Chelsea – Liverpool (Premier League)
What could be better to end 2013 than to see Chelsea and Liverpool fight for the positions at the top of the Premier League table? Second against fourth, a single point separating the two sides. Face to face two managers that favour cunning and tactics. Let the mind games unfold.
Despite the 3 points that kept them in the title race José Mourinho complained about the pain his players put him trough. Every game is a stressful thing to watch. Even when the Blues are clearly dominant for the best part of the match the victory never comes without some degree of anxiety. A tie that could and should be decided at half-time, allowing Chelsea to relax for the remaining period, was anything but that. At times the squad plays well, moves the ball around with quality, but more than confidence they lack the determination to close deals when opportunity presents itself. Chelsea’s winner was courtesy of Eden Hazard, again. Him, Oscar, even Mata when he’s on the pitch, theirs is the responsibility to create at Chelsea. The problem is the responsibility to score often falls on them too. When you have three fit capable forwards in the roster and still rely on the creative midfielders to save the day something is off.
At the end of Boxing Day Chelsea found themselves in 3rd place, with 37 points. Looking up they have the Citizens and Gunners, with 38 and 39 respectively. Looking down they have their next opposition, 1 point apart. It would be great if the Blues could extend their remarkable home record without a loss. It would keep them up there, fighting for the top, even though it is unlikely to see City loose points at home against Palace. A win would open the gap between them and Liverpool, and that could prove even more important.
The major set-back heading into this clash is Ramires suspension. Against Swansea the Brazilian got his fifth booking and will now be out of the Liverpool game. Bertrand and van Ginkel continue to be long-term casualties. Everyone else is at Mourinho’s disposal.
Probable line-up: Petr Cech – Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Azpilicueta – Mikel, Lampard – Shurrle, Oscar, Hazard – Torres.
Liverpool went to the Etihad on Thursday for a battle of attacking football. The big Boxing Day ended with the Reds being defeated. It was close, both sides did all they could to win. The Reds had the best chances and were Philippe Coutinho slightly more effective and it might have been a different story all together. In the end Mignolet’s error allowed Negredo the winner and ultimately costed Liverpool at least one point. Now they visit Stanford Bridge hopping to get that sour taste of defeat off their mouths. Luis Suárez failed to score on Thursday. It was the third time it happen in his last 10 appearances for the Reds. In each one of them then the team lost. Nevertheless he is the Premier League top scorer with 19 hits and is responsible for 44% of Liverpool’s goals. Mourinho seems to find Cahill a more reliable sidekick for Terry but Suárez at his best is too big of a challenge for Chelsea’s back-line. It will be interesting to see how they’ll handle themselves.
Jon Flanagan (hamstring) is the latest addiction in Liverpool’s injury list, alongside Enrique, Sturridge, Coates and Gerrard.
Probable line-up: Mignolet – Johnson, Skertel, Sakho, Cissokho – Jordan Henderson, Lucas Leiva, Joe Allen – Sterling, Suárez, Coutinho.
José Mourinho is yet to lose a League game at Stanford Bridge, 69 and he counting, he certainly hopes. Mind you, this season Chelsea had a few close calls already. Liverpool will surely be a stern test to that unbeaten stretch.