between the two sides more glaringly and historical rivalries aside, Liverpool are an irrelevance to Chelsea. Roberto Di Matteo’s men are in just the position (both footballing and financial) where Reds fans expect their club to be, but Liverpool are so far away from qualifying for the Champions League, never mind winning the thing as the Blues did last season, that it seems ridiculous for them to even talk about those ambitions.
Only a fraction of this is Rodgers’ fault, of course, and a number of factors have led, over a period of time, to Liverpool’s fall from grace, but at the moment the Merseysiders are in a situation where Fenway Sports Group wouldn’t/couldn’t stump up the cash for £6 million Clint Dempsey. At the same time, Roman Abramovich was splashing out the best part of £70 million on Eden Hazard and Oscar, among others.
Rodgers can’t be expected to compete against that and I think all this could be hammered home on Sunday. The Reds are 14/5 to win at Stamford Bridge, with the draw at 5/2 and Chelsea at 91/100, which is the sort of eye-popping price that you need to make sure that you are on.
At just under evens, Chelsea are lump-on material here. They are not perfect by any means – their defensive record shows that – but they have so much flair about them that they can put a profligate Liverpool to the sword.
Di Matteo’s men have scored 24 goals in nine home games in all competitions this season, winning seven, drawing with Juventus and losing to Manchester United, and they look to have far too much class for the Reds to cope with.
Hazard, Oscar and Juan Mata are light years ahead of Raheem Sterling and Suso, promising as the teenagers are, and Chelsea should be trusted to outscore a Liverpool side who have netted just 13 league goals – five of which came at Norwich – and are far too reliant on Luis Suarez to score and create.
Rodgers will take some solace from Liverpool’s recent record at the Bridge – they have won four of the last six since that aforementioned victory under Benitez – but Chelsea have only lost back-to-back league matches at home once since April 2002 and that was last year under the unpopular Andre-Villas-Boas.
This just looks like a mismatch in quality and I think that Rodgers’ first visit to one of the elite sides as Liverpool manager could highlight just how far behind his club are when compared to the very best in the division. Chelsea will win this and you have to get on that 91/100.