Champions Chelsea can punish complacent Liverpool

A week is a long time in politics. By the time Chelsea and Liverpool take to the field on Sunday there could well be a new Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Or, as is more likely, the political parties will remain locked in darkened rooms, thrashing out deals and compromises to form another coalition government. As for the two football clubs, you could hardly drive a larger political wedge between them, with Chelsea sitting in the Conservative safe seat of Kensington – the only Tory club in the Premier League – and Liverpool a notorious Labour heartland.

 

Chelsea v Liverpool Betting Odds:

Chelsea win 21/20

Liverpool win 5/2

Draw 9/4

(All odds provided by AllYouBet.ag are accurate as of today and subject to change)

 

If a week is a long time in the political world, then a year in football is an eternity. These two faced each other with three games remaining last season in what is now a well run story; Steven Gerrard slipped, Demba Ba scored, Liverpool capitulated and Manchester City won the title. The Reds sold Luis Suarez and recruited poorly, the Blues sold David Luiz and recruited well.

With three games to go in 2014-15 Chelsea have already wrapped up the title and with nine points left to play for sit 13 ahead of second placed Man City, with Brendan Rodgers’ side a further 22 points back. The momentum that his side took into this fixture in April last year has well and truly evaporated after a chastening year, and defeat at Stamford Bridge would represent their 11th of the season, well and truly extinguishing their slim hopes of retaining their Champions League status for a second campaign.

 

Chelsea will be overwhelming favourites in a fixture that has so much less riding on it than would have been predictable even a month ago. Jose Mourinho’s team have strolled to the league title, barely breaking sweat in the second half of the season and undefeated since a 5-3 reverse at White Hart Lane on New Year’s Day, while three defeats in Liverpool’s last six have cost them hugely in their unlikely bid to make the top four.

While some managers would see the visit of the Reds as a chance to put down a marker, to emphasise your superiority in this league, for Mourinho only victory matters as their 1-0 victory over Crystal Palace showed last Sunday. After taking the lead on half time, every substitution was designed to make sure of victory and deny the opposition a way back; John Obi Mikel for Juan Cuadrado, Kurt Zouma for Willian and Filipe Luis for Eden Hazard. “Boring” it may be to some, but no one can deny the effectiveness of Mourinho’s tactics this year.

So entrenched in negativity have been perceptions of Mourinho’s side since the new year that many have overlooked their stellar start to the year, when they attacked with verve and dynamism, spearheaded by summer signings Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas. Their second, and so far final, league defeat of the season came in that loss to Tottenham in January. It was viewed then as a sign of complacency creeping into their game, of defensive frailties and vulnerabilities that other sides had failed to pick up on.

 

Conversely it was the best thing to happen to them. It has led to the pragmatic approach, the defensive lockdown that has been behind their title victory. Only Hull have scored more than once against them in the past four months. The Blues may have the best eleven in the league, but they have a manager who saw the problems and addressed them, where others may have ignored them. It is as much Mourinho’s win as Eden Hazard’s, Diego Costa’s or John Terry’s.

Pragmatic has become a dirty word in footballing circles, its connotations with negative, defensive football too readily assumed. Instead it is the mark of doing what it takes to win, it is perhaps the ultimate skill set a manager can learn. It is what separates the best from the rest. While Mourinho has it in spades, his opposite number and former apprentice Brendan Rodgers, is still learning it. It would be lazy to accuse the Liverpool manager of being too idealistic for he is more pragmatic now than when he took over the Reds in June 2012.

 

The move to the three at the back midway through this season, the use of the midfield diamond last season, all manoeuvres that point to a coach who can be pragmatic. However that’s not to say he couldn’t have been more pragmatic. The 3-4-2-1 could have been hooked earlier, the 4-3-2-1 of the autumn should have been abandoned almost immediately, while the need to prioritise goals over defensive solidity has not been properly addressed.

As we enter the denouement of the 2014-15 season, the sense of regret and a missed opportunity abounds on Merseyside. Liverpool took their foot off the gas after a dire FA Cup semi-final showing against Aston Villa, taking just one point off West Brom and Hull City. Victories would see them sitting in fourth now, given the three consecutive defeats suffered by Louis van Gaal’s Manchester United; instead complacency crept in.

 

Brendan Rodgers has a poor record against top four sides this season, with only a home win against a disinterested Manchester City to shout about. But this isn’t where Liverpool have fallen short this year, it’s in failing to beat the bottom ten teams home and away; they’ve only done that over Burnley and QPR, the weakest two sides in the division.

Liverpool do not deserve to finish in the top four, and they will lose at Stamford Bridge on Sunday because fear has replaced bravado at Anfield, ever since Steven Gerrard slipped over and Demba Ba scored that goal.

 

Betting Instinct tip – Liverpool not to score is 31/20 with Intertops.eu

 

JamesDutton JAMES DUTTON is a freelance journalist who has written for The Mirror, The Guardian and The Times. James helps to  run The False Nine football website, contributes to The Anfield Wrap and is a columnist for uMAXit Football. Follow him on Twitter.

