Despite the promise of last Tuesday’s performance against Chelsea in the first leg of the League Cup semi-final, a 1-1 draw heading to Stamford Bridge means that it’s the Blues who have the advantage in the return. Away goals in the League Cup don’t count until after extra time, but that still means Liverpool will have to score to have a chance of advancing.
That, of course, would seem to play to Jose Mourinho’s strengths, and despite playing at home it’s likely the Chelsea manager sends his team out to defend first—to play cautiously and on the counter knowing that one lapse by Liverpool’s defence and a single resulting quality chance for his side would probably wrap things up. There’s little motivation for his side to attack Liverpool from the start.
Yet coming off a shock home defeat to Bradford City at home in the FA Cup on Saturday, there’s a danger in such a conservative, defensive approach for Chelsea. Fans will be nervous, expecting a convincing response, and if Chelsea don’t give that to them early the home crowd could become very quiet very quickly, helping to rob the hosts of the kind of home advantage that aided Liverpool last week.
One thing that won’t help Liverpool, no matter how Chelsea approach the match or the fans react following Saturday’s embarrassment, will be that Nemanja Matic, Branislav Ivanovic, and Diego Costa all sat out on the weekend with an eye to the second leg of the League Cup semi-final. If the visitors are to make it past Chelsea, they will do so against a far stronger side than the one Bradford upset.
After such a strong performance last week, it’s likely Rodgers would like to send out the same starting eleven, though with Steven Gerrard nursing a slight knock and rested over the weekend there’s a good chance Adam Lallana comes in for him to begin with. Beyond that, though, the expectation will be for the players who made Chelsea look second best last time around to be given the chance to do it again.
The question as last time, though, will be where the goals come from. Both Raheem Sterling and Adam Lallana are good finishers for attacking midfielders, but they aren’t clinical strikers, and over Liverpool’s improved run since the start of December it has been a lack of clinical finishing that has prevented Rodgers’ side from turning very good into something close to great.
The question, at least if the match stays scoreless for long and perhaps even threatens to head to extra time, will also be whether Liverpool’s key players have the legs for it. While Costa was rested against Bradford, Sterling, Coutinho, and Lallana all went 90 minutes for Liverpool against Bolton. All three are near certain to start again against Chelsea, but late on in the match could become liabilities for the visitors.
However, with Steven Gerrard likely to make the bench and the possibility that Daniel Sturridge could make his return from injury off the bench against his former club, hopefully there will at least be a few good options at Rodgers’ disposal for replacing some of Liverpool’s attackers late on if they begin to tire.
Kickoff is set for 7:45PM GMT/2:45PM EST on Tuesday, with SkySports 1 carrying the match in the UK and beIN Sports providing coverage in the US. Our coverage will continue with the overnight open thread tonight and carry into live coverage tomorrow, with team sheets an hour before kickoff, full viewing options, and post-match reaction. If you haven’t already, sign up for an SBNation account and join us for it.
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