Liverpool-Chelsea Preview: Why It's a Must-Win for the Reds

Saif Syed OmarCorrespondent IJanuary 29, 2009

Recent games pitting Liverpool against Chelsea have been tight ones, and not the best games to watch for a neutral.

The corresponding fixtures in the last three seasons have produced some glorious moments however. Starting with the 2005-2006 season, where Liverpool was beaten 4-1 at home as Chelsea trounced them on their way to winning their second consecutive title.

During the 2006-2007 season, Chelsea was beaten 2-0 by Liverpool, which in a sense, was a turning point of the season, as Chelsea would go on to lose their title to Manchester United.

Last year was a more cagey affair with the only bright spot being the arrival of Fernando Torres to the scene with his first goal at Anfield.

As games between the other teams of the Big Four—these games are more of a tactical spectacle than a treat to the eyes. Despite of the presence of well known attacking players on both sides, these games generally end up being a battle of defenses.

These games are rarely end-to-end excitement, and are instead a waiting game between the two teams as to who concedes the first goal. Once a team scores, the nature of the game changes to attack vs. defense.

Again, it is the defense which is in the spotlight. It's no surprise when both teams engage the tried and trusted 4-5-1 formation with an attacking midfield duo who pull the strings.

For the past few seasons, Liverpool have traditionally lost fewer games than any of the other teams in the league. Their Achilles' heel, however, has been the games which they have ended by a draw.

They seem to be following a similar trend this season as well. During the 2007-2008 season, Liverpool finished fourth with 76 points compared to the 87 points by the champions, Manchester United.

This tally included just three defeats, but the team finished 13 games with a draw. The figures this season are not very promising either. They have managed to draws in nine games already and they have lost just once. The consequences of one more drawn game at home, while it wouldn't mark the end of their season, will be damaging none the less.

Let's examine the defense, midfield and attack of these two teams as each compares to the other and see what we can expect from the game, and determine what is at stake for Liverpool.


The Mighty Defenses

Though both teams have rock solid defenses, injuries to key defenders have cost Chelsea dearly this season. The notable feature of Mourinho's championship-winning Chelsea side of the 2004-2005 and 2005-2006 seasons was an air-tight defense.

However, the story of the side coached by Scholari has been quite different. Though there has not been a drastic change in personnel, injuries to key players have resulted in Chelsea giving up goals at crucial times. Still, they have conceded fewer goals than Liverpool.

With nagging injuries to important players like Carvalho, Ashley Cole and John Terry, the starters for Sunday's showdown are still unclear.

Liverpool have fewer injuries and a relatively fit squad of players for Sunday's encounter.

Advantage: Liverpool.

The engine of the teamThe midfield

Both teams boast of some of the best mid-fielders in the world, with Gerrard and Lampard being one of the most free scoring midfielders in the league. While Gerrard and Lampard pitch against each other to control the game, the likes of Mascherano and Mikel will provide the perfect foil to their attacking counterparts by protecting the back four.

On the wings, Riera and Babel/Kuyt will be ditched against Ashley Cole and Bosingwa—one of the weak links in the Chelsea defense.

On the other hand, Malouda and Kalou will test their wits against Arbeloa and Dossena/Aurelio.

Advantage: Liverpool. 


The fire power upfront - The strikers

This is one area where the teams are very much equal.

Given the importance of defenses in the game, the side that unlocks the defense first will definitely have an upper hand. Both teams have high quality strikers. On any given day, either team's strikers can win games for their team.

With Chelsea having only two recognised strikers—Drogba and Anelka—in comparison to Liverpool's Torres, Kuyt and Robbie Keane, it might be argued that Liverpool has greater depth.

However, as both teams are likely to field a 4-5-1 formation, the quality of forwards matters more than the quantity. With Fernando Torres just returning from an injury, Chelsea seem to have the upper hand at least here.

Advantage: Chelsea (for once).

Using a little common sense, it should be a fairly comfortable win for Liverpool. However, the biggest pawn in the game will be the one off the pitch—coach Rafa Benitez. The final outcome of the match will be decided by the moves of this man. His team selection and substitutions during the game will definitely be instrumental in deciding the outcome of this battle.

Going by the current standings in the league and the recent condition of both the teams, I would tip Liverpool to nick this one, as they need to win more than Chelsea. However, going by my past experience, it would take more than just common sense to predict the outcome.

A defeat at home—their first for the season—will more or less rule out Liverpool's chances of winning the league, thus turning the battle for the title into a two-horse race.

A draw, though would be a fair result. It would be disastrous for both teams, but more so for Liverpool. The biggest winner would undoubtedly be Manchester United.

Only time will tell come Sunday. Bring it On!!!


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