Pre-Match Briefing: Liverpool vs Chelsea

As we venture out of the capital for the first time in this Premier League season, club historian Rick Glanvill and club statistician Paul Dutton set the scene ahead of a tasty Saturday teatime treat...

Two of the Premier League’s five remaining 100 per cent records are laid on the line at Anfield and, without going all Whigfield, you have to like the way Chelsea move on a Saturday night. The Blues have won each of the past six games home and away across all competitions in this 5.30pm time slot, scoring 11 times and conceding twice.

Liverpool and the Blues have an identical record so far this season, both having won 3-0 and 2-0 in the opening exchanges, separated in second and third by alphabetical order. But for West Ham’s win, Chelsea would have ended a round of Premier League matches top of the tree for the first time since September 2018.

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This will be the 91st appearance by the Londoners at Anfield – more than any away ground in our history. The only previous meeting on this date was in 1937 at the Bridge, and it was a special one for the Pensioners.

A Liverpool side featuring Matt Busby in midfield were lashed 6-1, with George Mills hitting a hat-trick. That remains Chelsea’s biggest ever margin of victory over the Merseysiders.

Chelsea are unbeaten away from home in the Premier League on a Saturday in 2021 (four wins, two draws).

photo of Key Stat Key Stat

Team news

Consecutive away games against members of the so-called 'Big Six' can be a blessing as much as a curse: put the tricky fixtures behind you successfully and the course is set fair for a title challenge.

No coach has opened a league campaign with three wins without conceding since Carlo Ancelotti in 2010/11. Yet Chelsea’s 13th clean sheet of the calendar year, achieved against Arsenal, supports the view that the Blues’ defence, whoever the personnel, can repel the best attacks around. UEFA Goalkeeper of the Year Edouard Mendy has faced 10 shots so far (four on target), fewer than any other side, but the first big test in the league could come on Merseyside.

UEFA Men's Coach of the Year Thomas Tuchel often tweaks personnel to counter specific threats. Since Trent Alexander-Arnold is so crucial to the hosts’ attacking width, the Bavarian may hand the nippier Ben Chilwell his first start with the hope of nullifying his Three Lions team-mate and ghosting in behind, with Reece James on the opposite flank.

Chilwell, yet to feature for the Blues this season, could be an option to repel his England team-mate Trent Alexander-Arnold down the Chelsea left

After his coup de grace at the Emirates, James’ only league goals in royal blue have come in the first away trip of successive seasons. His passionate celebration showed, like those of boyhood fans Trevoh Chalobah and Romelu Lukaku, that a player’s love for the Blues can be as deep and visceral as any Shed-ender’s.

Lukaku produced an epic performance on his second debut, a sublime mix of intelligence and force, and a totemic presence up front. Mason Mount and Kai Havertz took up inside-forward roles behind, feeding off the Belgian’s ability on the half-turn.

Such is the imminent threat Lukaku has added that opponents are drawn towards him and out of their designated position. With Virgil van Dijk likely to want to lock horns with the Blues’ number nine, though, it might be interesting to see the German forward pushed up alongside as a big presence.

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Like Arsenal, Liverpool aim to win the ball from teams playing the ball out from the back. Last weekend the Blues played through the Gunners’ press with ease but a more pragmatic approach may be needed against the Reds’ front three.

In any case, UEFA Midfielder of the Year N’Golo Kante should be fully recovered to start in the heart of midfield alongside Jorginho.

So far Chelsea have shown some thrilling approach play – evidence the synapses developed on the training ground are already working on the pitch. Angled passing and interplay down the flanks, followed by clever switching of wings, can stretch any opponent, creating gaps and overloads in their rearguard. One of Liverpool’s few weaknesses is the gaps behind their raiding full-backs.

Reds rebounding

Jurgen Klopp must be hugely relieved that the succession of lengthy injuries that ravaged his defending champions last season seems to have ended. He has been able to welcome back Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Joel Matip, Joe Gomez and Virgil van Dijk.

The restoration of a vintage Van Dijk to the heart of his defence must have topped the coach’s wishlist for 2021/22 – especially as the Netherlander has never lost a league game at Anfield.

The return of Van Dijk has helped the Reds to two clean sheets at the start of 2021/22

The skipper’s pace and anticipation helps the Reds execute a very high line in defence, allowing the midfield to condense behind a dynamic front three who pressed opponents relentlessly throughout 2019/20.

To function as smoothly as it did, the system also requires a centre-back partner of similar qualities to their Dutch centre-half, but up to now the German has selected Matip, with Gomez coming on as a sub against Burnley at left-back.

Energetic left-back Andy Robertson, so crucial to the Merseysiders’ attacking, appears to have recovered from ankle ligament damage, so Kostantinos Tsimikas will stand down.

Jordan Henderson and Naby Keita should form two of the usual three in midfield. In Fabinho’s absence, Harvey Elliott, on loan at Tony Mowbray’s Blackburn Rovers last season, filled a Georgino Wijnaldum-sized hole against combative Burnley, though the few stray passes might be punished by the Blues.

Up top, Klopp may well keep faith with the three who have started so well for them – Sadio Mane, Mo Salah, and Diogo Jota – rather than find a place for the less prolific Roberto Firmino.