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Things We’ll Learn In Football This Month – May

 

This is the end, beautiful friend, this is the end, my only friend, the end.

 

Yes that’s right one of the most underwhelming Premier League seasons we’ve ever had to endure is spluttering its way toward some sort of unsatisfactory conclusion. The Champions League places are all but concluded with Chelsea impressively but unmemorably coming top of the pile, there is a bit of a scuffle to avoid the Europa League and in fairness to the dregs at the bottom of the league there is still a bit of a question mark as to who will drop down into the Championship. But in the overall scheme of things this has been a poor season in terms of quality, drama and laugh out loud incompetence.

 

The first weekend of the month has no interesting games, none, not one. It’s utter dross. Do some work in the garden or something, or maybe go swimming? It’s been ages since you’ve been at the pool and you always enjoy it when you go. Whatever you do don’t watch the football, especially Spurs (49/20 with Intertops.eu) vs Man City (19/20) which looks deceptively like a game that might be good but in reality both sides gave up weeks ago.

 

The second weekend starts terribly with the inexplicable decision to televise Everton vs Sunderland and doesn’t get much better after that. Hull vs Burnley is a big one down at the bottom of the table but the soul crushing inevitability of Burnley’s relegation and the fact that no one in the world cares about Hull mean that I’m going to stop writing about it now. There is a ‘Super Sunday’ of sorts, with Chelsea vs Liverpool, which if nothing else will be a nice ‘have a look at what you could have won’ moment for Steven Gerrard.

 

Stop press we’ve got a game that might be alright! Weekend number three is mostly awful meaningless nonsense but finishes with Manchester United hosting Arsenal. Louis van Gaal will be looking to overcome the handicap of his weird hair to exact revenge over Arsene Wenger for their FA Cup defeat. For the last 4 months Arsenal have looked like a side who can challenge for the title, there is a new found pragmatism to sit alongside the flair. Of course this could be (and probably is) just Arsenal being Arsenal and they’ll regress to the mean with a spectacular explosion of incompetence before we know it, however a fixture against a rejuvenated but still not all that good Manchester United might give us a better idea.

 

I care so little that I can’t even be bothered looking at the last day, so in an effort to end on a mildly entertaining note I’m going to abandon the formula and go rogue by paying tribute to those who for one reason or another won’t be with us next season.

 

Steven Gerrard – Heading for MLS. Either one of the greatest players of his generation or the worst human of all time, depending on who you ask, Stevie is a man that splits opinion. One thing you can’t deny though is he has very consistent hair.

 

Frank Lampard – Heading for MLS. Got called fat a lot even though he wasn’t fat (but is still a bit fat for a footballer). Scored loads of goals, rumours that he’s a Tory.

 

Manuel Pellegrini – Will probably get sacked. City want Pep so big Manuel is probably done for sooner or later. Got called a “f**kin old c**t” by Alan Pardew and once wore a hoodie like he was nipping to the shop for milk rather than managing one of the richest clubs in the world.

 

Sam Allardyce – West Ham will probably let his contract run out. There are few finer sights in football than the big man after he’s ‘out tacticed’ one of the league’s elite. If there was an instrument to measure smugness then he’d break it.

 

Radamel Falcao – Heading to the glue factory. Knee injuries and advancing years (some say they’ve advanced more than his passport is letting on) mean that the Colombian’s stay in England has been a massive anti-climax. Another name to add to the lost of South Americans who haven’t quite cut it at Old Trafford.

 

John Carver – Heading for the record books. In years to come when they talk of the worst managers in history, big John and his staggeringly bad stint at Newcastle will be right up there. Great stuff.

 

I’m sure there are others but we all have things to do so let’s wrap it up. Some of you might be wondering why I haven’t mentioned the FA Cup but I’ve just found out I’m at a wedding that day so I’m pretending it isn’t happening.

 

Betting Instinct tip – defy Ally by betting on the very real FA Cup Final. Arsenal to win and both teams to score is 2.98 with Intertops.eu

 

Ally avatar ALLY MONCRIEFF is a freelance football writer and editor of All or Nothing magazine. Sometimes even he can’t  tell if he’s being serious or not. Follow Ally on Twitter and maybe he’ll be your friend.

 

 

Gerrard v Gilet: Should Liverpool’s captain start against Tim Sherwood’s Aston Villa?

 

Signs and screams express Liverpool dreams; a community united in sticking by one of its own, celebrating his achievements, trying to give him that worthy once-and-for-all send off. But as the Kop club together to ‘GET GERRARD TO WEMBLEY’, the sentiment seems, more than sickly sweet, just a little bit strange.

 

Aston Villa v Liverpool Betting Odds:

Aston Villa win 9/2

Liverpool win 11/20

Draw 29/10

(All odds provided by AllYouBet.ag are accurate as of today and subject to change)

 

One can forgive the onus on Wembley, by which is of course meant the final proper, rather than Sunday’s capital-staged Aston Villa semi. Responsibility for that imprecision lies at the door of the FA, whose decision to move the semis to the panoptic National Stadium of Everything is only the latest move serving to sap all meaning from a once valued cup competition.

