This, as they say, is Anfield. It may not be the fortress it once was, but it comes with history and it comes with expectation. Speaking in his pre-match press conference before this weekend’s clash with Chelsea, Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers said: “When we play at Anfield, no matter the opponent, we have every confidence we can go on and get a result. This game,” he added, “can kick-start the season for us”. The Reds’ unconvincing start to the season has been well-publicised, but they have only suffered one home league defeat, and have only indeed lost three league games at Anfield since the beginning of last season – a statistic, granted, which loses some of its sheen when considering that one of those was the 0-2 reverse against Chelsea in April. The Blues’ away record, meanwhile, has of course been nigh on impeccable so far this season, but was patchier last term, with four draws and five defeats away from Stamford Bridge. They have also not kept a clean sheet in six league matches on the road (since their last trip to Anfield), and have looked far from impenetrable over that period.
It may have crossed your radar that Liverpool’s brave performance against Real Madrid in the Champions League in midweek came about on the back of seven changes to their starting line-up. Rodgers has been keen to protest since that those changes were tactical or enforced, rather than representing a raising of the white flag, but either way, it all seems to have played out relatively well for him. The team which he put out far from disgraced themselves, and could even have given Rodgers some selection problems which he would not have expected. Kolo Touré may or may not start, but he has at least given Dejan Lovren and Martin Skrtel the hurry-up; Lucas has reminded his manager that he could yet do a job on Cesc Fàbregas. Chelsea, meanwhile, played on Wednesday, in Slovenia, as compared to Liverpool’s Tuesday night trip, and also put out a stronger team, not to mention having to bring on Diego Costa and Oscar at half-time in an effort to give their performance more pep. With this game being played in Saturday’s early kick-off, the Blues will have had significantly less rest and less preparation time. Especially if Liverpool can look to push them back early, the hosts can take advantage of that.
Last season’s Anfield meeting between these teams is not easily forgotten. With seemingly unstoppable momentum carrying them towards what had started to appear an inevitable league title, Liverpool invited Chelsea to town and started, as they had done for 16 unbeaten games previously, on the front foot. They could not, however, find a way through a well-organised defence, and as half-time approached – you might recall this – Steven Gerrard mis-controlled a pass from Mamadou Sakho just inside his own half and then slipped as he tried to retrieve the ball. Demba Ba took advantage, galloping through to give the Blues a lead which they would not relinquish. Cue a relentlessly hilarious series of Vines lampooning Gerrard’s mistake, and a definitive collapse from the Reds against Crystal Palace the following week which effectively resolved the destination of the title. Rodgers, and Gerrard, will know that an opportunity like that may not come around again for some time; and they could continue to let that bring them down. One suspects, though, that both will see this weekend’s game as a watershed. It ended against Chelsea last year, they will say – let us start something this time round. For all the doom and gloom, a Liverpool win could yet see them back in the top four by the end of the weekend (or at least very close to it). They came from a long way back last year; they must believe that they can exorcise last season’s demons against the Blues and do it all over again.
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