After such an impressive beginning to the season where they won seven of their first eight league games, Chelsea have stuttered of late. The controversial loss to Manchester United was followed by a 1-1 draw with Swansea last weekend. It now means – after leading the Premier League for much of the season – the European Champions trail United by one point. Sunday’s match against Liverpool takes on greater importance than it would have seemed a couple of weeks ago. Roberto Di Matteo does not have as big a squad at his disposal as some of his rivals, especially in the forward areas, and that could ultimately be their undoing over the course of a season but their early season form is positive and having averaged over two goals a game, the lack of competition for Fernando Torres upfront does not seem to be as big an effect as it was thought once the transfer window has closed.
Liverpool seem to have been in transition ever since Rafa Bentiez left over 30 months ago now. Roy Hodgson couldn’t handle the pressures associated with the manager’s job at Anfield whilst the vast investment under Kenny Daglish’s reign did not bring the required success. The man now entrusted with taking the club forward is Brendan Rodgers who has a definite vision of how he wishes his side to play and seems intent in going about it in his own particular way. Two league wins all season probably don’t tell the whole story in terms of performance but it’s clear for anyone to see that the club went into this season under prepared and lacking depth in several areas. Last weekend’s 1-1 draw (one of five draws in the league thus far) only highlighted their issues in an attacking sense and despite Rodgers insistence of his plan being on track, the supporters must surely be worried with the sole reliance on Luis Suarez to make and create goals.
A real feature of Chelsea’s play this season has been the three players supporting Torres as the main striker. Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and Oscar have been terrific to watch and their understanding on the park is frightening considering they have only been put together the last couple of months. All three have chipped in with vital assists and crucial goals throughout the first part of the season and you would think it would be essential to keep them fit if they are to challenge for domestic and European honours this campaign.
Much has been made of the form of Suarez for Liverpool since Rodgers took charge and it’s no surprise. The enigmatic Uruguayan has, at times, carried his side to either a draw or win and seems to be thriving under the responsibility. Suarez is often mentioned in the same breath as Steven Gerrard when it comes to discussing Liverpool’s fortunes on the park but the little striker puts his captain to shame when it comes to goals and assists this season. Sunday’s match may well b the time for the England skipper to step up to the plate and share some of the responsibility – he needs to prove he remains capable of doing that.
This fixture often throws up controversy and drama and it’s unlikely to be any different heading into Sunday’s game. Chelsea need to recapture the winning thread in the league whilst Liverpool – who are unbeaten in five now – will be looking for further progression. I still believe there is a sizable gap in quality between the two and feel that Chelsea’s front four will prove too strong for the away team.
Chelsea 20/21 @ Stan James