The statistics this season would suggest that this one is a bit one-sided. Cesc Fàbregas has nine assists (and one goal) in 10 games to Steven Gerrard’s one (and two goals). The Spaniard averages 3.3 key passes per game to the Englishman’s 1.5; he also gets in more shots, puts in more crosses and finds more through balls. Alongside all of that, he is putting in a defensive shift, making more tackles per game and more interceptions. One suspects that the Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers will be aware of that, and he could react in one of a few ways. He could drop Lucas Leiva into the midfield battle in an effort to stifle Fàbregas, although with Eden Hazard, Oscar and Willian also buzzing around, the Brazilian would need some support; alternatively, Rodgers could potentially set Gerrard directly up against the Spaniard and hope that his talisman can find a way to bully his younger rival. Whether this proves to be a personal face-off or a statistical shoot-out, though, Rodgers will need his captain to raise his game in both defence and attack; otherwise there is a real risk of the Reds simply being taken apart.
Diego Costa is a busted flush. After a whirlwind start to his Chelsea career, he has two goals in his last seven appearances, a period during which his performances have tapered off and his influence has waned. An extreme view? Undoubtedly; but through fitness or form, there was never much doubt that, for Costa, there would at some point be a drop-off from the dizzying heights of seven goals in four at the beginning of the season. Meanwhile, as touched on elsewhere in these pages, one unexpected bonus for Liverpool from their midweek trip to Real Madrid was the form shown by Kolo Touré. With Mamadou Sakho likely to miss this game through injury, and Touré having played all of one minute in the league so far this season, there would have been a thought that Dejan Lovren and Martin Skrtel, shaky performances notwithstanding, would simply resume their centre back partnership this weekend. That may of course still happen, but Touré has given them food for thought. With Costa’s returns having dropped off and Liverpool’s defence having been given a timely reminder of the competition for places, this battle might not yet be as much of a foregone conclusion as Reds fans may fear.
If there has been one definite plus point in Liverpool’s season so far, it has been in the continued good form of the one man still standing from last year’s attacking triumvirate, Raheem Sterling. Admittedly, he has suffered a little, in company with his team, over the last few games, but he has contributed both goals and assists; he is the third most fouled player in the league after Eden Hazard and Jack Wilshere as well as the fourth most successful dribbler (behind Hazard again, Victor Moses and Alexis Sánchez). He will, however, come up against perhaps the league’s stand-out full back, Branislav Ivanovic, or if he toddles over to the other side of the pitch, a man who has been not too far behind, César Azpilicueta. The Serbian has been outstanding, putting in over two and a half tackles per game while allowing himself to be dribbled past less than once every two matches. His Spanish counterpart has been scarcely less effective – at least until his wild challenge and red card against Crystal Palace – and he should slot back into the side following his return from suspension. Both full backs will face a test against the roaming Sterling, though (a man who, according to www.whoscored.com, has featured in no fewer than six different positions this season), and the outcome of their battles could go a long way to deciding the result of this match.
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