It may lack the feisty angst and pure hatred of yesteryear, but Liverpool vs Chelsea remains one of the Premier League’s heaviest hitting fixtures.
What’s more, it’s proved to be an incredibly even affair throughout the 25 years of the Premier League; 50 meetings have produced 19 wins and twelve draws apiece. After a disappointing draw with Sevilla in midweek though, Jurgen Klopp will have to find the right answers to these three questions to ensure a Reds win in Saturday’s 5.30pm kickoff.
After two years at the Anfield helm, Klopp has made it perfectly clear how he likes his team to play; 4-3-3 in the Barcelona mould with a defensive midfielder splitting the centre-backs and the full-backs pushing further forward.
When Klopp first arrived in the Premier League, practically every side shared a similar strategy, but the tactical landscape of the top flight has changed drastically since Antonio Conte introduced 3-4-3 at Chelsea during the opening chapters of last season.
The setup is almost a direct response to 4-3-3’s popularity and Liverpool’s results this season are incredibly telling of how effective it is; their heaviest defeats in the Premier League this term, 5-0 to Manchester City and 4-1 to Tottenham, both came against sides that used 3-4-3 or a slight variation.
That’s not to say 4-3-3 can’t work against the Premier League’s new vogue setup – Liverpool annihilated Arsenal at Anfield earlier this season – but it does suggest Klopp’s philosophy will leave them at a tactical disadvantage this weekend. Klopp seems unlikely to change the habit of a career for just one game, but clearly alterations are needed if Liverpool are to avoid another humiliation at the hands of a 3-4-3 side.
While the vast majority of Liverpool’s strongest starting XI is pretty much settled at this point of the season, the midfield remains easily the most contentious department.
Klopp certainly has a wealth of options to choose from, but moving Philippe Coutinho back into the engine room has affected the balance Jordan Henderson, Georginio Wijnaldum and Emre Can provided at the start of the campaign. On top of that, James Milner has been frustratingly waiting in the wings all season and Adam Lallana has just returned from a lengthy injury spell.
So the resulting question is who actually makes Liverpool’s strongest midfield, and what is the most suitable midfield to use against Chelsea on Saturday. They’ll have to match N’Golo Kante and Tiemoue Bakayoko for power and energy, while making an impact going forward.
It’s not the first time we’ve seen it from Liverpool, and it’s not even the first time we’ve seen it under Klopp.
Liverpool’s last outing was a draw with Sevilla in the Champions League that saw them throw away a three-goal lead gained in the first half. While Klopp will be reluctant to single out any individuals, perhaps excepting Alberto Moreno who was tellingly subbed off after conceding a foul and a penalty that both lead to goals, the Liverpool gaffer will feel some players must accept some responsibility for their roles in Sevilla’s shock turnaround.
That could result in a few important figures being dropped this weekend, despite the quality Chelsea have, and names like Wijnaldum and Dejan Lovren inevitably spring to mind. It may diminish the starting XI for for one of Liverpool’s toughest home fixtures of the season, but it may also stamp out the weak mentality some of the players appear to have.
Either way, it’s a big call on Klopp’s part.