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Chelsea at Liverpool: Game Preview

Liverpool's rejuvenation continued with a 3-1 win over Napoli in midweek.
Liverpool's rejuvenation continued with a 3-1 win over Napoli in midweek.

Time: 4:00 PM BST (8:00 AM PST), Sunday November 7th.

Location: Anfield, Liverpool.

Preamble: Chelsea have responded to the 0-0 draw at Villa Park by reeling off four victories on the trot, but they left things very late against Sam Allardyce's Blackburn Rover last weekend at Ewood Park. Meanwhile, Liverpool are on the best form of their young season, having dispatched Blackburn at Anfield then following that up with an away win in Bolton and a 3-1 Europa League triumph against Napoli. While this fixture may have looked relatively straightforward two weeks ago, Chelsea's middling away form combined with the home side's relatively good performances at Anfield will make this a sterner test than some had anticipated.

Opposition: Liverpool have had a forgettable season to date, leaving aside the thorny issue of their worrisome brush with administration and extended takeover saga. With star striker Fernando Torres barely fit (and seemingly barely interested) they've lacked a cutting edge on the attack, and defensive sloppiness has led to their back line leaking goals. New manager Roy Hodgson favours defending very deep in multiple banks of four, which tends to restrict the movement of Liverpool's star attacking players, particularly Steven Gerrard. The inability of several players to perform at the levels we might expect from those donning a Liverpool shirt has let to some rather shocking results - most notably a 2-1 home loss to newly promoted Blackpool. Liverpool have scored just twice in the first half and have failed to score a goal without the involvement of either Torres or Gerrard since Ngog's goal to start their campaign - shutting down that pair is Chelsea's number one priority, and John Obi Mikel will be under strict instructions to keep Gerrard is his pocket.

Injuries have had a hand in the club's lacklustre season, and the loss of the spectacularly underrated Dirk Kuyt has been a major blow. On the other hand, ex-Blue Joe Cole's hamstring problem may well prove to be a blessing in disguise for Hodgson, as Cole being unavailable frees up the with drawn striker space for Steven Gerrard to exploit, and the captain has typically been far more effective in a more advanced position. Glen Johnson will be making his return at right back, but although he'll be more than happy to provide width on the attack, it's unlikely that his presence will make any difference defensively - his positional sense and one on one ability are poor enough that a combination of Yuri Zhirkov and Florent Malouda should take him to the cleaners.

Chelsea: We were told that Florent Malouda's ankle sprain would keep him out of the match, but his recovery has been faster than expected and will probably start. Michael Essien's toe kept him out of the midweek clash against Spartak Moscow and is a doubt - Ramires will take his place should the Ghanaian fail to reach match fitness in time. Frank Lampard still isn't fit, and his continued absence is starting to raise suspicions that the vice-captain is actually dead and the club is covering it up. Come back soon Frank :(.

Prediction: Two or three weeks ago I'd have expected Chelsea to destroy Liverpool, Anfield or no. Now I'm not quite so sure. If we win, it's unlikely to be particularly comfortable. Let's go with 1-0 Blues in a nervy game.

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