Sunday, February 10, 2008

Match Prediction: Chelsea vs. LiverpooL

If you take Liverpool's recent away form and Chelsea's recent home record you get a gulf not dissimiliar to the one in the Manchester derby. Yet Manchester United are 1/3 and Chelsea are even money.

Chelsea have won their last five games at home, and they remain unbeaten at Stamford Bridge longer than I can remember. Liverpool haven't won any of their last four games away from Anfield.

It's not as if they haven't had the opportunities either. Their games have come against Manchester City, Middlesbrough, Luton and West Ham. They were well-fancied at the prices to win all of those games.

Rafael Benitez's team have also lost their last four games at Stamford Bridge - including a 2-0 reverse in the Carling Cup as recently as December.

Chelsea have shown remarkable qualities to shrug off the loss of Jose Mourinho and the decimation of their squad through injury, suspension and the African Nations.

The signing of Nicolas Anelka is a major boost to Avram Grant's team and he got his first Premier League goal for them in the 1-1 draw at Portsmouth.

The 13/8 Paddy Power offer about Anelka scoring anytime makes some appeal but not as much as the even money about Chelsea winning their sixth home game on the trot.

Verdict: Chelsea 2 Liverpool 0

Match Preview: Chelsea vs. LiverpooL

Chelsea and especially Liverpool find themselves behind Manchester United and Arsenal in the title race, and that is largely because neither have yet managed to beat any of the other ‘big four’ teams. This game represents a chance for Chelsea to end that miserable record and pile the pressure on leaders Arsenal, who do not play until Monday night.

The Blues will certainly be confident of beating a Liverpool side that are low on confidence and without some key players. Fernando Torres, Xabi Alonso and Daniel Agger will miss this clash and all three will be sorely missed.

The Reds are a long way behind the title challengers, and instead find themselves in a battle with the likes of Everton and Aston Villa for fourth place in the Premier League this season, nowhere near what many Liverpool supporters expected at the beginning of the campaign.

Liverpool fans have firmly focused their attentions to the club’s American owners in recent weeks, who admitted that they approached Jurgen Klinsmann about the possibility of replacing Rafa Benitez as manager of the club. Such attention has meant the focus has shifted somewhat away from the stumbling efforts of the team.

The whole situation feels tense, and is similar to the disintegration of Jose Mourinho’s relationship with his superiors at Chelsea. The Blues replaced the self proclaimed ‘Special One’ with the quietly effective Israeli Avram Grant, and since he took charge The Blues have withstood an injury crisis to stay within striking distance of top dogs United and Arsenal.

With Drogba, Kalou, Mikel, Lampard, Terry and Essien all to return to the side, Chelsea are only going to get stronger as the season reaches its conclusion. With both Arsenal and United still to visit Stamford Bridge, it could be argued that the championship is there for Chelsea to win. The Blues know however that they cannot afford to slip and they need to collect another three points against Liverpool this Sunday.

For Liverpool meanwhile, it is imperative that they qualify for next season’s Champions League as the ‘Big Four’ is rapidly becoming a ‘Top Three’ with Liverpool the cast-offs. A win for Benitez at Stamford Bridge - something no Premier League side has done since Arsenal in February 2004.



02 Jan v Portsmouth (A) DREW 1-1 (Prem)

30 Jan v Reading (H) WON 1-0 (Prem)

26 Jan v Wigan (A) WON 2-1 (FA Cup)

23 Jan v Everton (A) WON 1-0 (Prem)

19 Jan v Birmingham (A) WON 1-0 (Prem)

12 Jan v Tottenham (H) WON 2-0 (Prem)


02 Feb v Sunderland (H) WON 3-0 (Prem)

30 Jan v West Ham (A) LOST 0-1 (Prem)

26 Jan v Havant & Waterlooville (H) WON 5-2 (FA Cup)

21 Jan v Aston Villa (H) DREW 2-2 (Prem)

15 Jan v Luton (H) WON 5-0 (FA Cup)

12 Jan v Middlesbrough (A) DREW 1-1 (Prem)



Frank Lampard (thigh) and Ricardo Carvalho (suspension) should make welcome returns to the side. Andriy Shevchenko (back) and John Terry (foot) are definitely missing and Jon Obi Mikel may return from the African Cup of Nations.


Star striker Fernando Torres (hamstring) is a huge loss to The Reds after he limped out of Spain’s midweek friendly win over France. Cultured midfielder Xabi Alonso is suspended, so expect Gerrard and Mascherano to continue in the centre of the park. Defenders Alvaro Arbeloa and Daniel Agger (foot) are missing along with Ukrainian front man Andriy Voronin (ankle).


Chelsea - Nicolas Anelka

Anelka got his first Chelsea goal in last week’s draw at Portsmouth and the classy French striker will hope to impress against one of his many former clubs on Sunday. Anelka is the ultimate predator, and will hope to capitalise on a distinct lack of pace at the heart of the visitor’s defence.

Liverpool - Steven Gerrard

After captaining his country on Wednesday against Gerrard will have to be at his best if Liverpool are going to take anything from this testing away trip. In the absence of Xabi Alonso and Fernando Torres, Gerrard will have to provide most of his side’s attacking impetus against the club that he came so close top signing him a couple of seasons ago.

Rafa - Rift To Blame For Slump

Rafa Benitez believes Liverpool lost pace with the Premier League leaders because of the speculation surrounding his relationship with the club's co-owners.

The Reds made a solid start to their Premier League campaign but rumours soon began to spread that Benitez had fallen out with American duo George Gillett and Tom Hicks.