What’s more puzzling is the target audience for those signs and screams. Just who is supposed to ‘GET GERRARD TO WEMBLEY’? Is there an e-petition going around? Is this a call for Ed Miliband to include a ‘Gerrard Responsibility Lock’ in the Labour Party’s election manifesto? Or are they, as is more likely, talking to Brendan Rodgers and the Liverpool players, a plea for them to Do it for Stevie! and no mistake?

 

If the latter, it’s striking that fans give Gerrard no agency whatsoever, and that it’s left up to the rest of the squad to do the captain’s job for him. In this sense, the Kop’s calls tell a revealing story about their club’s season so far. Steven Gerrard, Istanbul’s one-man band who so stunningly dragged his teammates to a Champions League trophy, is all lined up to be 2015’s Antonio Nunez, reaping the harvest without planting the seeds. Worse, in fact, given that it was his rush of blood against Manchester United that has allowed the FA Cup to become Liverpool’s sole focus.

Whether Gerrard should or shouldn’t start against Villa is, apparently, one of the semi-final’s biggest subplots. The case for? ‘The FA Cup stars are aligned for Gerrard’ (Mystic Meg meets Sun Fantasy Football), ‘He’s a big game player’ (cough…), and ‘He loves scoring against Aston Villa’ (frankly, who doesn’t?). And against? Actual evidence, like, you know, Liverpool Being Miles Better Without Him.

 

Should Rodgers leave his skipper at shore, to whom will he turn to fulfill the role of Mr Liverpool? It won’t be an actual Scouser, of course, the manager having long since tired of the bore-off blasphemy that was Jon Flanagan’s ‘Flani Alves’ rebrand. Preferred candidate Daniel ‘Doubtful’ Sturridge is struggling with, you guessed it, another niggling injury. And Raheem Sterling appears to be missing after setting off in search of his tattooed-boy-from-Birkenhead hippy crack dealer. We hope you get the help you so clearly and desperately need, Raheem.

Presenting, then, Mario Balotelli, atFinallyMario, whose overdue Anfield success would anger exactly the right kind of people – from the bigots whose intolerance is unmasked when their football team fails, to the newspapermen desperate to scandalise and shame the innocuous.

The bond between Balotelli and the Liverpool fans is real, its strong, it’s even Gerrard-like. Take the Manchester United match, where pitchside supporters reached out to their hero with hugs and warm words, comfort banishing the pain and ignominy of defeat. There’s a reason why the Italian is set to be voted Liverpool fans’ player of the season, and it’s nothing to do with extra-club conspiracy. No, he just gets it, like Louis van Gaal at his club’s big rivals.

To sink Sherwood, Liverpool, Mario’s your man.

 

Betting Instinct tip – Liverpool to not only win this weekend but to win the FA Cup itself – on Gerrard’s birthday no less – is 33/20 with Intertops.eu

Kieran avatar KIERAN DODDS  is a masters student and writer. He has written about sport, politics and current affairs for the Guardian, the Huffington Post, Africa is a Country, When Saturday Comes, IBWM and others. Follow Kieran on Twitter.

Things We’ll Learn In Football This Month – April

 

April is a glorious month, the days get warmer and longer, outside boozing become socially acceptable and I can start my now annual crusade to be allowed to wear shorts to work. The football season also approaches what that Football Cliches bloke on Twitter would call the ‘business end’ (or are we there already? – ed.).

 

March finishes with the bleak nothingness of an international fortnight so thank the Lord above that April has an absolute cracker of a game to get us started. Brendan Rodgers and his band of merry men travel to face Arsenal, where they really have to win to keep their top 4 hopes alive. They do of course make this trip minus their captain, which in most cases would be a disadvantage but in all honesty when your central midfielder is so busy raging against the dying of the light that the physical act of football becomes an irrelevance in his tortured mind then maybe it’s for the best if he takes his place in the stand. Arsenal are in form and at the stage of the season where they traditionally win games so are heavy favourites. Their form is such that there has even been talk of a title challenge, that obviously won’t happen but they could conceivably finish in the top two, which would represent progress of a sort and save any awkward early season ventures to deepest darkest Europe in the name of Champions League qualification.

 

Arsenal v Liverpool Betting Odds: 

Arsenal win  4/5

Liverpool win 3/1

Draw 53/20

(All odds provided by AllYouBet.ag are accurate as of today and subject to change) 

 

The other stand out game that first weekend is the Tyne Wear derby, Sunderland (29/20 with Intertops.eu) have terrible players and are terrible so they will lose, but then again Newcastle (19/10) gave up on their season a couple of months ago and have a terrible manager so they’ll probably lose as well. Sunderland have a new manager who is in theory less terrible than the last one so that might help. Honestly unless you support either of the sides you’re only watching this one for the inevitable comedy violence.