It will not have escaped Chelsea’s notice that despite his two hard-earned clean sheets this campaign, goalkeeper Alisson was almost caught out with the ball at his feet by Burnley.

Salah slams in Liverpool's third against Norwich on the opening weekend

How to follow Liverpool vs Chelsea

This match will be covered live by Sky Sports in the UK. You can check for coverage where you are here

As usual, Chelsea TV’s build-up and teamsheet analysis will be on the 5th Stand app, Facebook Live, and the official YouTube channel.

Big Blues wins

With seven Anfield victories since 1992, Chelsea have a better win rate at Liverpool’s home than any other Premier League side except Manchester United (12). 

Among them was last season’s 1-0 win achieved with a Mason Mount strike. Timo Werner’s excellent breakaway goal, disallowed for offside, would probably stand this season due to the thicker lines used on marginal calls.

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Tuchel’s excellent record against English football’s most highly-regarded coaches includes Jurgen Klopp. The Bavarian has outwitted his compatriot in their past two meetings.

Chelsea pushed Arsenal into uncharted territory last weekend. By scoring twice without reply, the Blues condemned the north Londoners to the worst-ever start in their history. Never before had the Gunners begun a league season without registering a point or goal from their opening two games.

Famous European nights

Saturday’s combatants account for England’s last three Champions League triumphs (two for the visitors, one for the hosts) and Chelsea are the most prolific English winners of UEFA’s three other major trophies: the Cup Winners’ Cup, Uefa Cup/Europa League, and Super Cup. You can see all the trophies in pride of place at the Bridge on one of our stadium tours or by visiting the club museum.

The first step on the road to St Petersburg in defence of our European crown was taken yesterday with the group stage draw in Istanbul. Chelsea were grouped with two familiar adversaries in Juventus and Malmo and one new opponent, Russia Premier League champions Zenit, who will host the final.

Five of the Blues’ six group games will be followed by home fixtures in the league. This season, clubs competing in Europe on a Wednesday will not be selected for the early TV slot of 12.30pm on a Saturday.

Group H fixtureNext Premier League fixture
Tue 14/Wed 15 SepTottenham a Sun 19 Sep
Tue 28/Wed 29 SepSouthampton h Sat 2 Oct
Tue 19/Wed 20 OctNorwich h Sat 23 Oct
Tue 2/Wed 3 NovBurnley h Sat 6 Nov
Tue 23/Wed 24 NovManchester Utd h Sat 27 Nov
Tue 7/Wed 8 DecLeeds h Sat 11 Dec

Jorginho (Player of the Year winner), Thomas Tuchel (coach), N’Golo Kante (midfielder), and Edouard Mendy (goalkeeper) were all honoured at the same ceremony in Turkey. Since the concept was first introduced in 1997, Petr Cech, Didier Drogba (both in 2012) and Eden Hazard (three times) were the Blues’ only previous nominees.

Away goals no longer rule in Europe

Anthony Taylor, the match referee at Anfield, was part of history in the making in Ukraine on Wednesday. Monaco became the first major casualty of UEFA’s abandonment of the away goals rule, previously used to settle two-leg matches drawn at the end of normal time.

Taylor officiated the Champions League play-off in which a freak 114th-minute own goal by Ruben Aguilar took Shakhtar into the group stage. Earlier, the hosts had made the score 1-2, 2-2 on aggregate, leading to extra-time and their fortunate winner. By the old regulations, Monaco’s two on the night in Kyiv would have seen them through after 90 minutes.

Incidentally, Chelsea have a 100 per cent record against Liverpool with Taylor at the whistle.

Taylor last took charge of this fixture in May 2018, when Oli Giroud's header secured a 1-0 win at the Bridge

Club and country

The first set of international fixtures after this round of league games means September will start with a blank weekend for top-flight football. 

Over the course of the season there will be a total of five FIFA breaks: 31 Aug-8 Sep, 5-14 Oct, 9-18 Nov, 24 Jan-1 Feb, and 22-30 Mar, plus the Africa Cup of Nations from 9 Jan to 6 Feb.

Window closing

Transfer dealing for the first half of the season must be concluded by 11pm UK time on Tuesday, with other European league markets closing the same day.

Women back

The WSL restarts next weekend during the men’s international break and Emma Hayes’s women will open our defence of the title with a London derby at Arsenal on Sunday 5 September.

The Covid-delayed Women’s FA Cup is also back. Chelsea’s quarter-final fixture at Birmingham City has now been confirmed for Wednesday 29 September at St Andrew’s. The final is set for Sunday 5 December at Wembley.

The WSL campaign kicks off next weekend with a mouthwatering London derby between Chelsea and Arsenal

Premier League fixtures

Man City v Arsenal 12.30pm (BT Sport)
Aston Villa v Brentford 3pm
Brighton v Everton 3pm
Newcastle v Southampton 3pm
Norwich v Leicester 3pm
West Ham v Crystal Palace 3pm
Liverpool v Chelsea 5.30pm (Sky Sports)

Burnley v Leeds 2pm (Sky Sports)
Tottenham v Watford 2pm
Wolves v Man Utd 4.30pm (Sky Sports)

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