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Chelsea v Liverpool
Stamford Bridge, London
20th November 2011, 4pm GMT
Referee: Lee Probert
Racism rows have plagued both sides of late but this hotly-anticipated clash at Stamford Bridge will be at the forefront of everyone’s minds as both teams take to the field come Sunday tea-time.
With the international break finally on a back-burner, there will be an inevitable shift in priorities as club football returns to hog the limelight. Normal service will resume with Chelsea the host, with Liverpool travelling down south to partake in Matchday 12 of this weekend’s Premier League fixtures.
Dalglish’s men, on par with Arsenal on 19 points and 6th in the table, will be hoping to ramp up the pressure on other teams perched above the chasing pack. Having been held to a drab goalless draw in their previous league outing against Swansea, Liverpool will go to Stamford Bridge with the sole intention of winning by displaying what they are capable of as a collective.
It has been a rather roller-coaster ride for the Reds this season. The recent FA charge against Luis Suarez for racism has put a dampener on the surroundings around Melwood, but the Uruguayuan will plead “not guilty” with Liverpool remaining fully behind their embattled star-striker.
After a rather bright and encouraging start, Liverpool have faded, picking up on board 3 consecutive home draws, which in truth, could, and should have been wins. With the games coming thick and fast over the festive period, Chelsea will represent the first test of Liverpool’s top four credentials this season.
Meanwhile, over at London, it hasn’t been exactly plain, smooth sailing for Chelsea either. With Turkey wielding the axe on Hiddink after failing to guide the country to the Euro 2012 Finals, Villas-Boas will be under pressure to deliver a result this Sunday, with his charges already twelve points adrift of league leaders Manchester City.
Over the past month, John Terry has had to contend with a police investigation for alleged racism. On top of a charge against manager Villas-Boas for improper conduct, Chelsea were also fined £20,000 for failing to control their players after their 1-0 reversal at QPR. To compound matters further, having lost three games this season, it hasn’t been exactly the start Chelsea had envisioned it to be.
It is perhaps apt that the clash has indeed been billed as “must win” as both sides look to rev their engines and kickstart their seasons in earnest. Will Fernando Torres rediscover his scoring touch and punish his former club? Or can Chelsea stem the possible tide of Liverpool’s attcks, with Suarez leading the line? These questions will remain unanswered till kick-off at the Bridge.
Carragher is back in contention to lead the Reds side out after not featuring over the past 2 League games due to injury, with Gerrard the sole Liverpool player currently on the treatment table due to an ankle infection. At Chelsea’s Cobham training ground, Villas-Boas has reported that Essien remains the only absentee. Strikers Drogba and Sturridge are fit for the clash this Sunday.
Probable starting XIs
Chelsea: Cech; Bosingwa, Terry (C), Ivanovic, Ashley Cole; Mikel, Lampard, Meireles; Mata, Torres, Sturridge (4-3-3)
Liverpool: Reina; Johnson, Carragher (C) , Agger, Enrique; Kuyt, Adam, Lucas, Downing; Bellamy, Suarez (4-4-2)
Follow me on Twitter – @redsonfire
This post also appeared on my Liverpool blog, The Spion Kop. Click here to visit.
You’re watching only because Spain are in town, with Wembley playing host. A mere three days later, Sweden beckons, England wins, and no one really cares. I apologize if you’re a die-hard Three Lions fan, but welcome to the mundane fixture of international football.
For the legions of religious football followers from pole to pole, international football is, at best, a disruption. Already, leading European clubs are piling on the pressure for UEFA and FIFA to drastically slash the number of ‘nonsense’ fixtures. It is a valid proposal, and one that wouldn’t fade into the horizon as easily as the sun does.
Thankfully, now Capello can relax, as the hustle and bustle of club football makes its return to the centre-stage. This is surely more so in England, with the hub of Abu Dhabi’s riches concentrated in Manchester leading the chasing pack, followed by a myriad of other clubs of established, but varying stature.
