It seems like Liverpool have a tough match every time we turn around. Or maybe that's just because they biffed most of the breathers they got in the fixture list so far with draws to Stoke and Sunderland and an unimpressive win over Reading. Still, just over this hill in December there does appear to be something of a give to the schedule.
But oh, this hill. While Liverpool have actually had huge success against Chelsea in recent years, it never feels like that does it? Partly because the one loss in recent years was at Wembley, partly because of the success one club has had and the other hasn't, and partly because it always feels like Chelsea carry such huge threat.
And now they carry more attacking threat than probably ever. Quite simply, Mata-Oscar-Hazard makes opposing fans wake up in cold sweats. While I'll never feel anything other than pure bile for the club, I have to admit that watching these three combine and simply tear teams apart has been a joy. And one day, someone blocking an Oscar shot is going to have his ribs driven right out of his chest. He's so small, where does that power come from?
How to deal with this? Joe Allen is going to need help. If his two fellow midfielders go sneaking up the pitch, Liverpool will get overrun. Gerrard is probably the one tasked with teaming up with Allen, and he's capable of it. We've seen it with England, we've seen it in various matches this year for Liverpool. We've also seen the opposite, where Gerrard is everywhere he shouldn't be. If I were to guess we'll see the disciplined Gerrard, especially away from home. This will leave Sahin as the one who has to generate the attack and join it. He's been hustled out of the big domestic matches at every chance, and if that happens again Liverpool are going to be kind of toothless (or more so) with a deeper-lying Gerrard.
Oh right, the guy wearing #9. While it's fun to make fun of his complete loss of finish, he still is effective and helps Chelsea. He makes the right runs, you still have to account for him, he still opens up space for the unholy troika behind him. He may biff all the chances he gets that they provide him, but he can't be ignored.
However, on the flip side, you can get at Chelsea. The way to beat them is also the way to get destroyed by them. Put these defenders under pressure, cracks and openings will explode open. John Terry returns after suspension, and he's suspect even when he's not rusty. You know Luiz can get goofy and Cahill has yet to convince anyone yet. Mikel looks like he should be a fabulous defensive midfielder, but he isn't. Ramires is but can get too involved in the attack at times. Sterling can really give Ivanovic problems with pace, and Bertrand in a young player finding his way. You can't be afraid to leave counters open to attack them, because there are goals to be found if you do. Suarez has torn Chelsea apart before, you really fancy him doing it again.
It's basically a question of can you hold them out enough. Strangely, only QPR has. United needed them to go down to nine men to get by. Shakthar did it by keeping them pinned in. If you can keep their fullbacks in their own end, and force the three to do it all alone, you stand a better chance. But Oscar and Mata and Hazard getting chances to isolate themselves against Johnson and Enrique out wide at times? Here comes that vomit again...
This is also your thread after kickoff. Let's do this thing.