Five key battles that will decide Liverpool vs Chelsea

In the pick of the weekend’s Premier League action, Liverpool play hosts to league leaders Chelsea.

The Anfield fixture was one of last season’s most memorable – famed for the Blues’ bus-parking antics and Steven Gerrard, literally and metaphorically, letting the English title slip out of Liverpool’s reach.

The situation is rather different this season; Brendan Rodgers’ boys are currently in seventh place, three points off a Champions League spot, with just one win in their last five matches across all competitions, whilst the west Londoners are four points clear – twelve ahead of Liverpool – at the top of the table.

A stellar Premier League clash however, with a heated rivalry and plenty of sub-plots, anything could happen in Saturday’s lunch-time kick-off.

Indeed, closely contested matches such as this one are often decided by who dominates the individual battles, so here’s FIVE that could decide Liverpool vs Chelsea.

[ffc-gallery]CLICK ON JOSE MOURINHO TO REVEAL WHERE THIS GAME WILL BE WON AND LOST

Mourinho[/ffc-gallery]

MARTIN SKRTEL VS DIEGO COSTA

Diego COsta 5
It remains to be seen whether any of Brendan Rodgers’ surprise defensive inclusions against Real Madrid in midweek have impressed enough to retain a place in the starting XI to face Chelsea.

Dejan Lovren was left out in favour of Kolo Toure, whilst Javier Manquillo replaced Glen Johnson at right-back.

But Martin Skrtel, who skippered the Reds at the Bernabeu, looks a dead-cert to start – at this point, he’s virtually the only Liverpool centre-back Rodgers maintains his full trust in.

The 29 year-old’s form has been rather mixed this season, much like Liverpool’s:

skrtel form

But his thuggish style of defending and brutish 6 foot 3 frame will be required to match the physicality of Chelsea target man Diego Costa.

In sharp contrast, the Spain international has set the Premier League ablaze since joining the Stamford Bridge ranks in the summer, with him currently second in the goal-scoring charts:

Costa goals

The 6 foot 2 striker’s struggled to rekindle that magic since his recent spell on the sidelines with a hamstring injury – whilst also coming down with a hospitalising stomach virus – having not found the net since the start of October.

Those point-blank chances inside the box haven’t quite fallen for the 26 year-old and his shooting against Maribor in midweek was wayward to say the least.

But Costa will be determined to make up for lost time against Liverpool on Saturday – and his last Premier League goal was this absolute stunner against Arsenal:

He’s by no means Chelsea’s only goal threat, but if Skrtel can remain combative against Costa for the whole 90 minutes, the visitors will be forced into a less direct style of play.

CESC FABREGAS VS STEVEN GERRARD

Fabregas These two know each other well, from the many Premier League battles between Arsenal and Liverpool over the last decade.

Whereas Diego Costa and Martin Skrtel is very much a direct confrontation, Steven Gerrard and Cesc Fabregas won’t be going toe-to-toe for the full ninety minutes.

But both midfielders are their respective side’s pace-setters and most consistent creators. Indeed, no Chelsea player has come close to Fabregas’ average passes or his 3.1 key passes in the Premier League this season:

fabregas avg pass

Whilst Steven Gerrard’s average passes is bettered by only centre-back Dejan Lovren, and his key passes by Raheem Sterling:

Gerrard avg passes

The Spain international is undoubtedly the more in-form threat at the minute. His nine assists, in addition to his 31 chances created, are the most of any player in the top flight:

After a shock benching at the Bernabeu however, Liverpool’s veteran skipper will be keen to reassert his authority. Let’s not forget how clinical he can be from dead ball situations too – Gerrard netted two direct free-kicks last season and has already grabbed his first of the current campaign:

It will be up to others to nullify Gerrard and Fabregas, but the result could eventually pin on who creates the most chances – and retains the ball better – for their respective sides.

NEMANJA MATIC VS RAHEEM STERLING

Sterling
In the absence of Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez, Raheem Sterling has been Liverpool’s go-to man this season, especially in the Premier League:

sterling form

Brendan Rodgers has a number of options when utilising the England international, who has proved himself to be an exceptionally versatile yet consistently efficient attacker over the last 18 months.

He’s most likely to feature at No.10 however, which has been his most effective position this season:

Sterling positions

And even if he were to start the Chelsea clash out wide, the 19 year-old will continually look to drift into more central, threatening positions.

Thus, the task of stopping him will predominantly fall to Chelsea’s defensive midfield monolith Nemanja Matic.

The 6 foot 4 Serbian is quickly proving himself to be one of the best in the business; his physicality and defensive qualities, particularly tackling ability:

Matic tackles

…combined with an impeccable calmness in possession, is unmatched in the English top flight. Matic’s featured in every minute of Chelsea’s Premier League campaign thus far, which shows how important he’s become for the league leaders.

He’ll enter the Liverpool fixture high in confidence to, having netted against Maribor in midweek:

GARY CAHILL AND JOHN TERRY VS LIVERPOOL’S STRIKERS

Terry I refuse to speculate who Brendan Rodgers will elect to lead Liverpool’s line against Chelsea on Saturday.

Daniel Sturridge will be unavailable to face his former club, as the striker’s injury problems continue, leaving the Anfield gaffer with the rather unenviable choice of Fabio Borini, Mario Balotelli or Rickie Lambert:

There are some interesting sub-plots however; Borini spent four years as a youngster at Chelsea and will be keen to impress against his former club, whilst Balotelli’s prior history with Jose Mourinho is well known and the striker could be in the mood to get one over his ex-employer.

The £16million signing’s form has been infamously poor so far this season, but let’s not forget what he’s capable of:

Whoever Rodgers chooses however, Gary Cahill and John Terry constitute some intimidating opposition.

These two have been regular partners for the last two seasons and few dispute that when it comes to the nuts and bolts of the defensive trade, they’re the best in the Premier League. Like Nemanja Matic, they’ve featured in every minute of Chelsea’s league campaign thus far.

That being said, the Blues’ defensive record isn’t quite as impressive as one would assume. Their ten goals conceded is only bettered by Southampton with five, but it’s also matched by Manchester City and Swansea – hardly what you’d describe as resolute outfits.

At the same time, the Blues have only kept three clean sheets in the Premier League this season, so there will be opportunities for Liverpool’s front man – whoever it may be – to get on the score sheet.

BRANISLAV IVANOVIC VS ALBERTO MORENO

Alberto Moreno1
They say that in the modern game, tactically, full-back has become the most important position on the pitch.

Balancing between attack and defence has certainly decided major fixtures before – take last season for example, when Branislav Ivanovic’s goal secured Chelsea a 1-0 win over Manchester City at the Etihad:

Contribution going forward has become a more predominant feature of the Serbian international’s game this season – just take a look at his attacking statistics compared to the last few campaigns:

Ivanovic

Likewise, Liverpool left-back Alberto Moreno, arguably their best value-for-money acquisition of the summer, is famed for his marauding nature, best epitomised by this goal against Spurs back in August:

Both are very talented full-backs but will have to read the game exceptionally well on Saturday afternoon. In a fixture as closely contested as this one, it could well be one mistake or moment of brilliance from either defender that eventually decides the match.