The media might be having a field day billing this one as the Special One versus the Normal One in a match that could very well define the seasons of both sides, but for those of us who’ve been around the block enough times, we don’t need the hyperbole — as far as fixtures go, this one is always important, but it’s just another Saturday at Stamford Bridge.
Based on Chelsea’s poor recent run of form, it might be one that brings with it a bit less menace than in seasons past, but on their day and especially at home the Blues can beat anyone. There may be talk of Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho getting the sack if his Liverpool counterpart in Jurgen Klopp, who famously masterminded a rout of Spanish juggernauts Real Madrid during the Portuguese bosses time at the Santiago Bernabeau, can get one over on him, but that’s neither here nor there; there’s still a game to be played despite the various sub-plots swirling around it.
The main act is always the football and more often than not that’s all that matters. That being said, the football hasn’t been all that good for the Blues this season, has it? A midweek League Cup exit at the hands of Stoke City has only compounded the fallout from the disastrous result against West Ham United the preceding weekend. Things haven’t been right at Stamford Bridge since the campaign got underway; despite the wealth of talent in the squad, the boys in blue are looking a shadow of their normally impressive selves. If there was a good time to visit West London, this is it.
The Reds narrowly snuck past AFC Bournemouth midweek to seal a Quarter-Final meeting with Southampton in the League Cup, but progression aside, the real important part is that Klopp won’t be traveling to the capital still searching for his first win as Liverpool boss. The German, along with the travelling Kop, will be hoping to pile a bit more misery on their hosts, but in order to do so, they’re going to have to find the net — something that has been easier said than done this season.
While there were very big questions hanging over the fitness of Christian Benteke after the Belgian striker sat out the meeting with the Cherries after picking up a knee problem earlier in the week, both the player himself and his manager have passed him fit to play after the Belgian took part in training on Friday without incident. Just how fit he’ll be remains to be seen, but he’ll likely be a tad better off than his opposite number in Diego Costa who made a hasty exit just over a half-hour into the loss to the Potters after damaging his ribs. The psuedo-Spaniard, along with Barcelona transplant Pedro, who missed their last three-matches with a knock, will be given late fitness tests ahead of the early kick-off.
Liverpool rested a number of key players midweek which should see the likes of Philippe Coutinho, Adam Lallana and Mamadou Sakho return to the starting eleven all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. James Milner, who was forced out through suspension, will also be eligible for a place as will Chelsea midfielder Nemanja Matic after the two bookings he picked up at the Boleyn Ground ensured he’d be watching his teammates crash out of the Cup from the stands.
As much as I’d like to engage with my inner romantic and predict a victory for the visitors with blue blood raining from the skies and Scouse thunder shattering windows all over the poshest of posh London lofts, there’s a very large and very pragmatic part of me screaming that the romance is dead and the weatherman got things completely wrong — you may not need an umbrella after all.
With Chelsea massively off form and Liverpool doing their best to draw rather than win, there won’t be too many gasps of surprise should this one end on equal terms. Regardless of the result, it’d be very hard to draw any long lasting conclusions out of what will be Klopp’s first real test of his short reign as Liverpool boss; it’s too early and there’s too much work to be done to say anything definitive, but should the German end this one off by sprinting down the touchline to celebrate in front of the travelling Kop, there might be something a little more permanent to say about Mourinho…