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Match Preview: Liverpool v. Chelsea, 11.07.10

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Liverpool host the league leaders tomorrow night at Anfield.

And, as is typically the case, I have no earthly idea how things will unfold.

If recent history is any indication, we can expect goals---the days of everyone whining that "Liverpool playing Chelsea is the most boring match ever" have somewhat fallen by the wayside, and they've been replaced by memorable matches both domestically and in Europe. Last season was marked by two 2-0 wins to the Blues, and, as a result of Liverpool's failures in the Champions League, we were denied the European matchup between the two clubs that had taken place in five of the past six seasons.

The 2008-2009 season produced the most memorable matches between these two sides, with Liverpool taking the home and away fixtures in league and Chelsea winning the tie of the decade in the Champions League. It was ultimately a fruitless season for both clubs in league and Europe, but it did plenty to add to the allure of this fixture.

You can't deny that Chelsea are the club with the more impressive return across the past decade, excluding the Champions League, and they'll show up tomorrow as a side that seems a world away. Top of the table, plus 24 on goal differential, having conceded only three all year, and confidently putting together what looks like a march to another league title.

If there's any consolation for Liverpool, it's that Chelsea aren't exactly matching their form from the beginning of the season, which was absolutely horrifying for their opposition. Small consolation that a "dip" in their form means they only took 10 points out of possible 12 in the month of October, though. It is worth noting that their only loss of the season came away from home at City, as did their only draw at Villa. But they've won just as capably at times, and the gritty win at Ewood Park last weekend shows they can get the three points anywhere.

We don't need to completely rehash the talent they've got in their starting eleven, and Carlo Ancelotti was kind enough to share a good part of who'll comprise it---Cech in goal, Ivanovic, Terry, Alex, and Ashley Cole at the back, Zhirkov and Mikel in the midfield, and Anelka and Drogba up top. The remaining spots in midfield will be filled by, as Ancelotti put it, "Malouda or Kalou, Essien or Ramires." No Frank Lampard or Yossi Benayoun, but still plenty deep and plenty talented.

For Liverpool:

1. Who will start for Liverpool?
2. What’s the most important factor for the Reds?
3. Who’s going to win and what’s going to be the scoreline?

Aside from Arsenal to start the season and United at Old Trafford, probably the biggest fixture of the season, at least in name. Really interested to see how people see this one playing out, so please share your answers/thoughts in the comments.

1. Who will start for Liverpool?

Reina
Johnson Carragher Kyrgiakos Konchesky
Lucas Meireles
Kuyt Gerrard Maxi
Torres

---Add Glen Johnson to the squad that beat Bolton and Blackburn, and I think you're close to the only Liverpool squad possible.

---Dirk Kuyt is hopefully back just in time, as Joe Cole goes the other way with a hamstring injury. Maxi's been playing too well not to feature on the other side, and the Raul Meireles-Lucas pairing in central midfield is far and away Liverpool's best option. This front six is likely Liverpool's best at the current moment, even accounting for the fact that Kuyt will return slightly rusty. If the Dutchman isn't ready, it's possible to see Milan Jovanovic on the left and Maxi right---I'm not willing to entertain the idea of Meireles right and Lucas-P***sen centrally.

---It's getting harder and harder to type Jamie Carragher's name in the predicted eleven, but when I read things like "Carra Ready For Biggest Test" on the official site, it's a foregone conclusion. I don't think he's better than Sotirios Kyrgiakos and Martin Skrtel right now, but I do think the sentimentality outweighs the pragmatics. Who he'll partner is a little more difficult---it's been a Greek love fest in recent weeks, so I'm going with him.

2. What’s the most important factor for the Reds?

Not getting blown out of the water early, middle, and late. There's far too much potential for this to happen if Roy Hodgson continues to beat the "wait, sit back, hoof" drum---Chelsea are capable of punishing this all night long. We haven't exactly heard any assertions that this won't be the case tomorrow from the manager: "I don't talk about gameplans - I talk about principles of play, shape of the team and about making certain that whatever team we play against, we're aware of their strengths."

What he thinks Liverpool's strengths are and what we think their strengths are might be quite different, unfortunately. Liverpool's defenders are quite adept at kicking the ball 60 yards, yes. But this assemblage of talent has also shown flashes of pass-and-move football through the midfield, spreading play and forcing the issue with a front six that, regardless of what the league table indicates, can be among the best in the league. Whether or not Hodgson utilizes that tomorrow is, for me, quite critical.

3. Who’s going to win and what’s going to be the scoreline?

If there's ever a test of relentlessly blind fanhood, this is it. I know Chelsea are strong, I know what they're capable of, and I know that Liverpool are relatively down. But I still think there's something in this for Liverpool, so I'll say 1-1. "Relentlessly blind fanhood" and predicting a 1-1 draw. I'm wild, I know.

This one's televised anywhere and everywhere---Sky Sports in the UK and Fox Soccer Channel in the US, in addition to plenty of other outlets worldwide. For those without, though, we'll have streams and links an hour before the match kicks off. I'm flirting with the idea of some sort of live-blogging update thing, but it'll likely just be the comments as usual.

Have a nice Saturday, everyone.