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Chelsea vs Liverpool: Opposition Analysis

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The hype machine rolls into town this weekend, with The Special One vs The Normal One being billed as potentially José Mourinho's last match in charge of Chelsea. Can Liverpool put the final nail in his coffin?

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The Season So Far

While on-pitch performances could barely have been more stable – they seem to have drawn every single match 1-1 having had the better of it but then made a stupid defensive mistake –  off the pitch, Liverpool have been in a state of constant upheaval. Depending on your stance on Brendan Rodgers/the degree of your pro-Liverpool bias, one of two things has happened.

If you’re a user of a certain LFC fans message board, you probably see things thusly: the completely incompetent Rodgers, single-handedly responsible for losing Luis Suárez, Raheem Sterling and, worst of all, Steven Gerrard – as well as being the biggest reason why the Reds have gone 25 years without a league title – finally lost his job after years of dragging the club down with disgustingly limp performances. He has been replaced with the best manager in the world and Liverpool are about to win twenty trophies in five seasons.

If you’re not a drooling idiot, you probably think that Liverpool saw an opportunity to upgrade their manager and understandably took it, hoping to extract an extra 5-10% from their young players, thus giving them a better chance of making the top four. There’s good reason to think Rodgers was treated harshly, given that he averaged a fifth-place finish with the Premier League’s fifth-biggest wage bill and had to rebuild his side every July having lost his best players to better-paying clubs or injury, but Klopp is obviously a better manager and securing the charismatic German represents a coup for a club going nowhere fast.

The Season Ahead

Although some of the more optimistic/myopic/deluded among the Liverpool fanbase see the post-Rodgers future as inevitably and gloriously successful, the truth is rather bleaker. It’s undoubtedly true that Liverpool have a very exciting starting eleven when everyone’s fit, and now they have an extremely exciting manager, but they remain a small fish in a pond with four enormous, carnivorous and hungry pikes.

With Chelsea struggling so badly, the Reds have the potential and a clear opening to challenge for fourth place, but their play doesn’t seem sufficiently decisive in either penalty box to win the number of games required to actually come fourth. Furthermore, they’ve suffered badly with injuries and seem set to continue doing so with several key (or at least very useful) players out for the foreseeable future. It will almost certainly be yet another campaign of transition, with the many new signings at the club adapting to each other and the manager’s ideas.

In the long-term, the dangers facing Liverpool are obvious: firstly, that any player who stands out in this team will demand a move to a better-paying one in the summer; secondly, that any transfer targets of transcendent quality will also prefer to sign for one of those clubs instead of a historically important but currently irrelevant rabble on Merseyside.

Tactics

Since coming in, Klopp has started every game with a narrow 4-3-3/4-3-2-1, with the focus typically on pressing the opponent high up the pitch and creating chances using quick transitions. As many reports have screamed, Liverpool are already running a huge amount more and sprinting like maniacs to make tackles in seemingly unimportant areas of the pitch.

José Mourinho will have to keep a keen eye on what Klopp does during the game – the German has changed formation in the middle of every match so far, looking to tweak his original plan to exploit a change in game-state or a weakness he’s noticed in the opposition defence.

Unfortunately for Liverpool, most of their opposition has been wise to Klopp’s plans and has simply dropped deep, refusing to get sucked out of their box and picked off as soon as they lose the ball. Liverpool’s recent games have been exercises of attack against defence, with the Reds reduced to the same uninspired ideas they used under Rodgers. This plan is viable for their opponents because they know that they don’t have to work hard to make chances against this team – the midfield remains a work in progress and the defence is frequently a shambles.

The challenge for Klopp will be to transmit the essence of the ideas that made him so successful and popular at Borussia Dortmund, while diversifying them sufficiently to be effective in the Premier League, where teams won’t be so open and happy to be destroyed on the counter. It wouldn’t be a surprise if the problems that Klopp had in his final season at Dortmund, when injuries combined with poor play in both boxes to see his team bottom of the table at Christmas, returned to the fore here.

Strengths

They’ve won it five times.

Weaknesses

While this section could be strung out to run to 400 words or so, it’s easier to say that they’re just a very uninspiring football team.

In attack, they lack pace, cohesion and ruthlessness. They’re fine at moving the ball around the midfield and getting it into promising areas, but poor at delivering the right final pass and finishing the move off. They have taken 146 shots in the Premier League so far, the seventh highest figure, but they have only scored nine goals, the second-lowest figure. It goes without saying that that is an appalling conversion rate.

In defence, they’re not actually horrendous, but their tendency to self-destruct with moments of howling-at-the-moon, smearing-shit-all-over-the-walls madness is well-known – and it probably won’t be going away any time soon. Every member of the back five is a good player, but each of them has been known to donate gifts to the opposition at the most inopportune of moments.

Just so we’re clear: this isn’t a bad team, it’s just one that hasn’t clicked yet.

Likely XIs

Both managers have stuck with familiar starting systems while they try to dig their clubs out of their respective holes. The exertions of midweek fixtures in the League Cup mean that we could see some surprises in the starting line-ups, but for now we’ll assume both will play their strongest elevens. The biggest question marks hang over Diego Costa and Christian Benteke, with Loïc Rémy and Divock Origi waiting to step in should their knocks sideline them.

CHELIV

Prediction

Chelsea can’t afford to lose this match and Liverpool draw every single game 1-1, so let’s say it’s a nailed-on 1-1.