PRE-MATCH BRIEFING: CHELSEA V LIVERPOOL

Posted on: Thu 01 Oct 2009

TACTICAL BRIEF
Chelsea's Deco and Joe Cole - so often the author of Liverpool's destruction by the Blues - both returned from injury to play a part in the Cyprus win. Michael Ballack may have recovered from the calf problem that has ruled him out of the last two matches.

Branislav Ivanovic, two-goal hero of Anfield last season, may return to the bench. Although Petr Cech is suspended following last week's sending-off, Hilario the likely replacement, Chelsea can recall Jose Bosingwa and Didier Drogba after their midweek bans.

The Drog, Chelsea's hot striker with six league goals, has netted four times in his last three starts against the Reds.

The Liverpool team warmed down on the pitch after their Fiorentina debacle on Tuesday, possibly as punishment by perturbed manager Rafael Benitez, possibly because they were staying overnight in Italy and flying back the following day.

The 4-2-3-1 system that Benitez favours, with Fernando Torres as the solo striker and Steven Gerrard playing just behind him, was retained at considerable cost in Florence.

The Spaniard had selected full-back Fabio Aurélio, rather than Gerrard (as against Hull), as defensive midfield partner to Lucas Leiva, which merely doubled the lightness, and they were brushed aside.

It was a fateful decision. The pair never came close to handling deep-lying teenage forward Stevan Jovetic, who proved the match-winner with two well-taken goals.

Missing the ability of Mascherano (a hamstring problem that may allow him to return this weekend) and Alonso (sold) to dictate the pace of the game, the Reds lost the midfield battle and appeared mentally ill-prepared in the first half.

Aurelio's duties allowed Gerrard (pictured below) to keep his position in the 'hole', but Benitez admitted his star midfielder was kept quiet, leaving Fernando Torres isolated, and that his team was second best in every department.

gerrard_fiorentina

Liverpool's back four was particularly shambolic under pressure, maintaining a fragmented offside line and conceding possession cheaply. With Jamie Carragher looking a little careworn, and in the absence of Daniel Agger's composure, Martin Skrtel turned turtle with a series of nervous mistakes.

The Viola manager targeted the defensive frailties of Liverpool's attacking full-backs Emiliano Insua and Glen Johnson to good effect. Former Chelsea forward Adrian Mutu stretched the Reds' backline with his smart runs.

However, one or both of Agger and Mascherano may return this weekend. Agger played over an hour for the reserves this week.

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