Liverpool vs Chelsea. Is any game more loaded with significance for title challenges? Five years ago, Steven Gerrard fell over after receiving a pass, allowing Demba Ba to give the Blues the lead at Anfield. It was ‘the slip that shook the world’, or at least it was based on the amount of fans of other clubs who still go on about it.
Half a decade on, and the Reds are in a far better place than they were then, whether they win the league this year or not. A victory here and they’ll reach 85 points, which is one more than they finished 2013/14 with, despite having four games left to play. But winning won’t be easy, as they’ll be taking on arguably their arch nemesis. No, not Demba Ba.
Chelsea may have a poor record on the road this season – having lost all five away games they’ve played against teams who are in the top nine in the table going into the weekend – but they have a good record at Anfield, and a man who seems to come alive when he’s up against the Reds.
Eden Hazard has faced Liverpool 17 times across his career. Across those matches, the Belgian has scored seven goals and assisted two more. In only one of his last five visits to Anfield has he failed to directly contribute to a goal. Perhaps most worryingly for Kopites, he has lost just three of the 17 matches too, and one of those was with Lille in the Europa League when he’d just turned 19.
Hazard also always seems to find form in the run up to taking on Liverpool too. Across the last six league matches, he has been the top performing player from either team in the opinion of our algorithm.
However, it’s interesting to note that the crown prince of Sarriball, Jorginho, has actually been Chelsea’s best player on the road across the whole campaign.
The fact the Italian international has scored both of his league goals away from Stamford Bridge plays a part here, as does the fact Chelsea have unusually had a higher possession average away from home (though the game state in chasing matches will have obviously influenced that). However, I doubt many Chelsea fans would agree with our system’s conclusion.
It has seemed all too easy for opponents to nullify Jorginho’s influence by putting a man on him. It’s probably safe to assume that Jürgen Klopp will opt to do likewise, but who will it be?
After his performances in the last two matches, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Jordan Henderson retain his advanced position and be tasked with the role. While more known for his industry (and his ability to violently divide fan opinion), against Porto on Tuesday the Reds’ skipper topped the rankings for both completed final third passes and chances created.
Surprising, no? Well that depends on your point of view. If you think that Henderson is only capable of playing it short, safe and sideways, then this might have a shot of convincing you otherwise. Though as views on the captain are more firmly entrenched than the foundations of your house, I doubt it.
Those with longer memories – those which cover a whopping five years – will recall that Henderson was a different player in Liverpool’s last title challenge than he is now.
According to Transfermarkt, the former Sunderland man played just four games in defensive midfield that season. With Steven Gerrard occupying that space more often than not, Henderson was utilised elsewhere within Brendan Rodgers’ midfield.
Were it not for a red card suspension, Liverpool’s #14 would’ve almost certainly have played every league match that season. And so the story may come full circle here, as Henderson couldn’t play in the Chelsea home game five years ago. The Reds missed him that day, but the visitors may not be so fortunate this time around.