Premier League 17/18 Week 37: Chelsea vs Liverpool – Lineups, Preview and Prediction
Chelsea look to keep their dwindling hopes of a top-four finish alive when they welcome this season’s Champions League finalists to the Bridge
16:30 BST, Sunday 6th May, Stamford Bridge (London, England) Sky Sports
Antonio Conte’s side are now unbeaten in their last 4 matches and looking to make a significant statement in the Premier League with a fourth successive win over a team rapidly becoming the neutral fans favourite. Chelsea have not beaten Liverpool in any of their last 6 meetings (L3, D3) and they’ve failed to win their last two league games at home in recent weeks.
With the club sitting in 5th and staring at the prospect of no Champions League football next weekend, Tottenham’s unexpected loss to West Brom yesterday afternoon could inspire them to a victory which keeps their dreams alive for another week.
Liverpool’s dreams are fixated on a different competition. Having come out on top of the Champions League’s highest-scoring semifinal ever, Real Madrid could prove a distraction to them in this match. While Spurs loss has put Liverpool’s chances of a 3rd-place finish back under their own control, they are running low on fit first-team players which threatens to fatigue their chances of success.
Last Time Out
Swansea City 0-1 Chelsea (Premier League)
The Blues claimed a valuable win which keeps them within touching distance of the top-four, although not in spectacular fashion. Conte switched from his usual 3-4-3 formation to a 3-5-2 and the midfield dominance of this tactic provided them control of the match. The statistics did little to back up this assertion with both sides enjoying almost identical possession, shots on goal and accurate strikes on target.
Cesc Fàbregas gave the visitors a lead in only the 4th minute but it was Eden Hazard who made the goal and provided the biggest threat in the game. The Belgian playmaker has again stormed back into form in recent weeks and is arguably a large reason as to Chelsea’s return to winning ways over the last month.
Tiemoue Bakayoko also made a return to the starting lineup for Chelsea as the extra midfielder Conte brought into the game with his formation change. While he was relatively efficient, Bakayoko was far from full of flair in much the same way that Chelsea ground out this win in South Wales.
Roma 4-2 Liverpool [agg 6-7] (Champions League)
Liverpool progressed to the final in Kiev with a gladiatorial effort in Rome that rewarded their bravery despite a late sting from the Italians. Sadio Mané made amends for wasting gilt-edged chances during the first leg by delivering an electric performance when it mattered most.
With Roma clearly worried about the threat of Mohamed Salah on the opposite wing, Mané exploited the left side to devastating effect. His opening goal in the 9th minute was exactly what Liverpool needed to take command of this tie, although an unfortunate own goal from James Milner levelled the game soon after when Dejan Lovren’s attempted clearance only made it as far as the English midfielder, Roma still had a mountain left to climb.
Georginio Wijnaldum’s first-ever away goal for the Reds midway through the first half then made the task harder still, providing a 2-1 scoreline, and a 7-3 advantage, which still stood at the interval. The second half saw Roma make the majority of the attacking, however, Liverpool looked relatively comfortable for the most part. The home team eventually took the lead on the night with only 4 minutes of regular time remaining but along with a late injury-time goal, Liverpool’s strong lead proved insurmountable.
Conte has no new injury problems to contend with although David Luiz (knee) and Ethan Ampadu (ankle) are both still sidelined from the first team.
Joe Gomez (arm) Joel Matip (thigh) Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee) Emre Can (back) and Adam Lallana (thigh) all miss out for the Reds to leave Klopp short of options this weekend. Knowing he has a small buffer to keep his side in the top-four, Klopp could make several changes to rest some key players.
Key Battle: N’Golo Kanté (Chelsea) vs Jordan Henderson (Liverpool)
The centre of the pitch is likely to provide the decisive battleground for this match. Kanté has not won the levels of praise garnered over the last two seasons, however, he has still been a vital component of the Blues team. Possessing boundless supplies of energy, the diminutive midfielder is known for his ability to recycle the ball, however, his ability to bring the ball forward is understated and will help Chelsea control the game in the heart of the field.
Playing opposite him in a similar position is a player who has worked tirelessly this season to overhaul his poor reputation. Liverpool’s midfield may work as more of a collective unit than Chelsea’s but Henderson will provide the central thrust to their game. Given that the Liverpool players are likely to be more fatigued heading into this match, it will be a challenge for them to meet and maintain their usual levels of work rate throughout this match.
Grit and aptitude
While several Premier League teams are flourishing in the glow of fast and attractive football, Chelsea have made a return to form through the more fundamental aspects of the game. The win over Swansea was symptomatic of how Conte has approached curing his side’s struggles earlier this year.
Switching flair for efficiency, it may not be a style which wins wide acclaim or the support of neutral supporters, it has, though, ensured an uplift in results. With an FA Cup final against Manchester United creeping ever closer, the time for effectiveness is now. These wins may not make for spectacular headlines, however, they could well be lining the dressing room with a confidence and belief that could create a bigger headline on May 19th.
The mid-week appointment of Steven Gerrard as the new Rangers boss is a bold move by both the fallen Scottish club and the Anfield legend. Possibly hoping to follow in the footsteps of Graeme Souness who began his managerial career with the ‘Gers before taking the reins on Merseyside, Gerrard will also hope to accomplish more than the former Liverpool midfielder who failed to enjoy a successful time in the dug-out.
While Rangers are still a huge club with a large following around the globe, they are also a club in severe need of improvement. With fan unrest aimed squarely at how the Ibrox club is being run, there promises to be interesting times ahead for the new manager. There are already rumours circulating that Gerrard will look to bring some of Liverpool’s promising youth players with him on loan, however, not every star player transitions from top footballer to a top manager but at least Gerrard has shown the nerve in taking his first steps in the right direction.
Prediction: Chelsea 1-1 Liverpool
Chelsea will arguably be the favourites to prosper from this fixture but Liverpool should not be easily discounted. Their belief and morale will be sky-high following their European achievements to date and the fact this is another big match will probably benefit them regarding motivation, compared to a fixture in which they’re expected to triumph.
(Photo Credit: Reuters/John Sibley)