Match Preview: Liverpool v. Chelsea, 04.21.13

Alex Livesey

Liverpool welcome Rafa Benitez back to Anfield tomorrow, this time as manager of a Chelsea squad looking to distance themselves further from fourth-place Arsenal.

There's only one Brendan Rodgers, and he'll be in charge of Liverpool at Anfield tomorrow, but there's most certainly two managers that'll receive vociferous praise from the home supporters, and it's not exactly certain if the man who'll get most of it will be the current manager. Rafa Benitez will command a reaction from both the home and away supporters, leaving us with a bizarre set of circumstances in which a club's manager will be welcomed more warmly by the opposition than his own.

It's more awkward for Rodgers than it is for Benitez, who makes no secret of his lasting affection for Liverpool, though that doesn't mean that there won't be any fondness guided Rodgers' way. Plenty will be glossy-eyed, entranced by the fantasy of what Rafa could be doing for Liverpool and hopeful that said fantasy will be realized sooner rather than later/never, but hopefully there's some love reserved for the current boss as well, who'll have the opportunity to now be cast directly against a man who won a European Championship in his first season.

Luckily there's also a football match to be played, and one that could have a decent amount to say in the fight for the European places. Liverpool's fate is more or less disappointingly settled, but Chelsea have a chance to cement themselves into a Champions League spot with a win. They've got a game in hand over Arsenal and are already a point ahead, and with Spurs set to face City, Chelsea very well could end the weekend six ahead of Tottenham and still up on Arsenal and still with a game in hand.

Rafa's squad will be boosted by the possible returns of Ashley Cole and Gary Cahill, as Oriol Romeu is the only confirmed absence. It'll be a familiar Chelsea eleven whether or not Cole and Cahill are available; Petr Cech will start in goal with Branislav Ivanovic, John Terry, David Luiz, Ryan Bertrand, Cole, and Cahill vying for starts across the back four. The midfield will contain some constellation of John Mikel Obi, Frank Lampard, and Ramires deeper, with Oscar, Eden Hazard, Juan Mata, and Victor Moses to choose from in a more advanced position and one of Demba Ba or Fernando Torres up top. Rafa has made it clear that only one makes the eleven at a time, and with Torres playing all 90 minutes at Fulham on Wednesday and Ba only getting just over nine, it looks like the former Newcastle man will lead Chelsea in attack.

For Liverpool:

Reina
Johnson Carragher Agger Enrique
Gerrard Lucas
Downing Suarez Coutinho
Sturridge

No new fitness concerns for Liverpool, with Martin Kelly and Fabio Borini continuing to work their way back from long-term issues, Joe Allen ruled out for the season, and each Raheem Sterling still taking a spell to recover from a thigh injury.

I think the defense remains fairly stable from now until season's end, barring any sort of injuries or a decision on Brendan Rodgers' part to completely shut someone down. The most likely candidate for the latter (and maybe the former, unfortunately) would be Glen Johnson, who's not getting any better through the home stretch. Rodgers is hesitant to include anyone that's second-string at this point, though, and it doesn't look as though Andre Wisdom will displace Johnson, just as it's doubtful that either of Martin Skrtel or Sebastian Coates make their way into the eleven.

Same goes for the midfield yet again, where Steven Gerrard and Lucas will be mainstays through the middle of May. I don't that it'd be too terribly shocking if Lucas was spelled for a match or two; it's not coming tomorrow, but after an up-and-down return from injury, it's hard to say if he either needs more recovery or simply more match time. Either way, he and Gerrard are the most likely duo.

The front four again hinges on Jordan Henderson or Stewart Downing, with Philippe Coutinho, Luis Suarez, and Daniel Sturridge--who's back on full fitness but not form--all fairly easy choices. Neither of Downing nor Henderson were overwhelming against Reading, and while the latter showed clear frustration at being taken off early in the second half last Saturday, it wasn't necessarily the most surprising move. If Henderson does start, the biggest question is how that affects Sturridge's role, whereas Downing fits comfortably on the right, with Coutinho left and Suarez and Sturridge through the middle.

Tomorrow's start time is 4:00PM GMT/11:00AM EST, and Sky Sports 1 will have it live in the UK with Fox Soccer Channel carrying coverage in the US. We'll have team sheets in the matchday thread around an hour before kickoff, and some version of an overnight thread will take us up to the opening whistle along with any other relevant news as well. Feel free to join us in what'll likely be one of the active matchday threads of the season or over on Twitter, where the self-loathing and misery will be positively tangible.

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