KICKOFF: 11am EST, 4pm BST
TV: FSC for Yanks, SKY Sports for Brits
PRAVDA: We Ain't Got No History
Finally, no more interrupted football for months. In fact, from here until the spring basically the Old Empire throws the football at you, with piled league fixtures (especially around the Holidays), a League Cup quarterfinal, the FA Cup starting, just wonderful. And finally Liverpool can seriously build on what team they're going to be. The All-Conquerers we've dreamed about but they've only hinted at sporadically or the just barely short, drunk sex version we've kind of seen the past few weeks. We're all rooting for the former. It'll make those cold winter morning trips to the pub for matches a little easier to take.
It starts with what used to be a pretty impenetrable fortress, but where Liverpool have found decent success recently, Stamford Bridge. In the league, Liverpool have won two of the last three meetings there, and drew in the one before that. Last year it was Raul Meireles finishing off the Blues from a gorgeous Steven Gerrard cross, two toys they won't have around this time for differing reasons. And just as likely, neither will start the match, as AVB usually opts for Lampard, Ramires, and Mikel in his midfield troika.
That doesn't mean the other defector won't play a part, because with Didier Drogba out the man in search of a "big club" always stars, and generally always provides at least one miss that makes comedy writers around the world weep, for it's a level of hilarity we simply cannot reach. However, that's doubled by the fear that one day he's going to get things right, and that day might just be against the team you support. I carry this fear into Sunday, but it's not as large as it used to be.
The Russian Fabrege Egg comes into this match with serious issues of their own. They're in 4th, but a mere three points ahead of Liverpool and Spurs, with Tottenham having a game in hand on the other two. It's widely known now, but Chelsea's defense is set to Benny Hill music at the moment. They kept a clean sheet at Blackburn last out, but needed the kind of intervention that makes Jules Winfield quit his job to get that against the lowly Rovers. Before that they hadn't kept one since September in all competitions (aside from a thrashing in Europe against something called Genk). That will happen when the only quality defender you have is your left-back who's only interested part of the time. John Terry is past the days when he was simply overrated, David Luiz's defending is as funny as his hair, and the choice at right back between Ivanovic or Bosingwa is in the category of "Sophie's". However, if Ivanovic starts, Liverpool should probably mark him at set pieces. Learning from the lessons of the past and all.
Because of this frailty, Liverpool should find as much pace and cunning as they can in attack. While Dalglish will assuredly pick Kuyt and Downing, simply because Kuyt can keep Cole's forward runs in check, I think a forward three of Downing-Suarez-Bellamy would cause the kind of counter-attacking nightmares that saw Chelsea crumble against Arsenal. They like to play so high up that you can get behind them, and that's the three to best take advantage.
Not to say that Chelsea don't provide some acid reflux moments of their own. Juan Mata is a true gem, and can beat you all on his own. Daniel Sturridge will man the other side of Liverpool's former #9 and Chelsea's current #hilarious, and when he's not bitching about not getting to play striker he's a handful too. Frank Lampard still can find two yard tap-ins or a defender to deflect a free kick off of, and if Cole and the other back can get forward enough they certainly provide enough threat to keep Liverpool occupied.
Which is one of the many reasons that Dalglish should stay with Skrtel and Agger, but probably won't. Chelsea aren't using the battering ram approach as much, which is basically what Jamie Carragher is built for. On top of that, Chelsea love to press as high as they can, which means the defenders can't panic with the ball. Carra under this duress would lead to a lot of aimless punts that take days of our lives, and Chelsa with a huge bulk of possession will eventually make it count. They've only failed to score twice in the league.
Thankfully, Liverpool usually save their best performances against teams they need them the most against. Let's hope Sunday is another one of those.
I'll have a gamethread up here 30 min before kickoff, and I'll be tweeting during the game.