 

The following weekend we get to witness the sight of Tottenham’s greatest ever manager returning to the scene of both his glorious triumph and the scandalous betrayal that ended his White Hart Lane reign. It is never wise to speculate on how history will remember a man and his deeds but in the case of Tim Sherwood we can rest assured that future generations will speak of him with the reverence reserved for only the truly great. He does have to be a bit careful that for all his undeniable majesty and grace he doesn’t end up forgetting to stop Villa getting relegated. A win at Spurs would be handy.

 

On Sunday we have the Manchester Derby and although United have spent the majority of the season grinding out results whilst playing suspiciously Moyesish football their recent upturn coupled with City’s recent malaise probably makes them favourites. United might have Van Persie back but he probably won’t get in the side ahead of Marouane Fellaini. Which when you think about it is a bit odd.

 

The season is actually in real danger of petering out, the top 4 looks familiar and unlikely to change save for a bit of jostling. The teams occupying the relegation zone all have a very Championshipy look about them, Burnley might just drag themselves out and haul someone back in, with Sunderland looking most likely. Leicester have played quite well at points this season without ever looking like they might still be here come next August and QPR are a shambles both on and off the pitch. I’m not saying I’m struggling to find things to write about as we approach the conclusion of another campaign but we could really do with a good handshake/non-handshake scandal to keep things interesting over the next few weeks.

 

The only saving grace may come in the remaining cup competitions where the Champions League despite/because of (delete as appropriate) its lack of English participants looks particularly well poised for a brilliant last few rounds. We get repeat of last years final where Atletico (8/5 to qualify with AllYouBet.ag)will be looking for revenge against their city neighbours (11/25) and if there’s one man on this planet you’d bet on to exact his revenge it would be Diego Simeone. His rebuilding of the second Madrid club is one of the great stories of modern football and rarely can one team have been created to resemble so closely the mould of its master. That’s probably the pick of the ties but Zlatan visiting any club he feels he has been wronged by is always entertaining, so Barcelona vs PSG should be fun.

 

There’s also the FA Cup where we’d all like to see Steven Gerrard sign off as a champion/fall over and gift the opposition a goal in the last minute (delete as appropriate). Arsenal will probably win the thing for the second year running but it’s been a while since they spectacularly imploded against lower league opposition so maybe they have one of those in store for us.

 

Betting Instinct tip Liverpool to beat Blackburn in their FA Cup replay and move closer to that dream final is 3/5 with Intertops.eu

 

 

Anyway that’s enough filling, see you next month. Or maybe I’ll see you over on Twitter where I recently got 250+ RTs on a tweet with a typo which I thought was the type of thing that only happened in horror stories designed to frighten grammatically substandard children https://twitter.com/AllorNothingMag

 

 

Old Trafford trip highlights Liverpool’s season of decline

Defeat this weekend will increase the pressure on Liverpool's Brendan Rodgers

Defeat this weekend will increase the pressure on Liverpool’s Brendan Rodgers

As we approach the half-way stage of the 2014-15 Premier League season, once again Liverpool fans are being bombarded by the Groundhog day sensation. The visit of Chelsea and the trip to Selhurst Park last month were reminders of where last season’s title challenge disintegrated, but Sunday’s encounter with Manchester United at Old Trafford promises to be the most harrowing reminder yet of how far Brendan Rodgers’ side have plummeted.

Last March Old Trafford reverberated with the sounds of Poetry in Motion as the revelling hordes of travelling Liverpool fans lauded their side – “We’re gonna win the League”. Their title chances then still looked unlikely, but the swaggering momentum they were building up was undeniable and at times irresistible.

The 3-0 victory that afternoon was one of control and precision, not the swift counter-attacking that came to define them, and that it came at the home of their decaying neighbours made it ever sweeter. How Liverpool fans must wish they could bottle the mood of that afternoon and carry it with them this weekend.

But there will be no repeat of that this Sunday; David Moyes has gone, much to the chagrin of United’s rival fan bases, and the club are in a significantly healthier position this December. Liverpool’s win in Manchester back March was their fifth in succession and they won another six in a row afterward; Louis van Gaal’s United have won their last five and shoved their way into the top three – they could be there for some time now.

 

Manchester United v Liverpool Betting Odds:

Manchester United win 4/5

Liverpool win 3/1

Draw 13/5

(All odds provided by Intertops.eu are accurate as of today and subject to change)

 

Besides the intrigue of their respective fluctuating fortunes, is the resumption of what remains England’s greatest fixture and club rivalry as it enters a new era. The departure of Luis Suarez removes the most volatile character in its recent history, but the arrival of Van Gaal guarantees that the rivalry cycle continues.

The 63 year-old is no stranger to rivalries and the importance associated to it by supporters. Watching his end-of-season victory speech at Bayern Munich in 2010, where he claimed his side not only to be the champions of Munich and Germany, but of Gelsenkirchen, Bremen and Hamburg too, you can imagine he would require little encouragement to proclaim Manchester United as the champions of Liverpool.

