Liverpool have continued riding a new found wave of optimism with an emphatic second-half display against visiting Napoli Thursday night in the Europa League.
The 3-1 comeback, inspired by a masterstroke substitution appearance by captain Steven Gerrard, sent Liverpool three points clear in Group K with two very winnable games left to play. The win capped a run of four games without a loss (three wins, one draw) after a horrible start to the season. Many have now been left wondering if Roy Hodgson's Liverpool have finally turned that elusive corner.
Unfortunately for Hodgson's men, league leaders Chelsea march into Anfield on Sunday.
The London boys have hit the ground running (to say the least) in their defense of the Premier League title and sit five points clear at the top of the table. Having only stumbled twice so far, drawing with Aston Villa and dropping three points to Manchester City, Chelsea are the safe bet to lift their fourth crown.
While some cracks began to show themselves during their 2-1 win at Blackburn Rovers, the form of defender Branislav Ivanovic has been scintillating. Following up his 84th minute winner at Ewood Park with a double in Chelsea's Champions League win against his old foes Spartak Moscow, the Serb is proving a serious threat going forward for The Blues.
Chelsea will no doubt be looking to keep the train rolling to stay clear of chasers Arsenal and Manchester United, but a resurgent Liverpool have got some momentum behind them and may prove to be a harder scalp to claim now than if this fixture was played at the beginning of October.
Chelsea player to watch: Frank Lampard
The former West Ham man will be burning to get on the pitch after missing Chelsea's last 11 matches to a groin injury. Deemed fit and ready to factor straight back into the starting IX by Carlos Ancelotti, it will be interesting to see how much match rust the inspirational midfielder carriers onto the pitch after such a long layoff.
Liverpool player to watch: Steven Gerrard
Who else but Captain Fantastic? There's no question that Liverpool are a completely different side when Gerrard is on form. His second-half hat trick Thursday night will be a huge boost to confidence not only for Gerrard, but for the club as a whole. If he shows up Sunday looking like he did against Napoli, Chelsea are in for a hard day on Merseyside.
Fernando Torres vs. John Terry
While the goals haven't exactly flowed for Fernando Torres this season, he has remained a constant threat for The Reds up front. With two crucial goals (against West Ham and Blackburn) and a fantastic assist to play in Maxi Rodriguez for the winner against Bolton, rumors of the Spaniards demise may have been slightly exaggerated.
Both players were rested for their clubs' European exploits mid-week and both should be fresh and ready for war at Anfield.
If John Terry can neutralize Torres and keep him isolated, it will go a long way to helping his Chelsea side from having to pick the ball out of the back of the net.
Branislav Ivanovic vs. Paul Konchesky
Ivanovic has been on fire coming forward from defense, scoring three in Chelsea's last two fixtures. The exact opposite could be said of Liverpool's Paul Konchesky. The ex-Fulham man is sure to have his hands full Sunday afternoon with both Ivanovic and Michael Essien charging down his flank.
This has all the makings to be his worst day yet in a red shirt. But should he get it right, it will neutralize one of Chelsea's recent potent goal threats.
The gulf in class between Chelsea and Liverpool this season is evident just by taking a quick glance at the Premier League table. While historically Liverpool have had the better of this fixture (71-57-33), Chealsea did the double over Liverpool in last seasons march to the title.
Carlos Ancelotti is no stranger to Liverpool comebacks, having been at the helm of AC Milan for Liverpool's famous Champions League victory in 2005.
Chelsea looked a little shaky at Blackburn, and Liverpool seem to be finally finding their feet under Roy Hodgson. Expect Liverpool to come out swinging and throwing everything they have at the Londoners.
A 2-2 draw would be a fair result in the minds of most Liverpool fans, as well as a sure sight that a new renaissance may be on the horizon.
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