Somewhere within the four walls of Melwood, staff led by Dalglish studiously plot the demise of Chelsea this Sunday. They pore over countless pages of notes, devising strategies to exploit the weaknesses of the current Blues side. Likewise, it is inevitable a similar routine will be employed for the clash against table-toppers Manchester City the weekend after, then at Chelsea 48 hours later.
These games do serve as a benchmark to the progress made under Dalglish since the turn of the new year. Playing against the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City will determine whether the gulf in playing standards is now narrow or still wide. Also, this will crucially provide a stern test for our mentality, and whether or not the current side do have the character to soldier on during potentially rough waters.
The three games are by all accounts, a perfect test for our resilience.
However, it is difficult to buy into a concept whereby these games could be potentially “season-defining”. As much as they do have the capability of enabling us to kick on before the festive winter period, it just won’t mean much when May 2012 dawns upon us.
What Liverpool do need currently in terms of results is the ability to be consistently a touch of class above teams like Norwich and Swansea, with all due respect. In short, this means grinding out a ‘winning consistency’ against sides towards the bottom half of the table. Over recent seasons, it has been evident that this is Liverpool’s main Achilles heel. In truth, beating our top-four rivals do count for very little if we fail to capitalise and not notch those points in games we should be winning.
I looked into how Liverpool are faring against ‘lesser sides’ and compared ourselves with other ‘top sides’.
The methodology I used is rather straightforward – I simply calculated the number of points Liverpool and other teams finishing above 65 points gained against teams finishing with less than 45 points. I did this from 2007-08 season onwards to the current season. I included Liverpool in all seasons (even if we might not have finished above 65 points in some seasons), as it is the club under our scope of study.
For the current season, I used an expectations table which predicted final league positions, as it will be a more accurate reflection than the current table in November. This expectations table can be found here. I also calculated the points per game for 2011/12 season based on the results as of the time of writing.
From the tables above, it can be inferred that there seems to be a rather close (although not direct) correlation between the PPG (points per game) and league position. Over the course of 5 seasons, it is evident that the top two have a PPG of at least 2.50, with the exception of Man Utd last season.
Liverpool’s form against sides below 45 points have been fluctuating over the seasons, with the PPG being on a general decline after reaching a high of 2.69 in the 2008-09 season.
Throughout the years, both fans and players alike have been emphasizing on the need to take maximum points against these sides. Just 2 weeks ago, Craig Bellamy joined this brigade when he said: “If we have ambitions of finishing in the top four then we have to win these type of games.” (referring to Swansea). It is a fair assessment and something the majority will wholeheartedly agree with, and it is definitely something Liverpool need to work towards to.
I also compared the average league position of the traditional ‘Big Four’ and their average PPG over 5 seasons (2007-12). There – a direct, and striking correlation is derived.
From the above, it is evident over the past 5 seasons that the greater the number of points you pick up against ‘relegation fodder’ sides (of below 45 points), the greater your chances of having a higher league finish. It is without doubt that the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United have been remarkably consistent against these lower-ranked sides, something that Liverpool, and to a certain extent, Arsenal, haven’t been able to replicate.
Indeed, the next three fixtures that the Reds face do give an indication of what we’re capable of, collectively as a side coming up against heavyweights in the Premier League. However, it will not be a fair barometer of whether we can finish among the Champions League places. Rather than being a club that consistently lives up to its billing during rivalry-fuelled matches like the ones to come, we must instead live up to our billing week in, week out and replicate our form on a consistent basis.
Follow me on Twitter – @redsonfire
This post also appeared on my Liverpool blog, The Spion Kop, which can be visited here.
If sou say so, Nando …
Where is the consistency?
So Liverpool seem to be having a see-saw season this time, normally a good is result is either followed by defeat or a draw. It seems that Liverpool are struggling to get the win away from home, the major worry is the standard of play in the away games compared to that of the way we play at home.
Now many would have thought going in to the game against Newcastle on the back of a 3-0 win against Aston Villa the team would perform to a similar level and would come away with another win but this was far from the truth. I don’t think anyone envisaged a Newcastle win, as this is a team that had earlier in the week sacked their manager to replace him with a new man. Also Newcastle had failed to win in their last 5 games and where on the back on 3-1 defeat to WBA the week before.