They publicly disagreed over the size of the available transfer budget for January, and Hicks later admitted holding talks with former Germany manager Jurgen Klinsmann.

Supporters have rallied around Benitez and the Spaniard believes he can be excused for Liverpool's below-par displays.

"What is evident is that back at that time we were in a great position and the team was in shape to win many of the games which we eventually drew," he told the News of the World.

"So the entire process is what allowed the gap to open between us and the leaders.

"If I wanted, I have the perfect excuse. The only solution I have is to try to bury myself in my work."

Liverpool are currently 17 points behind table-toppers Arsenal and Benitez accepts that claiming the fourth UEFA Champions League berth is now his now their primary focus.

He said ahead of the game against Chelsea: "What is vital is that we win to enable us to fight for at least the fourth-placed spot."

279 Changes And Rafa Benitez Finally Admits: I Gamble Too Much

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez concedes that sometimes he gambles too much with his rotation policy.

That is a remarkable admission from the Spaniard, who always defiantly defends his system of resting players on a regular basis.

It has meant that from day one of the season he has now made a staggering 279 changes to his line-ups, week on week, and shows no sign of sticking to his best side as critics continually claim he should.

Benitez averages an amazing five changes a match and has only kept an unchanged side once this term.

And as Benitez prepares this time to make enforced changes at Chelsea due to a growing injury list, he said: “If I need to make gambles, then I will make gambles.

“We have been in two Champions League finals and an FA Cup final. That is because we change the side.

“Sometimes it is good and works, sometimes not. But nobody really knows whether what I do is right.

“All I will say is that Liverpool and me have won a lot of trophies doing this.

“Sometimes maybe I take too many gambles. But it is necessary sometimes when opponents have top class, expensive players, and lots of them.

“If they have five players who cost £20m and we have just one, you need to use that player in the right moment. If you don’t win, people blame you.

“If you do win, nobody mentions what team you put onto the field. I accept that.”

He added: “We played against Havant and people said, ’play your best team.’ But you cannot do that against a team like that, if people want that it is because they do not know what it takes to win trophies and trophies and trophies.

“If you cannot do things like that against smaller teams then you will just not be able to compete all the time against Premier League teams. You must change things for games like that.”

Benitez will go into his 18th meeting with Chelsea without top scorer Fernando Torres, who damaged a hamstring playing for Spain in midweek.

The Spanish boss says: “People say I gamble too much with rotation and changes. But the answer to that is to look at Torres, he has played a lot of games for us recently and then he has another game with Spain, and he gets injured.

“He is continuing to play at a high level all the time. Players must rest also.

“We have half a dozen players in this situation, they all need to be changed and to rest. But everyone keeps talking about me playing my strongest team, and then you see what happens.

“I do not like to say what is my strongest team, I must use all the players with the demands we have. If you pick the same team all the time you will find at the end of the season that you cannot win trophies.”

Liverpool now have three key games in 10 days to salvage their season. After the clash with Chelsea they will play Barnsley in the FA Cup fifth round next weekend, and then face the first leg of their Champions League clash with Inter Milan.

And Benitez is still fuming over the injury to Torres that has damaged Liverpool’s chances in all three competitions.

He said: “We have three big games in 10 days in three different competitions and we have lost out top goalscorer.

“It is difficult to be calm about it, this was another international friendly in a busy period for clubs at this time of the season.

“It is crazy enough that they go away and have different training systems, diets, new ideas. And they get injured.

“We have got some confidence back with a 3-0 win over Sunderland and a very good second-half performance. But then a lot of players are away all over the world and we are left to train with just a few, it makes things very difficult.”

Liverpool will also be without long-term injured stars Andriy Voronin, Fabio Aurelio, Alvaro Arbeloa and Daniel Agger. Xabi Alonso is suspended.

Rafa Benitez Gets Ready To Axe Peter Crouch

Having lifted Liverpool from a dreadful lethargy by scoring the opening goal against Sunderland last week and followed up with a half- decent display for England at Wembley, Peter Crouch ought to be a shoo-in for a starting place at Chelsea today. But in the wacky world of management as practised by Rafa Benitez, Crouch might yet find himself on the bench, even though Fernando Torres is injured and Dirk Kuyt still upset after the death of his father last June.

If former Chelsea boss Claudio Ranieri was the Tinkerman, Benitez is the Mad Axeman, chopping at least four or five players every game in the name of rotation or just to keep people on their toes. So Crouch responds with a nervous laugh when asked if he is confident of making the line-up at Stamford Bridge.

He says: "I don't know about confident. I started the last game, did well and scored. But with our manager it's not a case of whether you've done well in the last game but how he feels the next game is going to be. So I have no idea."

Crouch tries to present himself as the good professional but he is clearly fed up to the back teeth. He says: "I'm not going to lie, it's frustrating. I feel I've taken my chances when they have come but I'd like to be playing a bit more. I do feel I'm in the manager's plans, though, and will play enough games towards the end of the season to warrant staying."

One may be Spanish, the other Italian. But in the way they handle their team selection and announce it to their players, Steven Gerrard reckons Rafa Benitez and Fabio Capello might have been separated at birth.

Not only did Capello keep his England players sweating almost until it was time to get changed, à la Rafa, when the squad saw the team sheet, there were gasps of: "Blimey, is he playing?" and "I can't believe so-and-so has been left out".

Gerrard, delighted to be Capello's first captain, said: "He is very like our manager in the way he keeps things close to his chest. We didn't know the team until two hours before kick-off. We didn't have a clue and I don’t think anyone in the country would have guessed that team."