 

His revival of United has been in stark contrast to the slapstick moments of August; they have not quite gone down the route of simply trying to outscore opponents. The defence remains makeshift and rarely convinces, but it is nowhere near as porous as many make out; since the second-half collapse at Leicester in September, West Brom are the only team to score more than once past them. The improved form of David de Gea, who is playing at his most consistent peak since joining three years ago, is an undoubtedly strong factor behind this.

The integration of Marouane Fellaini higher up the pitch has given the Red Devils more than just an aerial reference point, and he doesn’t look quite the £28m waste of space that he did under Moyes last season. The entire side looks to be regaining a presence and purpose under their new Dutch manager, a knowhow for winning all manner of football matches no matter the circumstance and situation – for all of Southampton’s endeavour against them on Monday night, United’s victory felt somewhat inevitable.

 

How Brendan Rodgers desires that winning habit that has so deserted him and his team since the spring. The sight of Martin Skrtel operating as an emergency centre-forward as Liverpool limped out of the Champions League on Tuesday was a painful one for supporters and highlighted the disintegration of the attack that had carried them there in the first place.

In the light of a harrowing run of form in the autumn, which culminated in a fourth successive defeat at Crystal Palace last month, Rodgers has abandoned his idealism and resorted to pragmatic football, selecting the players he trusts most and bringing short-term gains. Play is not built from the back, full backs have stopped rampaging forward and midfielders are charged with stopping the opposition resulting in a static rather than fluid attack. Seven points from the last nine available in the league suggests it’s had some effect, but it did not prevent Champions League elimination.

The autumnal slump has been arrested to some degree – Liverpool have not lost since last month’s aberration at Selhurst Park – but they remain in the full grip of a malaise, and on the precipice of a deeper crisis. If the midweek disappointment is followed by defeats at Old Trafford, away to Bournemouth next week and against Arsenal the weekend after – not out of the question for a team with three wins in 12 – then the pressure on Rodgers could grow insurmountable.

 

There is still time for Rodgers to turn this around and the next three fixtures can be viewed as opportunities to regain pride for himself and his team; to do that he must trust in and accentuate the qualities of his players not fear the opposition’s. It is impossible to say in this day and age without sounding like a glib Alan Hansen rehash, but Liverpool still possess the one weapon that can truly unsettle opposition defences; pace.

If the manager decides again to lead the line with a 32 year-old and a 34 year-old, with the combined pace of a bowl of porridge, it will play right into the hands of van Gaal. Failure to pressurise another changed backline, with Chris Smalling now joining Phil Jones and Luke Shaw on the United treatment table, would be another illustration of the fear that has overcome Rodgers and Liverpool.

 

Betting Instinct tip – With Liverpool having only a few days to recover from their Champions League exit, the hosts can take advantage. Manchester United to win by two or more is 2/1 with AllYouBet.ag

 

JamesDutton JAMES DUTTON is a freelance journalist who has written for The Mirror, The Guardian and The Times. James helps to  run The False Nine football website, contributes to The Anfield Wrap and is a columnist for uMAXit Football

Role-Reversal For Liverpool and Chelsea Six Months On

Fringe players like Emre Can performed against Real Madrid in midweek, but how many will keep their place against Chelsea?

Fringe players like Emre Can performed against Real Madrid in midweek, but how many will keep their place against Chelsea?

Has it really been six months?

 

Steven Gerrard, receiving a square pass from Mamadou Sakho on the half-way line, lets the ball slide under his right boot. Unbeknownst to the Liverpool captain, Demba Ba is lurking not far away, and as the Senegalese races to pick up the loose ball, Gerrard slips. Liverpool’s centre-backs are split, Ba has a free run on goal and slots the ball comfortably past the onrushing Simon Mignolet.

It’s a sequence that has been immortalised since in vines, photoshops and tweets; the moment where Liverpool’s title bubble burst. The goal panicked Brendan Rodgers’ outfit, who put in one of their most dysfunctional performances of the season; 73% of possession, 21 shots from outside the box and 29 open play crosses. It smacked of desperation, and they haven’t been the same since.

How the past six months have changed the outlook of this fixture as Chelsea return to Anfield, four points clear at the top of the Premier League, and 12 clear of a Liverpool side struggling to rediscover the swashbuckling, marauding verve that propelled them on an 11-match winning streak and three games away from a first league title in 24 years.

 

Liverpool v Chelsea Betting Odds:

Liverpool win 9/4

Chelsea win 11/10

Draw 47/20

(All odds provided by AllYouBet.ag are accurate as of today and subject to change)

 

Liverpool were the title favourites and Chelsea were the underdogs that day in late April, with Jose Mourinho in full “us against the world” siege mentality. The roles have reversed substantially; as many who micro-analysed Liverpool’s rotated starting lineup away to Real Madrid this week will have told you, it is now Brendan Rodgers who has his team in lockdown mode.

