PreviewIdent

IT’S something of a shame that we had to dilute the anticipation of this titanic contest by prefacing it with that midweek rumble in the League Cup.

Wednesday night’s was a decent game, even if we were ultimately left utterly frustrated by it. It would have been nice to look forward to Saturday with a free mind but there will be aspects of the last encounter that will keep Jürgen Klopp up for a bit.

Mauricio Sarri’s team made a very fast start at Anfield. The plan was clearly to out-Klopp, Klopp. Teams know that his Liverpool look to win matches in a hurry. Some prepare for Liverpool by setting out to ensure they have a very solid and robust first 20 minutes. Others come to fight fire with fire. Either way, few succeed, because Liverpool are presently very, very good.

Chelsea, though, are no slouches. Their opening salvo at Anfield will be viewed as a forewarning by the Liverpool manager. He will change between five and seven of his back eight, and feel better equipped to withstand Chelsea’s ambitions than his partly makeshift lineup was able to do on Wednesday.

Klopp will perhaps view his side’s recent showing against Tottenham at Wembley as being more instructive as to the challenge to be faced. A fresh and firing Liverpool were smartly out of the blocks that day, but the opening phase of the game was characterised by the way in which two hard working, quick running and thinking teams cancelled each other out.

We should expect to see something similar at Stamford Bridge this weekend. Sarri clearly respects and fears Liverpool. He recently claimed that his Chelsea outfit were “a year behind” Liverpool. He paid us further compliment in the week by having his men so clearly up for the challenge. He’s made a fine start in management in England and he knows that Klopp’s Liverpool could well represent a scalp that provides something of a platform from which he can build a highly fruitful debut season.

The Reds equally need no additional motivation. Beat Chelsea and we will be over the moon. Beat Chelsea and then Manchester City and we will be top of the world. To be top of the world, though, we must first beat these Blues. One doesn’t really work without the other. These games are so very much those metaphorical “cup finals” that managers harp on about. It would be a brave man to state that Liverpool are “two games from greatness”, but it sure as hell feels that way.

For now, blinkers on. We can only beat one of these behemoths of the Premier League at a time.

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Chelsea are probably too good to be blown away by a Liverpool whirlwind. Big teams have been, but this Chelsea are a touch too street smart to allow themselves to walk headlong into a tornado. They haven’t won two leagues in the past four seasons by being anyone’s mugs. Liverpool will need to beat Chelsea more by attrition than by attempting to mow them down. That may suit this season’s Liverpool more than it might’ve done their recent forebears. The all new and improved Reds have shown signs already this campaign of being able to fight fire with granite. At times we’ve been more Chelsea than Chelsea.

Sarri made eight changes in the week and his weekend lineup should reverse that selection. They’ve got loads of good players in their setup, insane how they haven’t been fancied by pundits yet this season, but their threat, their talisman, is Eden fucking Hazard. He should’ve pissed off to Real Madrid in the summer and made things simpler for all of us, instead he stayed, knuckled down, and has reemerged better than ever. And the little shit clearly hates Liverpool. He never plays badly against us.

The only antidote to Eden’s poison is for our collective strength to prevail. Expect Klopp to put the Jordan Henderson, Gini Wijnaldum, James Milner axis back together. Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson will also drop back in, and normal service from the flanks should be resumed.

We will all be holding vigils for Virgil van Dijk right up until Saturday evening. His rib injury will hopefully have healed sufficiently for him to again lead us from the back. Our fate may well be in the hands of some ribs.

Mo Salah showed signs in the 3-0 trouncing of Southampton that he was en route back to his very best. If he finds his mojo then they can stick their Hazard up their arses.

I’m hopeful. I’m always hopeful, but I think the notice Chelsea served us on Wednesday night will stand us in better stead.

Predicted 11: Alisson; Trent, Gomez, van Dijk, Robertson; Henderson, Wijnaldum, Milner; Salah, Firmino, Mane

Kick off: 5.30pm, Saturday

Referee: Andre Marriner

Odds: Chelsea 7-4, Draw 49-20, Liverpool 29-20

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