Friday, April 25, 2014

Match Tactical View: Liverpool v Chelsea

It would be a shame if Jose Mourinho follows through with his threat to play a reserve side for this contest, but it's unlikely Brendan Rodgers will be paying too much attention.

With Liverpool in this form - they've won their last 11 - they can afford to go out and play their own game, without reacting too much to the identity of their opponents. As we've noted many times in this column, the Reds have generally made extremely fast starts in big matches this season, and it would be something of a surprise if they didn't score the opener again here.

It's been interesting how many of those crucial openers have come from set-pieces, where Liverpool have been more prolific than any other side in the division, and considering this has been something of a problem Chelsea throughout this season, it could be worth looking at Martin Skrtel, for example, to score first.

The Slovakian centre-back has looked uncomfortable defensively in recent weeks, but his status as the league's top goalscoring defender shouldn't be ignored, especially against a Chelsea side lacking John Terry and Petr Cech.

Rodgers' only genuine selection decision concerns the fitness of Daniel Sturridge, who might not return against his former club. If he is available, Rodgers will return to the diamond midfield he played at Norwich last season - if not, it might again be something of a 4-3-2-1 system again, with both Coutinho and Sterling playing just behind Suarez. In truth, from a purely Liverpool perspective, Rodgers might as well risk Sturridge at this stage of the campaign, although the player himself will be desperate to avoid worsening his injury ahead of the World Cup.

Rodgers' other issue is the continued absence of Jordan Henderson through suspension - not a huge issue at Norwich, but potentially more problematic against a powerful Chelsea side. Rodgers would have asked him to pressure Nemanja Matic, cup-tied in Europe and therefore likely to start this weekend, but without a natural replacement for Henderson, the Serbian holding midfielder might command the midfield zone.

Chelsea are likely to play deeper than other big sides - Manchester City, Everton and Arsenal - have at Anfield, which means the home side might get less joy with pace in behind the defence, and will instead have longer, more sustained periods of possession.

The full-backs, Glen Johnson and Jon Flanagan, should feature more in advanced positions - but this would open up Liverpool to Chelsea's counter-attacks, likely to come from Mohamed Salah and possibly Andre Schurrle. There's no real need for Liverpool to be risky in this respect - a draw would be a decent result for the home side.

Another interesting subplot is Luis Suarez's performance. Although the Uruguayan has scored an amazing 30 goals in 30 league starts this season, his record against the rest of the top four is a distinctly unimpressive 0 in five. There's more to Suarez's game than goals, of course - in the 5-1 home win over Arsenal he was probably the game's best player despite not getting on the scoresheet - but it could be worth laying Suarez to score.

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