No fixture in Premier League history has ever escalated into a grudge match quite as quickly as Chelsea v Liverpool in the Roman Abramovich era and the latest instalment in what has become a fierce rivalry takes place at Stamford Bridge on Sunday amid a backdrop of serious controversy.
Arguments between fans about history and money, between Jose Mourinho and Rafa Benitez about anything and everything, and between club officials about Fernando Torres have all contributed to the bad blood.
But in the week when Sepp Blatter’s scarcely believable comments have put racism in football on the front pages, two players with clouds hanging over them come in direct competition.
We’ll see in due course what, if anything, will happen to John Terry and Luis Suarez, but their presence in this of all weeks is just another issue to plague a fixture that has always seemed to court off-field problems.
However, there will actually be a football match on Sunday, one that is played between two teams flattering to deceive.
Despite the odds (Chelsea are strong favourites at 3/4, with the draw at 13/5 and Liverpool priced at 7/2), just three points separate the teams, but sitting in fourth and sixth respectively is an unacceptable position for both clubs given their transfer outlay.
If we take Liverpool first, they just haven’t clicked into gear following the massive spending spree undertaken since last January, where they used the ridiculous £50 million they received for Torres on an even more ridiculous purchase of their own in Andy Carroll.
With Carroll, as well as Charlie Adam, Stewart Downing and Jordan Henderson, struggling to justify a huge fee, Liverpool have looked very ordinary when Suarez has failed to shine.
In the 16 previous Premier League meetings, 14 have seen under 2.5 goals (a 19/20 shot), seven of which have featured one goal or less. Considering that stat, the 11/4 for [under 1.5 goals] is definitely overpriced.
Three 2-0 away wins look better on paper than they were in reality – West Brom were unforgivably poor, while Liverpool laboured for long periods against the ten men of Arsenal and Everton – and for me the 4-0 hammering they took at Tottenham in September is not the anomaly manager Kenny Dalglish would have you believe.
Chelsea are playing their first home game since their own hammering, 5-3 against Arsenal, so exactly how they react will be intriguing. Coach Andre Villas-Boas has insisted his attacking principles will not be compromised, but it is interesting to note that in their next league match at Blackburn they kept their first clean sheet since the opening day of the season.
Yet for their defensive frailties, Chelsea’s firepower remains as potent as ever. The Blues have scored 15 goals at Stamford Bridge in five games – that is one more than Liverpool have managed in all 11 league games – and I fancy them to edge a home win.
However, the odds are a touch on the short side so I’ll be attempting to eek out a bit more value, and a look at the recent history could point us in the right direction.
Since Abramovich bought Chelsea in 2003 and changed the football landscape forever, goals in matches between the sides have been as rare as those dour early Champions League matches suggest.
In the 16 previous Premier League meetings, 14 have seen under 2.5 goals (a 19/20 shot), seven of which have featured one goal or less.
And when you consider Liverpool have beaten Chelsea at Stamford Bridge just three times in the Premier League and have failed to score in 12 of their 19 visits to Chelsea since 1992, there are markets to make the most of a narrow Chelsea win.
Chelsea to win in a match that has less than 3.5 goals is a whopping bet at 31/20 and even factors in a Liverpool goal, but I’m not convinced the Reds can score so the 2/1 for Chelsea to win to nil and the 29/20 for Chelsea to keep a clean sheet are well worth interest.
And considering that above stat – seven out of 16 games have featured under 1.5 goals – the 11/4 for that outcome is definitely overpriced.
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