An under-pressure Chelsea side, fresh from crashing out of the League Cup last night against Stoke City, will entertain Liverpool at Stamford Bridge this Saturday. A clash of styles between Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho and Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp has already set the pulses racing, but will the Blues be able to hold off Klopp’s Reds?
Klopp at Liverpool has been through a set of three draws in his opening three games as the Reds manager. There have been patterns emerging in Liverpool’s play with designs of Klopp’s methodology evident in patches, but the larger picture tells that Liverpool under Klopp are still some way off to being the finished article.
The Reds’ head of first team development, Pepijn Lijnders, echoed similar thoughts about Klopp’s ideas taking shape at the club. Counter-pressing has been the buzzword ever since Klopp arrived in Merseyside, and Lijnders stressed upon two further aspects of Liverpool’s play apart from counter-pressing: attacking balance and winning second balls.
While Liverpool aren’t flying judging by their recent form, Chelsea on Saturday could be good opponents for Klopp to face, albeit the game being at Stamford Bridge. The Reds have been trying to hit upon a common blueprint and the Chelsea game will be a good barometer to measure their progress.
In Klopp’s three games in charge, Liverpool have alternated between two and three players at the base of midfield. Given how Chelsea’s attacking orientations drift towards their left flank, Liverpool’s propensity to use James Milner on the wide right could have implications on Chelsea’s attacking approach.
Milner will be expected to juggle defensive and attacking responsibilities well, and his tendency to indent into central areas as well as staying wide could be important for Liverpool. With a two-man midfield base, Klopp has the assurance of Milner on the right which could mean added protection for Nathaniel Clyne against Hazard on that side.
Gone are the days of Brendan Rodgers fielding a narrow midfield and forwards occupying wider roles. With Milner’s work-rate guaranteed, Chelsea’s lopsided attacking patterns could be in for a tough time. While Milner provides a solution to stop the Blues, there is a chance of a far more interesting attacking threat emerging for the Reds down the other flank.
Chelsea’s severe dependence on Branislav Ivanovic has left them somewhat vulnerable down their right hand side with the Serb currently injured and not expected to be fit in time for the weekend clash. This could mean one of the two possibilities for Mourinho: playing Kurt Zouma as the stopgap right-back or shifting Cesar Azpilicueta to the right side with Abdul Baba Rahman taking his place on the left side.
Both ways though, Chelsea look exposed. With both Zouma and Baba Rahman hardly inspiring names to be relied upon in a big game, Liverpool’s high-pressing game could thrive if applied consistently to either Zouma or Baba Rahman. In Zouma’s case, Chelsea’s entire attacking dynamics change if the Frenchman is heavily pressured, while in the Ghanaian’s case, it has the potential to take out Chelsea’s favoured left side out of the game.
The biggest problem for Klopp against Chelsea will be the absence of a finisher. Christian Benteke, who scored against Southampton last time out, will probably miss out while Daniel Sturridge’s knee condition is far from ideal. Which could mean another start in a big game for the young Divock Origi, after his starts against Tottenham and Southampton.
The potential for Klopp to kiss goodbye to Mourinho from the Premier League is evident, but whether the Reds can inflict a damaging result on the Portuguese hinges ultimately on them finishing off openings. Without the first-choice strikers, chances are that Klopp will once again have to be content with a draw, or perhaps a loss should the Chelsea of old resurface, which, at this time, looks far-fetched.