Liverpool travel to Stamford Bridge on Sunday evening looking to end Jose Mourinho’s unblemished Premier League home record in the final Premier League game of 2013.
The Reds will harbour hopes of getting back to winning ways after losing to Manchester City in their last outing, whereas the hosts will be keen to build on solid performances against Arsenal and Swansea.
Chelsea sit two points behind Premier League leaders Arsenal in third place, with Liverpool a further point back in fourth. A win for either side could ignite a serious title charge, whereas the team that loses will be looking nervously over their shoulder, such is the topsy-turvy nature of this Premier League campaign.
Despite their defeat at the Etihad—one that Brendan Rodgers felt poor officiating played a major part in—Liverpool look like the team in better form going into this one. Their overall play against City probably warranted a draw, while they had won their previous five games prior to that. And, of course, they have Luis Suarez bang in form.
Mourinho will surely have plans in place to contain the mercurial Uruguayan and will draw some comfort from the fact Suarez has only netted one of his 19 league goals against top-four opposition.
Nonetheless, Liverpool will go to Stamford Bridge bristling with confidence and will give Mourinho’s unbeaten home record a thorough examination.
Where: Stamford Bridge, London, England
When: Sunday 29 December, 4 p.m GMT/11 a.m. ET
Watch: Sky Sports 1 and NBC Sports Network
Live Streaming: NBC Sports Extra
Likely XI: Cech, Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Azpilicueta, Mikel, Lampard, Schurrle, Oscar, Hazard, Torres
After picking up his fifth booking of the season, Ramires will sit this one out. Frank Lampard missed the game against Swansea and looks set to come back into the XI in place of the Brazilian. He will offer an entirely different type of threat to Ramires with the added onus on John Obi Mikel to provide defensive cover to the Chelsea back four.
Mourinho will most probably bring in Gary Cahill in place of David Luiz, whilst Cesar Azpilicutea will replace Ashley Cole at left-back.
After squandering a host of chances against Swansea, expect Samuel Eto’o to make way for Fernando Torres, who will surely be desperate to impress against his old club.
Likely XI: Mignolet, Johnson, Skrtel, Sakho, Flanagan, Lucas, Allen, Henderson, Sterling, Coutinho, Suarez
Jon Flanagan missed Liverpool’s defeat at City but should be ready to play this weekend. He will replace Aly Cissokho and, in doing so, will provide a much more assured defensive presence in the left-back slot.
Skipper Steven Gerrard is close to a return, but he still looks a little way off full fitness. This means the midfield and attacking trios will remain unchanged.
Daniel Sturridge and Jose Enrique remain long term-absentees.
Games between these two are typically tense and unforgiving affairs. Liverpool have actually fared pretty well at Stamford Bridge in recent years: In their last five visits, they have notched three wins and, most recently, a 1-1 draw.
Under Mourinho, though, Chelsea are a very tough nut to crack. Especially when the Portuguese boss, clearly displeased with his team’s recent defensive displays, has decided take some of the onus off attacking in favour of a more cohesive, pragmatic approach.
It might not be pretty to watch, but with match winners such as Eden Hazard and Oscar within their ranks, it always gives them a chance of nicking a narrow victory.
Tactically, as is so often the case in these big games, midfield looks set to be key. Liverpool will have the legs on Chelsea in the middle of the park, and the trio of Jordan Henderson, Lucas Leiva and Joe Allen will be confident of overrunning the ponderous Mikel and ageing Lampard.
Whilst Liverpool have a fine attacking midfielder in Philippe Coutinho, Chelsea might have the Merseysiders in this facet. David Silva found plenty of space between the lines in Liverpool’s previous game, and the likes of Oscar and Hazard will be hopeful of exploiting little pockets and affecting the game from these positions.
But the Reds certainly have the edge up front, with Suarez certain to cause a host of problems. By comparison, Chelsea will be desperate for a big performance from Torres akin to his match-winning display against Manchester City.
Overall, Liverpool look to have the edge in midfield and upfront. The big question here is whether they can break down Chelsea’s rock solid defence, but with Suarez on fire, you fancy them to nick a goal.
Mourinho’s home record looks under massive threat ahead of this one and I think it’ll go this weekend in a close contest.
Prediction: Chelsea 0-1 Liverpool