The league leaders, Chelsea, arrive to play another tough away test at Anfield, a stadium they celebrated in last season, to play a disappointing Liverpool team, far from their championship aspiration of last season, hoping to somehow start a turnaround that always seems to be just around the corner.
Last season this was the match that decided the championship. It didn’t involve the eventual champions, and yet everything came to pass based on how Liverpool failed to beat Chelsea at home. Jose Mourinho came to park the bus and one little stroke of luck on his side and tragedy on behalf of Liverpool resulted in a Demba Ba goal. Steven Gerrard’s slip is now part of Premier League folklore, and will only grow in time if he does retire without a title to his name.
Things are very different seven months later. Liverpool are playing at Anfield, but no one is feeling too much like favorites. They haven’t scored any goals in their last three league matches. They have only 14 points after ten league matches. Daniel Sturridge still isn’t playing. The only tactic that might work is the one Brendan Rodgers used in Madrid and won’t dare do it in front of his home fans. And there’s the other team, on the other side.
Only three teams in the history of the Premier League have had a better ten-match start than Chelsea are going through this season. They’ve dropped just four points, both on visits to the Manchester teams. There’s no reason to park the bus anymore, although they did use a cautious approach in the draw with Manchester City. They won’t be attacking with all cylinders at Anfield, but there’s no need to. Not with Liverpool’s defense so fallible, and with Chelsea having the best finishing rate in the Premier League, scoring on 23% of their attempts.
Loic Remy and Jon Obi Mikel aren’t playing. This means Mourinho is a bit less flexible when it comes to his strike force and doesn’t have that defensive substitution he loves to use late in matches. Big deal. With the form Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa but not just them are in, with Oscar and Eden Hazard just as clinical and just as dangerous. While Chelsea seem to be losing steam in recent matches, they’re still a cut above almost everyone else in the league.
It’s not hard to guess who are the favorites. Liverpool will need a massive effort we’ve only seen once from them this season (winning away at Tottenham) to come away with pleasing result, as a draw won’t be that great for them either considering their poor start. Playing in the same formation that’s failed to deliver time and time again seems like a suicide mission, but Rodgers doesn’t have a whole lot of options or flexibility, which says something when they’ve spent so much on new players this summer.
This one isn’t going to be on him, for once. It’s going to be up to the players of Liverpool to come through. A bigger effort. A smarter one, most of all. While the season and the top 4 aren’t running away from them, there’s a limit to the number of bad results they can keep on producing before the pressure starts getting to more than just the players.