How Liverpool Will Line Up Against Chelsea

Matt Ladson@mattladsonFeatured ColumnistDecember 27, 2013

How Liverpool Will Line Up Against Chelsea

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    Having suffered a narrow defeat to Manchester City at Eastlands on Boxing Day, Liverpool now travel to Stamford Bridge to face Chelsea on Sunday.

    The festive fixture, an away trip doubleheader, couldn't have been much worse for Brendan Rodgers' side, who were unlucky to not have been the first team this season to leave Eastlands with at least a point.

    Rodgers' side will be seeking to end Jose Mourinho's unbeaten Premier League record at home, and they can draw inspiration from their visit to Stamford Bridge in 2008, when they broke the Blues' 86-game unbeaten run at home in the Premier League, courtesy of Xabi Alonso's goal.

    Liverpool are without captain Steven Gerrard, full-backs Jose Enrique and Jon Flanagan, former Chelsea striker Daniel Sturridge and Victor Moses—who is ineligible due to being on loan from the Londoners.

    With such a huge fixture coming so soon after the tough match at City, will Rodgers be tempted to change his pack?

    Here's the key decisions facing the manager ahead of the big match.

At the Back

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    Simon Mignolet may have received criticism for his error in Alvaro Negredo's goal at Man City, but the Belgian has been in superb form since his summer arrival from Sunderland and will continue in goal for Liverpool.

    Mignolet might have lost us a point today, but he won us 2 against Stoke - and fair few in-between. Almost half way in - one mistake. #LFC.

    — Simon Steers (@sisteers) December 26, 2013

    Rodgers was forced to bring in loanee Aly Cissokho at left-back against City, following Jon Flanagan's injury, and must decide whether to continue with the Frenchman, or change it again.

    Cissokho's fitness levels—the match at City being the first 90 minutes he'd played for Liverpool since the West Brom game in October—mean his place is least assured.

    The boss could opt to switch Glen Johnson to left-back and bring in either Kolo Toure or Martin Kelly at right-back, as many had expected against City.

    Martin Skrtel and Mamadou Sakho have become the preferred centre-back pairing for the manager since the debacle at Hull, but Rodgers could be tempted to bring in either Daniel Agger or Kolo Toure against Chelsea.

    There are certainly many options available, but with little time to prepare such changes, perhaps it would be wise to stick with the same back four and maintain consistency, looking to execute the same game plan—after all, Liverpool were far from outplayed by City.

In the Middle

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    Similarly, the trio of Joe Allen, Lucas and Jordan Henderson have been impressing of late, and it's difficult to see the boss changing things too much for this fixture.

    His players will have had Friday as a recovery day and will be traveling down to London on Saturday—there is no time to work on new shapes or partnerships.

    The energetic trio will look to inflict the same pain they imposed upon Tottenham last time they were in London.

    Captain Steven Gerrard has returned to training over the festive period, but Rodgers told media on Friday that he won't be available for the trip to Chelsea.

    "Steven is progressing very well, so he will step up his work next week," he is quoted explaining on the official LFC website.

Up Front

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    The tricky trio of Luis Suarez, Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho have been combining with great effect in the last three fixtures and caused plenty of problems for City's back line.

    Indeed, the build-up play to Coutinho's goal saw them all combine superbly, and it would have been better still had Joe Hart not denied Coutinho his second goal with a great save after even more impressive link play between the attacking trio.

    Sterling and Suarez in particular have shown great understanding, with the pacey Sterling profiting when Suarez drops deep and plays with the Englishman as he moves into a more central position.

    With Moses ineligible, Sturridge sidelined and Iago Aspas out of favour, Rodgers' options are limited. It's not a bad front three to be forced into using though.

    The fluidity of Liverpool's attack should create problems for Chelsea's vulnerable back four.

Starting XI

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    So, despite the fear that two huge away games in such short succession could lead to problems with fitness—especially with the energetic pressing game being crucial to implementing a successful game plan—Rodgers is likely to continue with the same XI.

    Especially given the lack of preparation in order to actually change tactics, Rodgers will opt for the same side that were unlucky to suffer defeat on Boxing Day.

    The only change that seems possible is Toure or Kelly replacing Cissokho, with Johnson moving to left-back.

    The midfield three and front three will remain unchanged.

    Likely XI: Mignolet, Kelly, Skrtel, Sakho, Johnson, Allen, Lucas, Henderson, Coutinho, Sterling, Suarez.