Rafael Benitez will take a seat in the Anfield dugout for the first time in three years at the weekend, only this time the Spaniard will be in charge of the Blues and not the Reds.
Things may not have gone as smoothly for both Chelsea and Liverpool―now under the tutelage of the former Chelsea coach Brendan Rodgers―this season, but the fixture still retains an aura about it, and it is possible to envisage an Anfield classic on the way.
Here are six predictions for the match. Not all will come true, but there will be no shortage of people watching to see if they do.
Okay, this is an easy one.
Benitez hasn’t been accepted by the Chelsea fans ever since he took charge on an interim basis in November.
Largely unpopular with the club because of his habit of getting under Jose Mourinho’s skin and often beating his team, it didn’t matter that an infamous quote that Chelsea fans have used against him was later proved to be false (The Independent), football fans aren’t one to alter opinions easily.
At Anfield he’ll always be remembered as the man who astonishingly brought Liverpool the Champions League, though―as well as donating £96,000 to the Hillsborough Family Support Group following his removal as manager (The Guardian)―and he’ll be well-received on Sunday.
The booing of former favourites at Anfield is a relatively recent phenomenon and largely comes from the manner in which they left.
Liverpool were desperate to feel good about themselves in January 2011 following the disastrous reign of Roy Hodgson, but just when they were looking to start again with a strike partnership of Luis Suarez and Torres under the stewardship of the freshly appointed Kenny Dalglish, Torres walked out on the club and joined Chelsea.
The forward has been part of European Championship, Champions League and FA Cup winning squads since then, but things haven’t quite been the same for him as they were during his Anfield heydays.
He is not a popular figure any more.
You could add Yossi Benayoun to that list if only the Israeli were more of a regular in the Chelsea side, but there will be three players certain to face their former club on Sunday.
Torres hasn’t scored in five appearances against the Reds since he left the club, whilst Daniel Sturridge will be facing Chelsea for the first time since his move north in January.
Only Glen Johnson has goalscoring previous against former employers, as he notched the winner when the Reds won at Stamford Bridge last season. Can he repeat the feat at Anfield?
Chelsea have only won one of their last six Premier League matches at Anfield, with Liverpool winning four of those contests.
Having won six and lost just one of their last eight Anfield matches Liverpool should be confident ahead of the meeting with their old boss.
Reading’s Alex McCarthy became the latest in a long line of opposition goalkeepers to impress in Liverpool’s goalless draw with the Royals in Berkshire last weekend, and Chelsea’s shot-stopper will be looking to follow suit.
Petr Cech has had his difficult moments over the past few years, but the Czech is still a top quality goalkeeper―witness his recent save from Javier Hernandez in the FA Cup―and he bears all the hallmarks of another keeper who will be looking to frustrate Liverpool.
Cech represents an intimidating barrier for Liverpool on Sunday.
This one might be slightly exaggerated, but given the treatment he’s received throughout his period at Chelsea could you argue with Benitez lapping up the praise he’s going to receive on Sunday?
At some point, possibly after Sturridge or Johnson scores Liverpool’s game-clinching goal, the Spaniard could launch himself into the fans who once worshipped him and in many cases still do.
Alright, maybe not.