Many have questioned Hodgson’s record away from home and rightly so, it had seemed like on Saturday evening that the Newcastle team would struggle to win after the depart of Hughton and Pardew’s appointment. Was it down to a failure of Liverpool failing to take chances that were created? Was it down to the manager’s tactics and the mindset that he applies to the team?
Hodgson’s record has been far from brilliant both home and away. Based on the manager’s last 55 games both home and away, Hogdson has a win percentage of 59% at home and just 7% away from. Also the lack of goals away from home is worrying too. Now just quickly analysing the game against Newcastle.
It was strikes from two Merseysider’s that effectively settled the game, with Kevin Nolan and Joey Barton both on the score sheet for Newcastle with Andy Carroll grabbing a late third. The goals conceded would have upset the manager as these could have avoided and it was down to defensive errors that Liverpool ended up losing the game.
The first goal came from a Joey Barton free kick sent in towards the head of Andy Carroll at the back post who easily beat Martin Srktel in the air to nod down for Nolan to slot home the ball from close. You’d have thought they would have sent Kyrgiakos to mark Carroll as he is much better in the air. Liverpool pressed hard for an equaliser Sotirios Kyrgiakos had a shot saved by keeper Krul and Raul Meireles saw a deflected effort cleared off the line by Jose Enrique.
Liverpool could have gone in to the break further behind as Meireles gifted the ball to Ameobi whose shot took a deflection and went narrowly wide. Liverpool was pressing hard and Kyrgiakos had headed wide just before the break.
Liverpool came out in the second half and a touch of good fortune gifted the ball to Kuyt whose deflected effort went in the back of the net which renewed hopes for the Reds. Moments later an inch perfect ball from Meireles fell to the feet on Torres and the Spaniard shot straight at the goal keeper.
Newcastle made a change and this revitalised them and the substitute quickly got in to the game out muscling Srktel and shooting just wide. The Second Newcastle goal came with Carroll dwarfing Lucas winning the initial header looping it towards Ranger who just outside the Liverpool penalty box then flicked the ball on through the defence went missing to allow Barton to steal in and slot the ball past a helpless Reina.
The main thing is down the lack of consistency that we’ve seen this season and it’s down to this that there has been huge pressure placed on the shoulders of the manager. Now his record for games away from home has been mentioned but it isn’t only that, it’s the body language that we seem on the bench. Roy rubbed his face which was highlighted on Match of the Day which was something similar to what I would do in the morning when I wash my face.
There are also signs there that he doesn’t seem to have a back up plan or not really sure of what do to when we are in a losing position. Also throughout the game it was clear to see that we was very narrow and got bullied off the ball, i thought out centre backs were poor in particular Srktel. The team also lacked any real width and struggled to string passes together and the lack of support to the strikers where evident.
Now the away record only teams in the bottom three have a worse record than Liverpool at the moment in terms of goal scored. It’s clear to see that we do sit back in away games rather than put in performances like we did at White Hart Lane, I thought we played very well but was unlucky not to get the win and again it was down to chances missed.
Credit it where it’s due Newcastle had a very good game, they looked like a team with something to prove and in the end it was that desire and a lacklustre display from Liverpool that saw them again drop points away from home. It’s also pain to see that this season has been very unpredictable.
What is it that is contributing to Liverpool’s homesickness? Well the last nine away games of last season resulted in one win, four draws and four defeats. This has been their form from the end of last season so it can’t be all placed don’t to the current manager. It may be a mental issue that Liverpool have with away fixtures.
How do Liverpool turn from an attacking team at home that presses and harasses the opposition team in to one that that seems completely different away from home, now I’m all for being cautious away from home but there is such a thing as being over cautious and I feel under Roy Hodgson this is what is happening as the defenders are sitting too deep and there is no one really making the run from midfield looking to get beyond the front man and this is what is costing us when we are attacking as the lack of movement is not giving the player on the ball options.
I don’t want to highlight Roy’s signings either but it’s clear to see that Liverpool had and have got player better than the ones he’s bought in namely Poulsen, and Konchesky but this has been done so what Liverpool really need is to look for players of a higher quality.
