Finally, the international break is over. Chelsea have two weeks to think about
a 1-0 win over Blackburn Rovers in which the defence kept their first league clean sheet since opening day an awful Fernando Torres miss against Blackburn which could have cost the Blues all three points and also John Terry's racism allegations and also Andre Villas-Boas is overwhelmed and snapping at referees due to the pressure of being behind Manchester United in the league table*.
*Yes, I've been listening to the media recently. Why do you ask?
Anyway, our next opponents are Liverpool, a team that managed to do the double over us last year, beating us 2-0 at Anfield thanks to Fernando Torres's lovely brace and then rather spoiling that same Torres's Chelsea debut by fielding a 3-6-1 against a baffled Carlo Ancelotti and then sneaking a goal in through Raul Meireles. You'll note that Liverpool's goalscorers in both of those wins now play for the Blues, which is why I thank my lucky stars that Maxi Rodriguez could only hit the crossbar in the second match.
So should we fear this Liverpool team? They're certainly a different side to this time last year, with Luis Suarez instead of Torres and basically a whole new midfield. While Suarez is a big We Ain't Got No History favourite (for his play, not his generally ****ish demeanor), I'm less impressed with the other moves Liverpool made. Charlie Adam is a good fantasy and highlight reel player, Andy Carroll is the sort of player you'd get if Peter Crouch's mother had five pints* a day during pregnancy, and god only knows how high Damien Comoli was when he decided that he'd rather have Jordan Henderson than Raul Meireles and £6,000,000.
Chelsea too are a very different side. The Blues had only just started the big investments when last Liverpool visited, and more were to come in the summer as both Juan Mata and Meireles have established themselves as regulars in the rotation. Andre Villas-Boas has also come in, changing the style (for better or for worse) and generally presenting this Chelsea side as a much more dynamic force. There's no doubt at all that the 3-6-1 Kenny Dalglish fielded last time out would have been spotted and ripped to shreds by the new manager, although it's equally unlikely that Villas-Boas's defensive system will be able to keep a clean sheet with Luis Suarez around.
With most of Chelsea's regulars getting a good amount of rest over the break and nobody suspended, there's no excuse for Villas-Boas not to field the strongest team available. However, that needs to bear in mind several factors, especially on defence. Liverpool have two major threats, the most obvious being Suarez's ability to weave through the defence. Chelsea, meanwhile, have developed a teamwide inability to tackle. Those two factors combined means that the Blues are going to want to field their most reliable defenders. In other words, David Luiz probably shouldn't be playing at centre back.
What should the defensive line look like? Fielding Alex in the centre and Branislav Ivanovic as a right back would work, and would also serve to help mitigate Liverpool's threat from set pieces (assuming Carroll is sober for the match). The problem with dropping David Luiz, of course, is that Chelsea are a far weaker attacking force without him on the pitch. That's probably something we're just going to have to live with, because Sideshow Jesus plus Suarez is a penalty call just waiting to happen.
Missing a primary creative force frm the back means that Chelsea probably can't afford to start Daniel Sturridge on the right, unless he's decided to start doing the whole teamwork thing (there were promising signs a fortnight ago, so it might work out). Sturridge is able to conjure goals out of nothing, of course, but his primary talent is to turn promising positions into nothing thanks to trying to do everything himself, and Nicolas Anelka is probably a better choice here.
So, what are we left with? Here's the lineup I'd like to see:
Chelsea (4-3-3): Petr Cech; Ashley Cole, John Terry, Alex, Branislav Ivanovic; John Obi Mikel, Frank Lampard, Ramires; Juan Mata, Fernando Torres, Nicolas Anelka.
Despite Liverpool's recent record against us, I'm feeling quite good about this one - let's call it a 2-1 win for the Blues. Join us here at 4:00 PM GMT (11:00 AM EST) for the game thread, if you'd like to be cool.