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Liverpool VS Chelsea – Three [3] things to look for as Chelsea host fallen Liverpool’s

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Chelsea is facing a Liverpool side that hardly look like reigning champions. As soon as their home run streak was broken (far short of Chelsea’s, naturally), they fell apart. What should the Blues look for against these fallen champions?

1. How does Chelsea attack Liverpool’s “centerbacks”?

To say that Liverpool is dealing with some injuries would be like saying N’Golo Kante is a decent athlete; it doesn’t quite do the truth justice. The biggest issue for Jurgen Klopp’s side is that those injured players are almost exclusively centerbacks or other players who were forced to play the role when no one else could. From Virgil Van Dijk to Jordan Henderson, almost every warm body Klopp has thrown out there has picked up some sort of knock, ranging from a pulled hamstring to a blown-out knee.

On Thursday, it will likely be Ozan Kabak as one of the central defenders, alongside possibly Fabinho if he’s fit, otherwise Nathaniel Phillips. None of those names will exactly strike fear in the hearts of Chelsea’s attacking core, even if Fabinho did do a good job of containing the threat of Timo Werner when these sides met back in September.

That being the case, Thomas Tuchel will need to fashion an attacking game plan that can bring the worst out of whoever Klopp does deploy at the back. When you have the combination of defenders who don’t know the position, that’s one thing. But when they don’t know each other particularly well, that’s an even greater advantage.

Chelsea won’t need to do anything particularly fancy to get Liverpool’s defenders tied in knots; decent positioning from a single striker should be plenty effective. After Olivier Giroud played a generally underwhelming 65 minutes against Manchester United on Sunday, while Tammy Abraham was left off the bench for reasons that aren’t entirely clear but smell like trouble. Either player would stand a good chance at getting some space to get a good look or two at Allison’s goal.

If neither are in Tuchel’s favor, however, we might see one of Timo Werner or Kai Havertz as the de facto number nine. If that’s the case, Liverpool’s centerbacks might actually be worse off as they try to deal with a more unconventional striker taking up spaces they may not have been drilled on in training. Again, that could give Chelsea the upper hand any time the ball makes its way down towards Liverpool’s end.

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Of course, it’s all up to Tuchel to put the right names on the team sheet and point them in the right directions. He certainly has the tools to work with, but it will be apparent pretty early one if he picked the right ones for the job.

2. Who will be Tuchel’s wild sub this time?

In almost every game since he took over, Tuchel has made at least one substitution that makes almost zero sense in the mind of the casual viewer. The Callum Hudson-Odoi subbing-the-sub fiasco was the Mona Lisa of the genre, but Tuchel has back that up with plenty of other head-scratchers. Against Manchester United, seeing a halftime sub that wasn’t for Hakim Ziyech raised a fair few eyebrows, although it did appear that Hudson-Odoi was nursing some sort of injury on the bench when the team came back out after the break.

This time around, it’s a complete guess as to who Tuchel might pull the rug out from under. If Hudson-Odoi is unable to start due to the knock he picked up on Sunday, that removes the easiest option. Smart money is probably on a striker, depending on who starts and who actually makes the bench. If you’re into narrative-stoking moves, the removal of someone like Tammy Abraham would be great content for a 5,000-word piece in the Athletic.

Depending on how the game is going by halftime, we could see either wingback replaced to better suit the moment. Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson are the two most important players to nullify in order to beat Liverpool, so Tuchel’s choice of wide defenders will be crucial, and could go a long way towards setting the tone of the match from the outset. The likeliest duo would be Marcos Alonso and Reece James, assuming Hudson-Odoi isn’t fit to start on the right. James seems like a good candidate to corral Robertson, but Alonso would likely be helpless against Alexander-Arnold. If things are spiraling out of control, replacing Alonso with one of Emerson or Ben Chilwell would be a strong move to make. You would just hope that Tuchel makes his decisions before things get entirely out of hand.

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All of that being said, the fun of Tuchel’s game management is in its inherent unpredictability and chaos. Believers will say its ingenious tactical maneuvering, while the more pessimistic members of the fanbase will simply accuse him of gross man-mismanagement. While neither side is ever entirely correct, one match-winning or losing move could certainly swing that debate firmly towards one end or the other.


3. How much respect is granted to Liverpool?

For a handful of reasons, this current iteration of Liverpool is anything but the buzzsaw we all came to know and decidedly not love over the last two seasons. They’ve been bad at home, bad away, and just haven’t looked brilliant even at the best of times this year. That said, a majority of the players who made up the freight train that ran through the league last season are still there, and a handful of them have kept up their performances this season as well. No matter how far they’ve fallen in recent weeks, there’s always the feeling that Klopp’s side is never more than two passes away from springing like a coiled cobra and striking before anyone has a chance to do anything.

Thomas Tuchel will approach this match with unusually fresh eyes. Unlike the Pep Guardiola’s and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s of the world, Tuchel hasn’t spent the past few years being roundly beat into submission by the juggernaut from Merseyside. In fact, Tuchel has spent the past few seasons not having any good reason to be afraid of anyone, given the monopoly PSG hold on Ligue 1. The closest Tuchel has ever come to being a massive underdog since he left Borussia Dortmund in 2017 was probably the Champions League final last season against an unfathomably excellent Bayern Munich side. Tuchel really doesn’t have any recent experience in needing to be particularly cautious of an opponent.

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That said, it’s not as though the football has been especially reckless or gung-ho under Tuchel. It’s certainly dominant, but it’s also highly controlled. In fact, you could probably argue that it’s a bit too controlled in some areas. It would certainly be encouraging to see Chelsea racking up some bigger goal tallies when they dominate possession so severely, but there’s no question that most matches under Tuchel have played out with Chelsea dictating the tone of the match.

Against Liverpool, Chelsea will want to assert that control over the pace and flow of the match, but Tuchel will also hopefully grant an extra degree of respect to Klopp’s side. In many ways, this mirrors the Champions League match against Atletico Madrid last week. It’s one of the world’s best teams who, although dramatically out of form at the moment, will play with a certain well-drilled philosophy that requires excellent tactics and execution to overcome. They simply aren’t a side that’s easy to beat, no matter the circumstances. Even with the injuries and poor form, they will not play like some mid-table schmuck of a side; Liverpool is still Liverpool, and they still have more than enough about them to send Chelsea back down to London licking their wounds.

Chelsea will need to show up with the exact same measured intensity that earned them the valuable win against Atletico. If the intensity is there but the control isn’t, Chelsea will just get hit repeatedly on the break until they learn a lesson. Conversely, if they control the match but are limp throughout, it will be a copy of the Manchester United and Southampton matches, except Liverpool will punish Chelsea far more ruthlessly for their impotence.

Playing to beat Liverpool is a bit of a highwire act, balancing aggression and caution, but Chelsea has the recent experience against a similar level of opponent and managed to combine those two facets perfectly. If they can strike that balance again, this could be a season-defining result. If they botch it horrifically, well, it could also be a season-defining result, just in a much darker way. Here’s to hoping what we saw against Atletico wasn’t just a fluke.

Can Chelsea’s club website once again push referees towards advantageous decisions?

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