The pressure to claim a result against the champions-elect has been magnified by a return of only four points from the three recent, yet presentable, fixtures against Queens Park Rangers, Hull City and Newcastle United. And given the ‘relative’ success of a second-string line-up restricting Real Madrid to victory by a solitary goal at the Bernabeu on Tuesday, Rodgers has much to ponder ahead of another acid test.

 

The first of which lies in team selection, namely whether any of the seven midweek changes will retain their place come Saturday. Herein lies the conundrum for Rodgers, after Liverpool put in their most defensively organised and disciplined performance since the Merseyside derby in late September.

It seems likely, however, that the Liverpool boss will revert to type; Kolo Toure’s finest hour in a Liverpool shirt has been eulogised across the internet over the past 24 hours, but Dejan Lovren will be recalled, despite his less than impressive start to life at Anfield. Lucas Leiva’s hour of control and ball retention will give way to Steven Gerrard’s ailing legs and Hollywood diagonals, while the continued promise of Javier Manquillo will give way to the familiar calamity of Glen Johnson.

 

In Chelsea, Liverpool are facing a team without any real or obvious weaknesses, who have strolled through the first quarter of the Premier League season barely challenged. Jose Mourinho’s side have dropped points only twice this season, but both times when protecting single goal leads away to the two Manchester clubs. Will Mourinho once again choose to counter-attack and contain, or go for the jugular against a team with such obvious defensive frailties?

With the added firepower of Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas, it would be unreasonable to expect Mourinho to “park two buses”, as Rodgers quipped after the Blues’ dogged and defensive display in their 2-0 win at Anfield last season.

 

Rested for the Champions League trip to Maribor, the trio of Thibaut Courtois, Oscar and Costa will be pushing for selection, though Mourinho may be persuaded to persist with Didier Droba, who has scored 11 career goals against Liverpool, nine of them for Chelsea. During Mourinho’s previous dominant start to a Premier League season in 2005-6, his Chelsea side bullied Liverpool in a 4-1 win, with the Ivorian tormenter-in-chief that day.

The element of surprise could be Liverpool’s biggest weapon on Saturday, though the high-tempo, aggressive starts that so typified last season’s title charge have been conspicuous by their absence so far in 2014-5. A slow, probing and controlled performance would play right into Chelsea’s hands; Rodgers cannot play Mourinho at his own game.

 

An unlikely victory would send Liverpool joint-fourth, if only temporarily, and dispel the “dark cloud” that former striker John Toshack claimed was hanging over Anfield this week. Or Chelsea will power onwards to the most ominous and inevitable Premier League title in recent times. Resistance is futile.

 

Betting Instinct tip – Despite, or perhaps because of, Steven Gerrard’s likely return, Chelsea are stronger favourites now than in May. A repeat 2-0 away win is 15/2 with Intertops.eu

 

JamesDutton JAMES DUTTON is a freelance journalist who has written for The Mirror, The Guardian and The Times. James helps to  run The False Nine football website, contributes to The Anfield Wrap and is a columnist for uMAXit Football

Liverpool v Manchester City – A Potential Premier League Title Decider

Steven Gerrard will be looking to add to his 13 goals this season

Steven Gerrard will be looking to add to his 13 goals this season

 

Liverpool have been the irresistible force of 2014 in the Barclays Premier League. Brendan Rodgers and his players have notched up nine wins in a row in the league, the first team to do so in the last four years of the English top flight, and are steadily earning the tag of title favourites, never mind just being title contenders.

Sunday’s opponents were the unstoppable force of 2013. Manuel Pellegrini hit the ground running as Manchester City and could seemingly do very little wrong, a defeat at the Etihad Stadium to Bayern Munich aside, as his side romped to a string of impressive victories and scored hatful’s of goals as they went.

The meeting of the two this weekend makes for the most anticipated contest of the Premier League season so far. Both teams like to attack. Both teams like to score goals. And everything points to both teams showing up at Anfield on Sunday with the intention of winning the game.

 

Liverpool v Manchester City Betting Odds:

Liverpool win – 2.32

Manchester City win – 2.72

Draw – 3.40

(All odds provided by GR88.com are accurate as of today and subject to change)

 

Liverpool have shown that they don’t know any other way since Brendan Rodgers took over at the club. They don’t have the defence solidity to frustrate the attacking talents of Yaya Touré, David Silva, Samir Nasri and Sergio Agüero for 90 minutes. As such, it’s better for them to play with their front-foot forward. So what if they concede three goals away to Stoke? They’ll reply with five of their own.

As Chelsea and José Mourinho are starting to churn out a string of daunting home clean sheets, Brendan Rodgers has got his team playing with pace, verve and cutting edge. They go out, score early, sit on the lead and attempt to pick off their opponents through the pace of Luis Suárez, Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling. The Reds lead the division for first half goals and had – up until recent handsome victories for David Moyes’ side – scored as many in the opening 45 minutes as Manchester United had managed in total in the Premier League.

