Chelsea vs. Liverpool: Tactical Preview, Team News, Projected Starting XIs

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Chelsea vs. Liverpool: Tactical Preview, Team News, Projected Starting XIs
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Sunday's prime billing is an enticing encounter between Chelsea and Liverpool.

The Blues are coming in off a hard-fought victory over Shakhtar Donetsk, while the Reds' first team were rested during the loss to Anzhi Makhachkala.

This game comes with the additional bonus of watching Fernando Torres play against his former club.

Bleacher Report brings you the full tactical preview, possible starting XIs and team news.

 

Projected formations, starting XI

Branislav Ivanovic and Ashley Cole are out, so Cesar Azpilicueta and Ryan Bertrand are expected to come in. Gary Cahill and David Luiz should partner up, while Ramires should line up alongside John Obi Mikel.

Liverpool welcome Glen Johnson back from injury along with a host of stars who sat out the 1-0 defeat to Anzhi.

 

Footballing philosophies

It's pretty obvious what to expect from Roberto Di Matteo now. He is probably the least inventive manager (tactically) in the English Premier League now that Alex McLeish is out of a job and should set his stall out with a 4-2-3-1.

Expect Ramires to shuttle up and down to link the back six to the front four and provide passing lanes, while the three musketeers (Oscar, Eden Hazard and Juan Mata) will interchange and attempt to exploit any space that opens up.

Brendan Rodgers, on the other hand, is the complete opposite of RDM. He's shown willingness to change and has clearly learnt from his mistakes when manager of Reading.

Liverpool have been toying with a three-man central defensive system in recent weeks, and it's expected that Brendan Rodgers will be using it at Stamford Bridge.

He switched to it against Everton in the second half and used it for the full 90 minutes in Moscow—someone should tell Roberto Mancini the philosophy works if you defend properly.

credit: ITV

The three-man defence is more than just an extra level of solidarity at the back: It's another way to overload bodies in midfield.

The two wider centre-backs are deployed in channels one and two—starting positions more akin to Marcelo Bielsa's Chile than Mancini's City—and enjoy freedom to move forward with the ball.

Exactly how the the back line will shape up is not clear, but what we do know is that Daniel Agger and Andre Wisdom are better on the ball than Martin Skrtel. The Slovakian could take the central role, but Rodgers may look to Agger in a safety-first option.

Jose Enrique and Johnson could be set to flourish in wing-back roles as they remain defensively suspect, and Raheem Sterling could be set for a very different, more central role than what he's used to.

 

Clash of strategies

This game could be a fantastic yardstick for the question posed by B/R's Will Tidey: Is 3-5-2 the antidote to the 4-2-3-1's dominance?

One of the reasons it's not working for Fernando Torres at the moment is he's happy to drop back and create rather than be intent on scoring himself.

He's not really fulfilling the duties of a true No. 9 like Radamel Falcao is for Atletico Madrid, which is the primary reason Mata is Chelsea's top scorer and Oscar is hot on the former Liverpool striker's tail.

If the Reds choose a three-man defence, the wing-backs can tuck in when off the ball and still retain a spare man against the Blues' attacking four.

This is something Di Matteo has only come across once before in the first game of the season at Wigan, and Chelsea really struggled. They were outplayed for the majority of the game and relied on counterattacking football to bail them out.

In this situation, it's difficult to outnumber the defensive line and even more difficult to create space. It could get dangerously close to a physical battle in and around Liverpool's penalty area, and we all know who'll win that one.

 

Conclusion

As tactically intriguing as this game could be, it could easily turn out to be a rather boring game of chess.

Liverpool may find joy running at a Chelsea defence that's bereft of experience playing together, and if Hazard or Mata don't track their respective wing-back, Di Matteo's men could be in serious trouble.

The Blues will find it hard to create in the areas they usually do, so whether or not they have a "Plan B" will be interesting to see. Could Torres finally start playing as a No. 9?

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