Liverpool vs. Chelsea
Venue: Anfield Stadium
Kick off: 4:30PM
Liverpool face the toughest of their remaining Premier League title tests this afternoon as they take on third-placed Chelsea at Anfield.
The Reds have won four matches in a row to reclaim top spot, albeit having played a game more than Manchester City, but they have a poor record against this weekend’s opponents.
This is a fixture that has now become synonymous with Steven Gerrard’s slip almost exactly five years ago, which gifted Demba Ba a goal as Chelsea ran out 2-0 winners at Anfield.
That was the last time the Reds were involved in a title challenge at the business end of the season, with their campaign ultimately ending in heartbreak as they finished two points behind Man City.
Will history repeat itself this time around?
Liverpool certainly look to be made of sterner stuff now, and should they overcome Chelsea then they will have already surpassed their tally from the whole of 2013-14.
That says an awful lot about the quality at the top of the division this term, with Liverpool and City battling it out on a weekly basis to reclaim control at the top.
With a month of the season to go, the defending champions’ fate is in their own hands – just.
Jurgen Klopp’s men are certainly not making it easy for their title rivals, though, having collected 12 points from 12 since their little wobble between the end of January and the start of March when drawing four out of six matches.
That gave Man City the chance to usurp them, but the Reds have the more favourable run-in to see out the season, even accounting for this visit of Chelsea.
After facing the Blues at Anfield, Klopp’s side have trips to lowly Cardiff City and Newcastle United, while also hosting Huddersfield Town and Wolverhampton Wanderers. City, meanwhile, have Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United still to come.
Having turned Anfield back into a fortress, going 37 Premier League games since last tasting defeat there, Liverpool will be after three points against Chelsea and nothing less.
If nothing else, this match will also present Liverpool with a chance to banish those disappointing memories from this corresponding fixture in 2014.
Achieve that and many may well reconsider their prediction for which side will finish top in the most exciting title race in years.
As for Chelsea, there have perhaps been one or two signs in recent matches of ‘Sarri-Ball’ coming into effect. Maurizio Sarri has still yet to win over supporters, but four wins on the bounce have at least silenced the doubters.
It was in the second half in last month’s away meeting with Cardiff City when Sarri’s future looked most in doubt. Trailing 1-0 to a Victor Camarasa strike, Chelsea’s travelling supporters made it known in no uncertain terms that they wanted the Italian out.
A controversial Cesar Azpilicueta equaliser in South Wales, followed up by a last-gasp winner from Cesar Azpilicueta, may just prove to be the turning point for Sarri as his side now have momentum on their side.
After beating Cardiff, the Blues picked up a routine 3-0 home win against Brighton & Hove Albion, earned an Eden Hazard-inspired 2-0 victory against West Ham United and ground out a 1-0 win away to Slavia Prague.
Thursday’s victory in the Czech capital leaves Chelsea with one foot in the Europa League semi-finals, but the margin of victory was not big enough for Sarri to be able to again omit star names from his starting lineup for next Thursday’s return match.
That could impact the lineup fielded at Anfield, with the under-fire boss having to balance two competitions at the business end of the season.
Liverpool possible XI: Alisson, Alexander-Arnold, Lovren, Van Dijk, Robertson, Henderson, Fabinho, Keita, Salah, Firmino, Mane.
Chelsea possible XI: Kepa, Azpilicueta, Rudiger, Luiz, Emerson, Kante, Jorginho, Loftus-Cheek, Hudson-Odoi, Higuain, Hazard.