Earlier this week, Liverpool and Chelsea met at Anfield to play a third-round match in the Carabao Cup. Both Jurgen Klopp and Maurizio Sarri elected to give little-used reserves the chance to start alongside a few regulars. The game was largely even until a late strike from Eden Hazard, who had come onto the pitch as a substitute just minutes earlier, gave the Blues a 2-1 lead. Chelsea would hang on to earn the victory and advance, while Liverpool were ousted from the League Cup.
Frankly, the League Cup is probably the lowest priority of either team this season. Liverpool entered the campaign with legitimate aspirations of winning the English top flight for the first time in nearly 30 years, while Chelsea were looking for a bounce-back campaign following a tumultuous end to the Antonio Conte era last year. Through 6 Premier League matches, both teams look excellent. Liverpool have collected all 18 points from their first 6 matches, while Sarri has 5 wins and a loss on his young Premier League resume.
The two “big 6” titans will clash in what is easily the most-anticipated match of the weekend’s Premier League schedule. This time, the scene will shift to Stamford Bridge.
We can safely assume both Klopp and Sarri will put their best lineups forward here. Hazard, Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah, N’Golo Kante and other regulars were on the bench to begin the aforementioned League Cup affair. Barring some sort of last-minute fitness crisis, all should be on the pitch when the whistle blows for the first time on Saturday in London.
Sarri said during the week that he believes his team is at least one year behind Klopp’s in terms of development. Obviously, that’s a fair statement, but it may not be entirely true. Sarri was hired away from Napoli relatively late in the summer as the team waited several months before parting ways with Conte. The Italian manager wasn’t afforded much time to train with his new club, which led many to believe that Chelsea would struggle this season, especially early on. The Blues were also left scrambling in the transfer market, especially after former No. 1 goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois pushed for a move to Real Madrid. He was replaced when Chelsea splashed a record amount to sign young keeper Kepa Arrizabalaga away from Athletic Bilbao. Sarri also brought midfielder Jorginho with him from Napoli.
There were rumors that Hazard may have wanted to go to Madrid along with his Belgian compatriot, but he instead remained in England at the closure of the summer window.
In terms of fitness, both teams are facing question marks. Star defender Virgil van Dijk reportedly traveled with the club from Merseyside to the English capital, but he is still considered doubtful to play after injuring his ribs last weekend in a 3-0 win over Southampton. The Reds are still without injured veterans Adam Lallana, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Divock Origi. However, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Gini Wijnaldum are reportedly fit to return after missing the Carabao Cup match. As for the Blues, defender Antonio Rudiger is considered to be a doubt. Pedro, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Andreas Christensten are also questionable to suit up for the home team.
The Reds are in the midst of a tough stretch. They will play a second consecutive game against a quality Chelsea side before tough tests in Champions League against Napoli and a Premier League tilt with the defending league champions shortly thereafter. Klopp is aware of the difficulty of the next month or so, but he says he will have his players ready to roll.
One obvious key to this game will be whether the Chelsea defense can contain Liverpool’s high-octane attack. We haven’t seen the Reds quite hit their stride in terms of racking up the goals so far this season, but we saw last term that this is arguably the most prolific attack in Europe when everything is in order.
Chelsea’s back four has been somewhat suspect to this point, and the potential absence of Rudiger will only make things more difficult. Mane and Salah flying down the wings presents a difficult matchup for any opposing defense, while Firmino in the middle is as clinical as they come.
Newcomer Fabinho drew his first start as a Liverpool player in the last match, but he will likely be once again relegated to the bench in favor of Wijnaldum. If van Dijk is unable to play, either Dejan Lovren or Joel Matip will replace him in the middle of the Liverpool defense alongside Joe Gomez. Naby Keita is also likely to crack the starting XI in midfield alongside Wijnaldum and either James Milner or Jordan Henderson. If Chelsea try to load up the middle of the pitch, I’d say Henderson is a more likely starter given his passing ability.
Hazard essentially got Chelsea through the last match with an incredible individual effort going toward goal. I am of the opinion that the Belgian is the best overall outfield player in the Premier League, and whether the Liverpool defense is able to contain him will go a long way toward determining the result of this one. I do think Liverpool have more overall talent in their squad than their opponents, but Hazard’s presence alone is a potential game-changer.
These two teams come in pretty evenly from a betting perspective, as well. As of this writing, the Reds are actually favored on the road slightly to get a win at +155 on the moneyline. Chelsea, on the other hand, are priced at +180, with the draw coming in at +255. The implied total on this game is also set at 3 goals.
First off, I like the over here. These are a couple of potent attacking squads, and the potential van Dijk absence means the Liverpool defense may not be as solid as we’ve grown accustomed to seeing. Taking the over on 3 goals to be scored at -125 is a decent enough value in my eyes. Liverpool are still the better side, and I have a hard time believing Klopp will let his team lose to Chelsea for a second time in a matter of 4 days. Give me Liverpool to win outright at +155, as well.
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