Liverpool vs. Chelsea
4 pm (11am EST) Sunday, August 19
The Lowdown: How appropriate that Chelsea should visit Anfield for this season’s home opener. After all the pre-season talk of a title run, the Reds face a second stern opponent in as many games (granted, one is a bit more talented than the other). Early season consistency, tipped to be the key to a championship fight, will have to be earned. As is no secret if you read enough press, this is the 16th meeting of these clubs in the past three seasons.
Chelsea have started off the new campaign with the full share of points from their first two games (at Reading, vs. Birmingham), but have already conceeded three goals. No doubt, the absence of talismatic defender John Terry didn’t help (as demonstrated last season), but the England captain is expected to be included in Mourinho’s squad for the weekend’s marquee showdown. Initially, it was thought Terry’s knee injury might keep him out the whole month of August, but not shockingly, he’s recovered in time to face his rivals (it would be a real shame if he rushed back too soon and broke down again on Sunday).
The Blues are nursing some other injuries as the highly unlikeable but highly effective Ricardo Carvalho will miss out and Michael Essien’s involvement is doubtful. And by ‘doubtful’, I mean he’ll probably miracously recover enough to wade back into battle on Sunday. Arjen Robben, Michael Ballack, Andrei Shevchenko and Wayne Bridge are all still unavailable. New boy defender Alex is not expected to play but Didier Drogba should start.
Liverpool really only have one health concern and that’s the toe of Captain Fantastic. As reported this week, Stevie G has a hairline fracture in a toe but will play this weekend with a view to rest afterwards. He’ll take an injection to get through the game and hopefully his play will not be hampered by the bum little piggy.
Otherwise, the rest of the squad has made it through the past week injury-free. And if you’ve been wondering where Harry Kewell has been, he’s been out with a slight leg strain/muscle tear. I don’t believe it to be too serious, but then again, with the Aussie, we never really can tell.
Of course, what would this match be without the exchange of pleasantries from one, if not both, of the clubs’ managers? For his part, Rafa has chimed in ahead of schedule:
I thought Jose had said he wouldn’t be talking about other clubs this season. Maybe he’s already forgotten that.
You only have to look at who are the clubs who have spent most over the last five seasons, and there are two, Chelsea and Manchester United, and they have won most of the trophies. If you analyse who finished top of the table last season, who have spent more money in those years, it is clear and simple there are two teams ahead of the others in terms of money, spending and also titles won.
And I always say that Abramovich has done a really a good job. That is the key!
I do not feel more pressure because I have bought players, and I would rather it was not about me and Jose all the time, I would prefer it to be about Gerrard, Terry and the other players. They are more important than us.
I do not really enjoy the exchanges that have gone on between me and Jose, I would prefer there to be none. He has a fine squad with great players, and I think we will be okay together this season. We are both professionals and we have our responsibilities. But it is better if we do not talk too much about each other. I really don’t enjoy it and want to concentrate on my team, I do not like talking about other managers every day.
5 Questions To Be Answered:
Can Stevie G make it through a full 90 minutes, unhindered by his damaged toe?
Will Fernando Torres take advantage of an uncharacteristically sloppy Chelsea defense and properly introduce himself with his first Premier League goal?
Is John Terry ready and fit to do battle or did he rush back too soon?
Are Agger & Carra primed and ready to keep Drogba under wraps?
Will Mourinho claim injuries as an excuse should his team not get the desired result?
Chances are, Rafa’s starting XI will more closely resemble the squad that beat Villa as opposed to the midweek team which bested Toulouse. The backline picks itself, but left back may be an interesting choice. Arbeloa has been preferred the past two games, but Riise’s penchant for giving the Blues trouble with his left peg may factor in the manager’s decision making.
One would assume that Rafa keeps two strikers up front, so a four-man midfield will no doubt boast Gerrard and Alonso in the center. As for the wings, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Riise on the left should Arbeloa start in the back. Benayoun could factor on the right, but Rafa may just remember Pennant’s sublime strike from last season. Babel is a safe bet for the bench, as well as Hyypia and Itandje. After that, whether it’s another winger and one striker on the pine or two strikers, only Rafa knows what his gameplan will be.
I have an inkling, either way this match goes, that the Liverpool Doomsday Clock could be affected.
And on an unrelated note, you can watch a free video on the new Stanley Park stadium on the Official Site. It’s six and a half minutes long, so be warned…