 

Conversely, Manchester City are the highest scorers in the second half of Premier League matches this season. Manuel Pellegrini has been able to get the best out of the exceptional Yaya Touré and been rewarded with 18 league goals already this season. The Ivorian has been deadly from set-pieces, scoring free-kicks and converting penalties at will.

And what of a penalty to opening the scoring? Steven Gerrard is having his best goalscoring season since 2008/09 even though his campaign has been spent operating in a new, deeper, more disciplined midfield role than the England captain is used to. That’s thanks to the sheer number of penalties that Liverpool’s attacking trio have been able to earn. All three are quick off the mark and possess lightning fast feet that make pressuring them in the area a difficult task for fear of a clumsy challenge.

 

The match itself is hard to predict as Manchester City head to Liverpool needing to win. They have games in hand that make them title favourites but they can’t allow Liverpool to open up the gap to as many as seven points. Even a draw, leaving the difference at four points, isn’t ideal as it ramps up the pressure on the City squad to take maximum points from their remaining games.

An away victory will help deflate Liverpool’s title ambitions and just do enough to place doubt in their minds that they aren’t ready to compete with the very best in the Premier League.

 

For Liverpool, the possibilities that come with claiming all three points are only to be whispered around Anfield for now. On an emotional weekend, with every major game across England kicking off seven minutes later than normal to commemorate the 96 men, women and children that passed on that fateful day at Hillsborough, the Reds can take a huge step towards an unexpected league championship.

The decision for Brendan Rodgers will not be about trying to stop Manchester City. He has enough arrogance to support his own style of football and too much confidence in his attacking players to score goals that he’ll not revert from type, not even for these visitors. However, he may just err on the side of caution in midfield. Philippe Coutinho may miss out in midfield at the expense of Joe Allen or Lucas, in a similar fashion to the team that started at Old Trafford. But even then, it’ll just be to ensure his three flowing attackers have a platform to build off.

 

All I can promise you is goals – and plenty of them. Jose Mourinho has shown in big games so far this season that he is happy to kill the flow, speed and momentum of the game in favour of not losing. Thankfully both Manuel Pellegrini and Brendan Rodgers are still interested in entertaining while winning. Their clashes with the other teams around them this season have produced a slew of goals.

Whichever way the game goes on Sunday afternoon and no matter the team that continues to have “destiny in their own hands” at the final whistle, they are sure to both find the back of the net. Even if Touré or Gerrard have to do it from the penalty spot.

 

Betting Instinct tip – Back there being more than 3.5 goals at 2.25 with Intertops.eu

 

Ryan avatar RYAN KEANEY (RyanKeaney) is a huge sports fan who spends most of his week toying around with  sports data. He is the editor of www.thefootballproject.net and a co-editor for In Bed with Maradona.

Luis Suarez to Bite Back at Stamford Bridge Today?

 

Luis Suarez levels the match on Liverpool's last visit to Stamford Bridge.

Luis Suarez levels the match on Liverpool’s last visit to Stamford Bridge.

The eyes of the world will be eagerly tuned on Stamford Bridge this afternoon as Liverpool, and Luis Suarez especially, return to the home of Chelsea Football Club for the first time since the infamous biting incident that saw Suarez banned for ten matches. That bite happened in the 2-2 draw at Anfield last season and was missed by the officials so Suarez stayed on the pitch to score a 90th minute equaliser for the home team and with these two sides sitting third and fourth in the Premier League table before kick off this match is sure to have a charged atmosphere as both teams look to build their title winning chances.

Despite Chelsea having failed to win at home to Liverpool since 2009 and are four games without victory against the Merseysiders at Stamford Bridge, they are favoured by GR88.com to take all three points today. They will be certainly motivated to do so after being on the receiving end of the poor decisions at Anfield in the last meeting of these two teams, but can they overcome the impressive Suarez to live up to their pre-match favourites billing?

Chelsea v Liverpool Match Odds:

Home Win – 2.12

Level at Full Time – 3.15

Away Win – 3.25

(Odds provided by GR88.com are current as of today but subject to change.)

Although Chelsea have not managed to defeat Liverpool at Stamford Bridge in more than four years, with, Liverpool taking three wins and a 1-1 draw last season in that time, they have been impressive in front of the home faithful this season as they have won eight and drawn one of their nine Premier League matches at home this season. They have played 12 matches at Stamford Bridge in all competitions and only Swiss side FC Basel have managed to win here and the hosts have taken ten wins in the other 11 games. However, despite this fine record on home soil they have just five clean sheets in these 12 games and just one in their last five games, so with Suarez having found the net on 19 occasions in 12 matches this season will Chelsea be able to keep the visitors out and claim all three points?

Suarez will believe not and as he was prevented from scoring at Manchester City on Boxing Day, as well as the fact that he will want to show that he can legitimately be a match winner against Chelsea, he will be highly motivated to score goals today. I am certainly confident that the Uruguayan will find the net today, but with Liverpool having beaten only Tottenham Hotspur in their last five away matches and missing both Steven Gerrard and Daniel Sturridge for this game will they have the confidence as a side to win this match?

