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Match Preview: Liverpool v. Chelsea, 02.06.11

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Liverpool head to London to face Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

Before you get into this, there's the possibility that a Roundtable feature might go up on the main Offside page---last week they kicked it off with the Asian Cup final between Australia and Japan, and it's basically a way to connect the bloggers from the different sites in the build-up to matches of some consequence. Given that tomorrow is a match more than a handful of people have been talking about, they've been kicking around the idea of running one for us and the Chelsea Offside as long as we play nicely. Part peer mediation, part collective preview, it'll probably be worth a visit. Mostly just because you'd get to hear more from Noel and I, and that's what it's all about, right?

Anyway, company line and brotherhood and everything, do the going to the main page thing, and then leave a snarky comment or something.

So the match. Liverpool at Stamford Bridge hasn't been a fixture full of success for our boys, but it hasn't really been a fixture full of success for any Premier League side. Liverpool got some good fortune in snapping Chelsea's 86-match home winning streak in 2008, and that 1-0 win put them in elite company over the past few seasons---Sunderland heaped misery on the Blues by taking all three points in November of this season, Manchester City got a 4-2 win last season, and Arsenal followed Liverpool just weeks later in the 2008-2009 season with a 2-1 victory. Since the 2004-2005 season started, that's been it. Needless to say, a trip to Stamford Bridge is a massive challenge regardless of the context.

But, as we know, this one's steeped in context. The events of the past week have nearly tilted the English footballing world off its axis, and Liverpool and Chelsea were right at the heart of it. Liverpool supporters scrambled to make sense of learning that their biggest hero in recent times no longer deemed the club worthy of his services, and Chelsea supporters scrambled to erase years of calling said hero "ladyboy" and convincing themselves they've always valued his talents. Undoubtedly a forced effort on both sides, but it's made for a fascinating and, in some cases, volatile lead-in.

At its heart it's still a football match, even if it's got the potential to vaporize the shirt right off your back. For Chelsea, it comes at a time when the club is in need of turning things around after a difficult few months. Combined with the £71m dual captures of David Luiz and Fernando Torres, the win at the Stadium of Light seems to have started to provide a boost, and there's no doubt that they'll be looking to ride that positivity straight through tomorrow and into the rest of the season.

There's little need dissect the individual and collective talent in this Chelsea side---at times both are breathtaking, and those who saw the performance against Sunderland midweek are likely nodding in agreement regardless of how much you'd prefer not to. The Luiz signing steels a backline that's been shaky at times, mostly due to fitness, but still includes Jose Boswinga, Branislav Ivanovic, John Terry, and Ashley Cole. The midfield similarly needs no introduction, with a likely combination of Michael Essien, Frank Lampard, and Obi Jon Mikel in support of Nicolas Anelka, Didier Drogba, and Salomon Kalou. Anelka's been in the spotlight since the 4-2 win on Tuesday, and rightfully so. If he's able to duplicate his performance against Sunderland in a withdrawn role and Torres alongside Drogba, Chelsea have reason for optimism.

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?

1. Who will start for Liverpool?

Reina
Kelly Carragher Agger Johnson
Meireles Lucas Gerrard
Maxi Kuyt Suarez

---New signing Andy Carroll will continue an indefinite spell on the injury list with a thigh injury, as will Jay Spearing with a fracture in his foot. Christian Poulsen found the act of tying his boots too taxing prior to the match against Stoke City and is listed as a doubt, and Joe Cole continues to struggle to find full fitness for any length of time.

---The tactical adjustment for the Stoke match was considered both a resounding success and a temporary fix---catered perfectly for the opposition, but not necessarily anything that's going to define the squad. I'm guessing we see a more traditional approach from Dalglish here, which means back to the fluid 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 approach seen prior to Wednesday.

---Jamie Carragher didn't feature on Wednesday, so I think his return is coming tomorrow. Like we talked about, debatable whether or not he should walk back into the first team given his struggles earlier in the season. But I still think when fit he's going to start, and tomorrow that'll come as part of a back four with Martin Kelly, Daniel Agger, and Glen Johnson filling it out.

---For me the front six basically picks itself with the exception of Luis Suarez, and that's a doubt only because his match fitness might be in question. We can expect Lucas to do most of the steadying, Raul Meireles and Steven Gerrard to push forward, and Dirk Kuyt to lead the line alongside Maxi and, hopefully, Suarez.

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

Revenge. Bloodlust. Showing Fernando Torres what he's missing. Storming the castle. Living every day like it's your last. Making a statement. Something blandly hyperbolic.

If any of these things are the most important for you, sorry you recently lost your job at Sky Sports, you sexist bastard. Look, we all know there's something special about tomorrow's match, and it's foolish to pretend otherwise. You couldn't script this one any better (or worse). But continuing to hype this one into the stratosphere does nothing for either side, especially Liverpool. As I mentioned above, points at the Bridge are hard enough to come by, and Liverpool will have to play within themselves to get a result. We're going to see plenty of the fire and passion, but I think that's got to be stabilized if Liverpool come away with anything.

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

It's been proven that I am both wildly inaccurate and shamelessly homerific when it comes to predictions, and I don't know how to be different. But I guess tomorrow is about as good a test as Liverpool are going to get, and I think they come away with a 1-1 draw.

You'll be hard-pressed not to catch this one live. It's the featured match on Sky Sports 1 in the UK, and Fox Soccer Channel is spending some big-time promo bucks in the States to celebrate its enormity---a whole hour-long build-up extravaganza! Heady stuff, I know, but after missing the first twenty seconds of Wednesday's match learning how to cure my back zits, this is actually quite the event. If you don't get cable or are stuck at work, we'll have the typical build-up matchday thread with links to streams and the news of the day.

Enjoy the rest of your Saturday ahead of what's surely to be an emotionally-charged day tomorrow.