An early ‘Clash of the Titans’ as both Liverpool and Chelsea look to gain a psychological edge, writes Stephen Tudor.
For the second consecutive season Liverpool and Chelsea square up for a disarmingly early ‘top six’ clash and the Reds will be hoping it goes as swimmingly at Anfield this Saturday as it did at Stamford Bridge last September.
Then, an evenly balanced first half was dramatically tilted by an Andreas Christensen dismissal with Sadio Mane twice taking full advantage in the second period. A missed spot-kick by Jorginho late-on compounded Chelsea’s misery.
Chelsea are +550 to be awarded another penalty at the weekend. Last term, their spot-kick haul reached double figures, the third most in the Premier League
Yet, if we’re looking to last season to seek out some insight as to what potentially awaits us, it is the corresponding fixture that is most pertinent, and this is certainly true of the managers.
By then Thomas Tuchel had taken the reins and had wasted no time in transforming Chelsea into a lean, mean, clean-sheet-keeping machine. The visitors duly nullified Liverpool’s array of threats – who were all admittedly shorn of confidence and entrenched in crisis in that moment – and emerged 1-0 to the good.
0-0 v Wolves ????
2-0 v Burnley ✅
1-0 v Spurs ✅
2-1 v Sheff Utd ✅
1-0 v Barnsley ✅
2-0 v Newcastle ✅
1-1 v Southampton ????
1-0 v Atleti ✅
0-0 v Man Utd ????
1-0 v Liverpool ✅
Chelsea’s first win at Anfield in the league since 2014. 7 years man.. pic.twitter.com/SuAmZ11F7C
— Pys (@CFCPys) March 4, 2021
The build-up to that game was inevitably dominated by comparisons between Tuchel and Jurgen Klopp, with their similar career paths highlighted and their head-to-head record prevalent in every match preview and for what it’s worth Klopp presently tops his fellow countryman nine wins to three. This though, is a somewhat misleading superiority, with a handful of those meetings involving Tuchel’s Mainz taking on Klopp’s Dortmund as underdogs.
Of far more relevance, are the two occasions when Tuchel experienced painful defeats at Anfield in European competition, first with Borussia Dortmund in 2016 – after succeeding Klopp at the Westfalenstadion – and two years later with PSG. Both games were free-flowing, end-to-end encounters with a rammed and emotionally charged Anfield playing its part in high-scoring classics. Both were concluded by last-gasp winners for the Reds.
That’s what makes last season’s slender victory for Chelsea so interesting with its sequel on the horizon. Tuchel had clearly found a way to suppress the Liverpool maelstrom, limiting them to just one shot on target throughout. He’d found a means of controlling the storm.
How much of this was down to Anfield being depleted of fans and atmosphere remains to be seen but it was unquestionably a factor. Revealing too however, were Tuchel’s words post-game when he spoke of his side being ‘aggressive and very brave’. Intriguingly, he also stated the importance of not overthinking matches of this ilk.
The formation he’ll favour on Saturday doesn’t require much musing with his tried-and-trusted 3-4-2-1 once again at the fore. Leading the line will be new record purchase Romelu Lukaku and his match-up with Virgil Van Dijk quickens the pulse, but if we’re seeking out an explosive battle it’s down Chelsea’s left where we should focus. Trent Alexander-Arnold and Mo Salah have both started the campaign in brilliant form but so too have Marcus Alonso and Antonio Rudiger. It is on this flank where the game will be won or lost.
Romelu Lukaku's first goal since re-signing for Chelsea! ???? pic.twitter.com/GWUfk7pLU8
— Soccer AM (@SoccerAM) August 22, 2021
Aiding and abetting Lukaku up front we can expect to see Mason Mount and Kai Havertz, but attempting to identify the source of Chelsea’s joy takes a back seat to the timing of it. That’s because last season, the Blues routinely took authority of games before finishing sides off in the second half, but this time out there appears to be a quickening of the process. Five of their six goals so far have been converted in the opening 45 minutes.
Tuchel’s men are +245 to be leading at the break.
If this all suggests a Chelsea victory is being backed here though, that is not the case. In truth, this is an exceedingly difficult match to call results-wise, especially as it features two quality sides in fine form and so early into the season. To date both teams have won twice, scored five times, and not yet conceded.
For Liverpool, it bodes well that their shooting accuracy has significantly improved, currently at 47% whereas last season it was 35%, because wastefulness in front of goal cost them dearly in 2020/21. Indeed, it can be said that the Reds already look a very different proposition to the brow-beaten champions whose crown weighed heavy last year. The spring is back in their step.
Keita to Tsimikas who whips in a wonderful cross in for Jota!
Three of our brightest performers during pre-season linking up to give us our first goal back in front of the fans at Anfield.
All going to plan for Klopp and co! pic.twitter.com/PZR2vFw7tD
— Watch LFC (@Watch_LFC) August 21, 2021
Regarding possible Liverpool goal-scorers, ordinarily Diogo Jota would be a decent shout, with the Portuguese forward boasting two in two, but the possibility of Roberto Firmino starting ahead of him hangs a question mark over his +225 odds to score anytime.
How about then the +1100 available for Trent Alexander-Arnold to do likewise? Not only is Liverpool’s flying right-back in blistering form, as already stated, but he has previously scored twice in this fixture.
One thing is for sure though, and that is that chances will be at an absolute premium for the hosts and they must be clinical. This brings us back to their single attempt on target last season and evokes too Chelsea’s bettering of Arsenal last Sunday. Early into the contest, Emile Smith Rowe had the opposition net in his sights but spurned the opportunity. As soon as the ball spun wide you felt that was it for the Gunners. In a remarkable 51.5% of Chelsea’s games since Tuchel’s arrival they have won to nil, keeping clean sheets 63.6% of the time overall.
As Klopp and Tuchel once again pit their wits against the other, it is unlikely we’ll be treated to another exhilarating goal-fest such as when Liverpool bested Dortmund, then PSG. Much more likely this Saturday will bear a resemblance to last term’s managed affair, with the visiting coach intent on keeping drama to a minimum. But with a draw a satisfactory outcome for both and with Liverpool improved from last time, perhaps a 1-1 at +525 is deserving of a punt. It’s the closest thing to a probable from a series of unknowns.