Losses at Arsenal, Hull and Man City as well as drawing 3-3 away at their big city rivals Everton in their last five away games would suggest not for Liverpool, but if Suarez hits the heights that he has done in games like against Norwich, where he scored four, and Tottenham, where he scored two and created another, then I certainly see Liverpool extending their unbeaten run away at Chelsea to five games. With the frustration of not scoring in the 2-1 loss to Man City on Thursday I feel that Suarez will bring his A game today and he will have more than enough to help Liverpool to at least a point against a combination of an aging and inexperienced defensive line.

Back Liverpool/Draw Double Chance @ 1.70 in this Chelsea v Liverpool match with GR88.com.

AntonyANTONY JORDAN (antonygr88) is an avid football and cricket fan who loves to play his favourite sports as much as write about them and bet on them.  Read his daily sports betting blog at GR88.com.

Chelsea v Liverpool: Five memorable matches

Chelsea must wish they had the likes of Didier Drogba still at the club

Players like Didier Drogba have lit up this fixture in the past

Liverpool’s title credentials will be placed under scrutiny over the Christmas period with quickfire trips to Manchester City and Chelsea.

In recent years the Reds have been involved in some memorable clashes with the latter of those two challengers in the Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup.

Here, Betting Expert has picked out five of the best meetings between the two sides at Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea v Liverpool Betting Odds

Chelsea win – 2.00

Draw – 3.30

Liverpool win – 3.40

(All odds from GR88.com are accurate as of today and subject to change)

Chelsea 4-2 Liverpool, January 1997

The Merseysiders were beaten FA Cup finalists during the previous year, so they would have been hoping to go one better this time around. It appeared that they would cruise into the fourth round when goals from Robbie Fowler and Stan Collymore within the opening 21 minutes put them 2-0 up.

The introduction of Mark Hughes as a half-time substitute breathed life into Chelsea, though, as the former Manchester United frontman reduced the arrears five minutes after the restart. Italian Gianfranco Zola then drew the Londoners level, before his compatriot Gianluca Vialli sealed the victory for the hosts with a brace.

Chelsea 2-1 Liverpool, May 2003

Had Chelsea not won this game, their recent history could have been very different. It was a straight shootout on the final day of the Premier League season, with the winner snatching the final Champions League qualification berth. Dubbed ‘the £20 million pound match’, it was the away side that claimed an early lead through Finnish centre-back Sami Hyypia.

Chelsea’s response was instant, with Marcel Desailly heading in a Jesper Gronkjaer cross. The Danish winger then turned scorer in the 26th minute when he curled in from the edge of the area for what would be the winning goal. Later, as the game entered into stoppage time, Steven Gerrard was handed his marching orders for two bookable offences. Had Chelsea fallen short in the race for Europe’s elite tournament, many believe that Roman Abramovich would not have bid for the club.

Chelsea 3-2 Liverpool, April 2008

Having played out a 1-1 draw in the first leg at Anfield, the two teams reconvened at the Bridge to play for the right to take on Man United in the 2008 Champions League final in Moscow. Didier Drogba looked to have booked Chelsea’s place in the Russian capital with an early strike, but Fernando Torres forced extra-time.

The hosts regained their composure during the additional 30 minutes, with Frank Lampard restoring their lead from the penalty spot after Hyypia had felled Michael Ballack. Drogba then made it 3-1, before Liverpool’s Ryan Babel ensured a tense finish with a strike from distance. Ultimately, it would be no more than a consolation effort.

Chelsea 4-4 Liverpool, April 2009

Twelve months later the teams met in the same competition, albeit at the quarter-final stage. It seemed that Chelsea would ease into the final four, having returned from the opening leg on Merseyside with a 3-1 victory for their efforts. However, Liverpool had not read the script and goals from Fabio Aurelio and Xabi Alonso levelled up the scores on aggregate at half-time.

Chelsea rallied after the restart and actually took the lead courtesy of goals from Drogba, Alex and Lampard. In a match that had started to become more reminiscent of a basketball clash, Lucas Leiva and Dirk Kuyt then scored in quick succession to put Liverpool 4-3 in front, before Lampard rounded off the scoring, sealing a 7-5 aggregate win for Chelsea in the process.

Chelsea 0-1 Liverpool, February 2011

Just a week earlier Chelsea had parted with £50 million to land the services of Torres from Liverpool. However, it would be no dream debut for the Spaniard, who was replaced by Salomon Kalou in the 66th minute following a lacklustre display. Just three minutes later, Liverpool midfielder Raul Meireles pounced on a mix-up between Petr Cech and Branislav Ivanovic to score the only goal of the game.

liam_avatarLIAM APICELLA (liamapicella88) has worked for a number of publications on a freelance basis, including Footy Matters, Football Italiano and the Ibiza Paper. He is currently the features editor and reporter for Sports Mole.