Tuesday 31st Jan – 20.00 – BT Sport 1HD
After an exciting weekend of FA Cup action, our attention turns once again to the busy Premier League schedule leaving clubs with very little break in between games. With that being said, most teams made wholesale changes in their FA Cup tie’s to varying degrees of success.
The highlight of Tuesday’s games see’s league leaders Chelsea take on Liverpool as they look to tighten their grip on the Premier League title. For Liverpool it’s a massive game as they look to resurrect their season following an abhorrent January.
The wheels have very much come off the wagon for Klopp who ended 2016 on a high with a four game winning streak in the League, the last of which was a 1-0 victory over Man City.
But 2017 has been a different story all together. They have only won one of their last eight matches in all competitions, losing the last three in a row. Their only win came against Plymouth in the FA cup 3rd round replay and have been knocked out of 2 cups in a handful of days. They have lost three consecutive competitive games at Anfield for the first time since October 2012 which has, for the first time, some fans questioning Klopp’s credentials as manager, albeit wildly over reactive.
The one major change Liverpool have seen in this period is the loss of Sadio Mane on international duty. Mane is Liverpool’s top goal scorer in the league this season with 9 goals, but has also contributed 4 assists.
In fact the Reds haven’t won any of their league matches without Sadio Mane, losing 2 and drawing 1, scoring only 3 goals in those three fixtures. Jurgen Klopp will make a late decision on whether to play Mane after he was delayed on his return from the Africa Cup of Nations. Had Liverpool’s recent form not been so horrid of late, you’d expect Klopp wouldn’t rush to reintroduce him but the pressure is mounting and Klopp will be keen to get him back in the line-up with a 10 point gap between themselves and Chelsea.
But Jurgen Klopp will now need to refocus his team’s attention to the league, a top 4 finish is a must. A win against Chelsea would be a great boost and he has a very good record against the other traditional ‘top 6 teams’ (Man Utd, Man City, Chelsea, Spurs, Arsenal) having lost just one of his 14 Premier League meetings. It seems therefore he knows how to set up his teams to play the bigger teams and play the bigger occasions. With a tough run of games coming up he will need to continue that impressive record.
Adam Lallana has recovered from a minor injury but Nathaniel Clyne is doubtful with a rib problem.
Chelsea on the other hand have been in great form winning 15 of their last 16 league games, their only defeat coming away to Tottenham. They currently have an 8 point lead over 2nd place Arsenal. Much of Chelsea’s success has been built on a strong defensive unit that Antonio Conte has instilled in the team. The Blues have kept 13 clean sheets in the Premier League this season, the most in Europe’s top five leagues.
That is the stark contrast between Chelsea and Liverpool this season. Liverpool are top goal scorers with 51 goals, averaging 2.3 goals per game. But where Liverpool have faltered is their defensive displays conceding 27 goals, 12 more than Chelsea. Only Man City and West Brom have conceded more in the top 8.
Whilst the team is working as a unit defensively, up the other end of the pitch Diego Costa is in incredible form and has scored in 15 of his last 21 Premier League matches. As a result, Chelsea have 30 more points this season than at the same point last season.
Conte is taking nothing for granted who said:
“We have grown since our first meeting with Liverpool and we have improved a lot in terms of our identity and confidence.
“When you face teams of the same level it’s important to win for confidence, but the difficulty is high.”
Chelsea have no injury concerns ahead of their trip to Anfield, which will please Conte as they must prepare for another huge match on Saturday against 2nd place Arsenal.
Whenever Liverpool and Chelsea clash it’s always a game that gives us great action, goals and talking points. The added twist of a much needed Liverpool resurrection adds an extra ingredient to the game, but I think Chelsea will just shade it.
Other games on Tuesday 31st Jan:
Arsenal v Watford
Bournemouth v Crystal Palace
Burnley v Leicester City
Middlesbrough v West Bromwich Albion
Sunderland v Tottenham Hotspur
Swansea City v Southampton
By Michael Thatcher