It’s evident that the manager needs to change something as the away form is leaving alot to be desired and his overall win percentage in fixtures is far from inspiring but I can’t see the owners making any changes at present but it may change if Roy doesn’t change something and gets a level of consistency both home and away.
So Liverpool won at Anfield to record their fourth victory in a row which many felt wasn’t possible. However it was an assured display from the Reds who dominated the game and had kept Chelsea at an arm’s length for the majority of the game. It was no surprise to see the team celebrate at the end as it was a great team performance.
Anfield was certainly rocking on Sunday and it will have given great encouragement to all the players and manager that they are certainly on the right path and taking a step forward. Also Torres has now scored 60 goals in 90 league appearances which show’s his quality. Astonishingly 44 goals have come in 47 appearances at Anfield which is a great feat considering the Spaniard has been struggling with injuries in the last few seasons.
Now we can’t get too carried away with what has happened but it does bring a new sense of optimism to the club and the fans considering just a few weeks it was thought that a club of Liverpool’s stature would be involved in a relegation dog fight.
Torres took his first after a beautifully flighted ball from Dirk Kuyt who just returned after five weeks on the sidelines from an injury with the Dutch national team over the heads of John Terry and Ashley Cole which Torres dispatched into the bottom corner with ease one touch to set himself the second to strike the ball.
The second came after the ball was won in the middle of the park which broke to Miereles who passed the ball to Torres who on the left hand side of the area cut inside Ivanovic and all Peter Cech and John Terry could do was watched as the ball curled into the top corner. The delight was clear to see on Torres’s face as the clubs top marksmen returned to goal scoring form.
The 4-4-2 formation worked for Hodgson as Torres had more support at the top of the pitch but also dropped back to help the midfield. Lucas worked tirelessly throughout the game even eclipsing Gerrard and was quick to close down Ramieres , Zhirkov and Mikel he gave them no room to breathe let alone make passes which left the creative talents of Malouda, Anelka and Kalou and the later Drogba stifled.
Even in the second half Liverpool had to withstand periods of large pressure from Chelsea after introduction of Drogba, even then the team stood firm with two lines of four which made it very hard to penetrate, each player stuck to the task with Kuyt again running around like the energiser bunny helping the midfield allowing Miereles to help Lucas and Gerrard by going into the middle. The defence also looked sturdy with Martin Kelly at the back doing a better job than what most people consider Johnson would have done.
During the large amount of pressure that the Liverpool defence had to with stand Drogba sent a free-kick wide. Ramires headed over. Malouda was thwarted only by a remarkable reaction save from Reina. Anelka also drilled in a shot saved by Pepe which came back off the bar only for Carragher to step in and stop Drogba from converting the chance and Reina to gather. That last ditch attempt to stop Drogba from getting the ball epitomised the character and spirit of the Liverpool side looking to secure all three points and leaving with a clean sheet.
Liverpool fought hard, throughout the game and this could be seen through the work carried out by Kuyt. Like Torres, the Dutchman received the compliment of a flattening by Terry. Kuyt took no notice and gave Terry a clattering later himself and soon made Cech pull out a superb save, before departing to a standing ovation. Gerrard was working overtime stopping dangerous Chelsea attacks, running back to cut out an Anelka cross from the left.
Liverpool held on to win and the delight was clear to see for everyone. The thing is as previously when playing well this season Liverpool have gone a step back, we need to use these wins as a platform and look at the performance yesterday and build upon it. There was a lot of positives to take, Gerrard was once again running the show in the middle, Lucas proved his many critics wrong by putting in another assured sterling display, Martin Kelly proved he can play against the best and also that he deserves a starting place the lad never put a foot wrong really.
Liverpool now have two tough away fixtures at Wigan and Stoke, let’s see how he sets up the team for these fixtures but at present the doom and gloom has been lifted for a while with the future looking a bit brighter with Liverpool in the top half of the table and their best performance under Hodgson who must be credited with his tactics and team selection doing something Liverpool fans have wanted and that’s playing two up front.