Image Source: The Mirror
Chelsea third game in six days sees them face the toughest of all tests. At the best of times, a trip to Anfield is tricky. With the Reds staring in the face of their first ever Premier League title and the ‘ghost’ of Steven Gerrard past angling for revenge, Maurizio’s Sarri’s Chelsea are right up against it.
In a season of Sarri-in, Sarri-out the only thing that really matters is Chelsea Football Club. You don’t need to understand the beautiful game to have an allegiance to the team of your choice. For most Chelsea fans, a game against Liverpool has to be won at any costs, for those of a certain age there’s no greater rivalry. Demba Ba’s goal following Gerrard’s costly slip only added to a catalogue of controversial incidents that influenced the results of previous meetings. Tottenham may take historical precedent but Liverpool are our more contemporary foe’s.
Going into the game Chelsea are unbeaten in four games and the two they excelled in – against Brighton and West Ham – have seen Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Callum Hudson-Odoi start. Their inclusion gave Sarri’s side more impetus and if the Italian has finally had a ‘light-bulb-moment’, it’s about time.
The signs are good too. Neither started the Europa League tie out in Prague and the hope must be they make the starting XI on Sunday. Clearly, it will be a tough game…for both teams. Chelsea have upset the odds many times before though, unfortunately, with Sarri in charge, I’m less inclined to believe it will happen, simply because of his inability to tactically change mid-game.
Those that take the field in Blue up at Anfield will have the collective hopes of a nation resting on their shoulders. Those that start and ultimately finish have to thwart Liverpool’s push for the title. Sarri’s team selection will, of course, be telling.
Goalkeeper – Kepa Arrizabalaga put in a man-of-the-match performance against Slavia Prague. He didn’t have that much to do but stayed sharp enough to make crucial saves that as good as won the game for Chelsea. The role of a keeper is often taken for granted but those who’ve ever stood between ‘the sticks’ will know it’s a thankless task.
Defence – Chelsea’s back-line will almost certainly have a busy afternoon and they’ll have to be on their mettle if they are to keep Jurgen Klopp’s rampaging Reds at bay. Cesar Azpilicueta, as captain starts more games than most, there’s no reason for him to not start this one. Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen remain the best centre-back pairing at the club, however, Sarri may well prefer the experience of David Luiz over the young Dane. Marcos Alonso scored the winning goal in the mid-week Euro win but defensively, Emerson edges him out.
Midfield – The fact that Cesc Fabregas has come out and publicly indicated it was Jorginho’s arrival that effectively ended his Chelsea career will not endear either him or Sarri to the faithful. It’s a relationship that is already fractious. He will obviously dictate play whilst N’golo Kante covers the ground of two men as he flirts between a false nine and a false regista. The final midfield spot has to belong to Ruben Loftus-Cheek.
It will be ironic if Maurizio Sarri’s legacy at Chelsea is in finally getting ‘the kids’ solid game time at the club they love. A fair few will argue, and rightly, in my opinion, that was more circumstantial rather than Sarri instigating a newfound philosophy. However, from a historical point of view Sarri’s time at a Chelsea won’t have been in vain.
Attack – These are the games in which Eden Hazard can really affect proceedings. After his masterclass against West Ham, Hazard will again have the potential to put himself in the Spanish shop window ahead of a likely switch Madrid in the summer. I’m not completely sold on him leaving though. I think there is still a possibility that he stays in London. We’ll see.
Sarri must be toying with the idea of having the Belgian as a false nine but Olivier Giroud is currently Chelsea’s best striker and gets my vote. It was always going to be difficult for Gonzalo Higuain to hit the ground running in the uber-competitive Premier League. The Frenchman will know all about Anfield and it’s “special” atmosphere. Without a doubt, the final name in the starting XI must be Callum Hudson-Odoi. Having been Chelsea’s best player in pre-season, his opportunity is finally knocking. As Chelsea fans, we’ve seen the double-barrelled future and the future is now.
Arrizabalaga, Azpilicueta, Luiz, Rudiger, Emerson, Jorginho, Kante, Loftus-Cheek, Hazard, Hudson-Odoi, Giroud
Follow Kevin on Twitter @techlec2000