Chelsea and Liverpool’s failure to qualify for Europe last season has set up a tantalising Friday night clash at Stamford Bridge. Will Liverpool paint West London red or can Conte get his blue machine back on track?
Chelsea did more than enough to beat Swansea at the Liberty Stadium, but were let down by silly individual mistakes by Cahill and Courtois, and perhaps some dodgy refereeing.
It’s far too early to claim that it’s the start of slump, but the Liverpool test will give us a better indication what Chelsea can achieve this season. This is easily their biggest match so far.
Diego Costa has also had a new lease of life under Antonio Conte. We’ve seen plenty of the nasty side of his game, and even on Sunday another referee might have punished him for repeated dives.
But the underhanded stuff seems to go hand-in-hand with spectacular goals, like that wonderful overhead kick or his coolly taken opener.
He’s had a very prolific start to the season, scoring or assisting in every league match so far, netting four in four.
The Spain international feeds off Conte’s intensity, so it’s intriguing to see what will happen when he meets opponents who knows all about his dark side.
Space for Cesc?
Fàbregas struggled last year and has found himself out of Conte’s starting lineup. But every time he’s come off the bench he’s made an impact.
The problem is it’s difficult to pinpoint someone who should drop out. Oscar has been at the heart of Chelsea’s best attacking football, and has earned a permanent role.
Matić could be less assured of a starting place, but has also improved in a more advanced position this season.
Cesc may need to stay patient, and for now Conte has a player up his sleeve who can turn a match around with a single pass.
Time for Alonso Punt?
One player who hasn’t convinced so far is Azpilicueta at left-back. It’s been a problem position for years now, and Chelsea have cast aside two expensive recruits in Baba Rahman and Filipe Luís.
The latest big buy is Marcos Alonso, whose swashbuckling style earned him heaps of praise at Fiorentina. He’ll bring a bit more width to Chelsea’s left-flank, where things tend to get congested with Azpilicueta.
There had been claims that the Spanish international would move back to the right, replacing Branislav Ivanović, but that wasn’t the case at Swansea. It may have come too soon after the internationals to make the switch.
Who Drops out for David Luiz?
When the Brazilian centre-half was re-signed, it was John Terry looked most likely to lose his place as he’s now in his mid-30s.
But Cahill’s costly error on Sunday sent Antonio Conte off the deep end, even if Leroy Fer might have fouled the England international.
The fact remains that Cahill dwelled on the ball, and could have avoided the calamity had he been more decisive. Don’t be surprised if he misses out on Friday.
Chelsea Predicted Teamsheet
Courtois; Azpilicueta, David Luiz, Terry, Marcos Alonso; Kanté; Willian, Oscar, Matić, Hazard; Diego Costa.
They won’t be playing the Champions League anthem on Merseyside either this season, but the good news is that it frees up Liverpool’s schedule.
Klopp’s side has had an up and down start to the season, but on balance, and following that thrashing of Leicester, things are looking promising.
The Burnley defeat aside, Liverpool have been dynamic going forward, even if they’ve had problems putting some of their gilt-edged chances away.
Firmino Finding Form?
What really got people talking on the weekend was the performance of Roberto Firmino, who was shifted to the left after stuttering up front in the first couple of matches.
His opener against Leicester was stunning, and put our optimistic prediction of an away win to bed early on. Liverpool fans will be excited to see him built a rapport with Sturridge and Sadio Mané, who also looked lethal on Saturday.
If there’s a problem with Klopp’s team, it’s never going to be the attack, which could be as vibrant as when they mounted a title charge in 2013-14.
Klopp’s Midfield Gamble
On paper Liverpool’s midfield shouldn’t function: Henderson, Wijnaldum and Lallana appears far too attacking, and short of a calm head who get his foot on the ball and dictate play.
But it seems to work. There have been suggestions of Lucas Leiva or Emre Can taking up the deepest spot, but Klopp has persisted with a combination that could be finding its feet.
Better without Coutinho?
It might be sacrilegious to say it but Liverpool looked better than they’ve done all season with Coutinho out of the team.
It makes sense though: On the left the Brazilian is prone to neglecting his defensive duties, and probably isn’t disciplined enough for Klopp’s three-man midfield either.
Will Klopp stick with a winning team, or find a way to get the talismanic Coutinho back in there?
Liverpool’s free signing from Schalke looks like the centre-half that they’ve needed for years now.
He blends calmness and common sense with an imposing frame, and should become a fixture in the Liverpool defence for years to come if he can stay fit.
Things are a bit more makeshift at left-back, where it seems James Milner is first choice. He may be fine as a stopgap, but Antonio Conte will certainly identify him as a possible weak link on Friday night.
Liverpool Predicted Lineup
Mignolet; Clyne, Matip, Klavan, Milner; Lallana, Henderson, Wijnaldum; Mané, Sturridge, Firmino.
When Will Chelsea vs Liverpool Take Place?
Friday September 16 at 20:00 BST.
Chelsea vs Liverpool Match Prediction
One of the many compelling things about this match-up is that both sides have controlled possession in all their matches this season. Only Manchester City have seen more of the ball than Chelsea and Liverpool this campaign
Chelsea, being the home side and favourites, will also play on the front foot. But Klopp’s Liverpool know no other way of winning a football match than to attack.
So naturally, something has to give. And it’s going to be fun finding out. We’re predicting a 3-2 win for Chelsea.