The visit of Chelsea to Anfield provides a painful reminder to Liverpool fans of how far they have fallen off the pedestal from which they used to dominate English football. The Blues are defending champions, while the Reds only moved out of the relegation zone a week ago.
Liverpool have been unable to add to their record 18 top-flight titles in the Premier League era, and have managed one FA Cup triumph in the last five years, a period in which Chelsea have collected eight major domestic trophies including three league titles.
Nevertheless, things are beginning to pick up for the fallen giants. The club are finally under new ownership, and beleaguered manager Roy Hodgson has the rare luxury of being able to reflect on three consecutive victories going into Sunday’s showdown.
And the midweek appointment of Damien Comolli as Liverpool's new director of football strategy will potentially allow the ex-Fulham boss to focus exclusively on coaching the best out of his squad.
Hodgson enjoyed what he described as his best 15 minutes in the job on Thursday as Liverpool came from behind to beat Napoli 3-1 in the Europa League. Yet that victory owed so much to second-half substitute Steven Gerrard, who scored a hat-trick, that despite the skipper’s insistence that it had been a fine collective performance, the Reds’ over-dependence on him was again plain to see.
The other world class player at Hodgson’s disposal, Fernando Torres, had been linked with a possible move to Sunday’s opponents until Carlo Ancelotti ruled out buying any new players in January unless injuries force a rethink, and specifically quashed rumors of a bid for Torres when citing the excellence of his own current strike force.
All Hodgson needs to do therefore is hope the Spaniard – who has scored four goals in as many matches against Chelsea at Anfield - can quickly recapture his imperious pre-World Cup form, match fitness and appetite.
Meanwhile, having not won any of his last six league matches against Chelsea (D1, L5), Hodgson knows that if he can take anything off the champions this weekend it could give his recovering side a massive shot in the arm and lend credence to the view that Liverpool could yet challenge for a top four place again.
However, if all results go against them this weekend, the Reds could find themselves back in the relegation mire by Sunday evening. And on the face of it, with just three wins from their 10 league games to date, Liverpool seem unlikely to trouble Chelsea over-much. Liverpool currently look miles away from the standard Chelsea have set, something Hodgson has not tried to gloss over when admitting that he and the club face a Herculean ask in restoring the Reds firstly to top four eminence and secondly to the glories that were commonplace at Anfield in the 1970s and 1980s.
Chelsea won 2-0 on their last visit to Anfield, in May in what was Liverpool’s final home fixture of the 2009-10 season, and took a decisive step closer to claiming their third league title in six seasons. But they have a mixed record at Anfield in recent years, winning four and losing four of their last 10 visits. The two clubs have met 26 times in all competitions since October 2004, Chelsea winning 12 of them and Liverpool seven.
The rivalry between these two teams reached a new level when Jose Mourinho and Rafael Benitez were the respective managers. Those two have moved on, and Liverpool have become less of a threat at the top of the table; but although relations between Ancelotti and Roy Hodgson are likely to be a lot less prickly than those between their predecessors, there will still be a keen rivalry between the teams.
And while Liverpool will be anxious to maintain their tentative revival, Chelsea will be no less determined to continue in the vein that has seen them establish a commanding five-point lead at the top of the table.
The Blues will be mindful that they came unstuck on their last but one trip to the North West, when Manchester City inflicted on them their only defeat of the season so far. They made up for that set-back by claiming all three points back in Lancashire last weekend when coming from behind to beat Blackburn Rovers 2-1.
If it was not their most convincing performance it was certainly a dogged and ultimately successful one that spoke volumes about their resilience. They are, after all, champions – a fact they underlined in the manner of an emphatic midweek thrashing of Spartak.
Chelsea have taken 10 points out of 12 and won six of their last seven matches in all competitions, and for good measure boast the best goalscoring and defensive records in the Premier League. Moreover, they have had a day extra to recover from European action and prepare for Sunday's match, having already done the hard work required to reach the Champions League knockout stage.
Chelsea represent a formidable challenge for any opponent at the moment, and are again the Premier League's best travelers, with three wins from five to their credit and a goal difference of plus eight on the road.
Midfielder Joe Cole will miss Sunday's match against his former club Chelsea because of the hamstring strain that also ruled him out of the Reds’ midweek Europa Cup triumph over Napoli.
But another ex-Chelsea player, right-back Glen Johnson, shrugged off a thigh muscle injury in time to make his first appearance since October 3 in the Napoli game, and was one of six changes manager Roy Hodgson made to the side that beat Bolton last weekend. Johnson is set to face his previous employers, but it is likely that Christian Poulsen, Jay Spearing, Jonjo Shelvey, Milan Jovanovic and David Ngog could revert to the bench as the likes of Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres resume their places in the starting XI.
Dirk Kuyt may have recovered from an ankle injury in time to face Chelsea, while Ngog, who had to be substituted during the victory over Napoli, may have a sore shin after being the victim of an outrageous – and unpunished – over-the-ball tackle by the liability that was Salvatore Aronica.
Ryan Babel is doubtful with a rib injury; Daniel Agger (calf) and Fabio Aurelio (groin) are still recovering from their respective injury problems.
Possible starting XI: Reina; Johnson, Kyrgiakos, Carragher, Konchesky; Lucas, Meireles, Maxi Rodriguez, Gerrard, Kuyt, Torres.
Like Joe Cole, Yossi Benayoun will be denied the chance to face his former team-mates, the Israeli international being a long-term casualty with an Achilles injury.
For the Blues’ 4-1 midweek Champions League win over Spartak Moscow, manager Carlo Ancelotti brought back Ramires after three games out with an ankle injury but took the opportunity to rest midfield dynamo Michael Essien, who was nursing a minor toe problem.
He also rested captain John Terry , while Salomon Kalou replaced the injured Florent Malouda. For the trip to Liverpool, Terry is back in the heart of defense, and Malouda is expected to have recovered from his ankle strain, but Essien may need longer.
Ramires is standing by to start, as Frank Lampard will probably still not be ready to make his comeback from a hernia operation.
Possible starting XI: Cech; Ivanovic, Alex, Terry, A Cole; Ramires, Mikel, Zhirkov; Anelka, Drogba, Malouda.