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Liverpool vs. Chelsea: Tactical Preview of Capital One Cup Game

Sam Tighe@@stighefootballWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterJanuary 19, 2015

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - JANUARY 17:  Lazar Markovic of Liverpool takes a throw in during the Barclays Premier League match between Aston Villa and Liverpool at Villa Park on January 17, 2015 in Birmingham, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Liverpool have the chance to continue their impressive upward trajectory this winter by claiming the ultimate English scalp. Brendan Rodgers meets former mentor Jose Mourinho as his Reds side square off against Chelsea in the Capital One Cup semi-final first leg.

Liverpool Setup

Liverpool have several injury issues to contend with, but most are long-standing or affecting fringe players. Raheem Sterling's fitness will be assessed following his return from a two-week break over Christmas at Villa Park on Saturday and could be limited to a super-sub role.

Emre Can, Mamadou Sakho and Martin Skrtel are providing answers as a central-defensive trio, while Lucas Leiva has been revived as a system player in the 3-4-2-1 formation Rodgers is using.

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Adam Lallana was on the bench against Aston Villa and could enter the fray alongside the brilliant Philippe Coutinho, while there should be an adjustment at wing-back based on opposition. Lazar Markovic could move to the left to allow Javi Manquillo in on the right.

Fabio Borini scored his first goal for the club since 2013 on Saturday and should retain his spot.

Chelsea Setup

Mourinho will be on the hunt for trophies and the Capital One Cup counts as one in his book. We've learnt from previous rounds that he doesn't really rotate too much, so expect a near-full-strength side here.

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Cesc Fabregas, Diego Costa and Willian were all withdrawn 10 to 15 minutes early during Chelsea's dominant 5-0 victory over Swansea City at the weekend, keeping them fresh ahead of this tie. Filipe Luis should continue at left-back following Cesar Azpilicueta's injury in the second week of January.

Petr Cech has played all the cup games so far, so Thibaut Courtois should remain on the bench while Kurt Zouma may come in for another 90 minutes if Mourinho is feeling generous.

Key Point 1: Attacking Liverpool's Wing-Backs

Markovic should be moved to left-wing-back or dropped temporarily, as the thought of Eden Hazard going up against him on the left flank is enough to make Reds fans stomachs turn. The Serbian has proven himself an in-form, gifted out-ball, but he'll get run over in this one-vs.-one.

Aston Villa should have been able to work the channels better and stress Markovic with Gabby Agbonlahor, but the attacker, usually the thorn in Liverpool's side, had an awful day once again on Saturday.

SWANSEA, WALES - JANUARY 17:  Chelsea player Eden Hazard in action during the Barclays Premier League match between Swansea City and Chelsea at Liberty Stadium on January 17, 2015 in Swansea, Wales.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Stu Forster/Getty Images

Rodgers got away with it once, but he can't chance it again. Hazard is 10 times the player Agbonlahor is, and the Belgian will not have an off day. With Glen Johnson still lacking fitness and form, Manquillo seems the obvious choice here.

Markovic can switch to left-wing-back—Willian's less of a threat, with a worse end product—if Rodgers is absolute in his intention to play him. He doesn't deserve to be dropped considering the impact he's had since coming in against Bournemouth.

Key Point 2: Nemanja Matic vs. Philippe Coutinho

Matic, arguably the world's best defensive midfielder based on current form, is a nightmare to play against due to his graceful mopping up of attacks and eloquent starting of new ones. He can transition Chelsea from attack to defence in seconds.

SUNDERLAND, ENGLAND - JANUARY 10: Philippe Coutinho of Liverpool in action during the Barclays Premier League match between Sunderland and Liverpool at Stadium of Light on January 10, 2015 in Sunderland, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

But teams have shown he can be pulled around if the player taking him on has enough core agility and space to work in—in addition to cojones to actually try it on. If Fabian Delph and Harry Kane can do it, so can Coutinho.

Coutinho will work from the hybrid No. 10 role as usual, and will often receive the ball with the chance to turn and dribble at Matic. He also needs to encourage his midfield duo of Lucas and Jordan Henderson to be brave enough to try to pass through Chelsea's double-pivot and find Coutinho in between the lines.

Coutinho and Sterling take-ons vs. Swansea. Buckle up, Matic and Cesc.
Coutinho and Sterling take-ons vs. Swansea. Buckle up, Matic and Cesc.Squawka.com

He has the quick decision-making process and quick feet to turn and distribute, opening up so much for Liverpool in the attacking third. If the ball can be shifted quickly enough, and Borini can make space for Lallana, there are goals in this match for the Reds.

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