Last season, Liverpool and Chelsea played in four competitive matches, two in the league and two in domestic cup finals. At the end of 90 minutes in each instance, the score was level; there was not a single goal to separate the two teams throughout 360 minutes of play. This year, their first matchup was postponed in the wake of the passing of Queen Elizabeth II, so this Saturday will be the first clash between the two clubs this season. Will there finally be a winner, or will the points be divided again? Let’s take a look at the odds and make some picks as we look forward to another evenly-contested matchup.
Liverpool vs. Chelsea Odds
Playing at home, Liverpool are slight favorites with odds of -110. The draw is set at +275, while visitors Chelsea are an even +300 to take all three points. For a goalscoring total of 2.5, the over is favored at -145, while the under is +115.
Liverpool vs. Chelsea Prediction & Pick
What a first half of the season it’s been for two clubs generally considered to be among England and Europe’s elite. Liverpool are sitting in 9th place in the league, while Chelsea are a spot below in tenth, and have also bowed out of both domestic cup competitions. The Blues have looked particularly poor, as new manager Graham Potter has led the team to earn just 9 of the past 30 points available in league play, as the danger has all but gone out of their attack. Despite a ridiculous amount of high-profile signings under new owner Todd Boehly, things seem to be getting worse and worse at Chelsea before anything takes a turn for the better
Meanwhile, after coming oh-so-close to an unprecedented quadruple a year ago, but coming up just short in both the Premier and Champions leagues, the physical and mental toll seems to be catching up to Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool side. They’ve suffered an absolute thrashing by Napoli in the Champions league, lost to formerly-perennial punching bags Man United and Arsenal in the league, drawn with hated rivals Everton, and even lost to promotion side Nottingham Forest. But, they’ve also had some significant triumphs, like a thrilling win over Man City, a historic 9-0 beatdown on Bournemouth, and a trio of impressive Champions League wins. There’s a measure of bad luck in the departure of longtime star winger Sadio Mané coinciding with really poor health on the wing, but there are also unforgivable issues with level of play on both ends of the pitch. Like Chelsea, this Reds team needs to find some consistency and do so fast if they want to have any hope of securing a spot in next season’s Champions league.
I do think Liverpool have more talent than Chelsea, and they are not quite as adrift when it comes to finding their identity as a team. That being said, they might somehow be in worse form than Potter’s men; before a win against Wolves in an FA Cup replay, their previous three matches were a 2-2 home draw against Wolves in the first edition of that Cup tie, and a pair of dreadful league losses to Brentford and Brighton by a total score of 6-1. It’s tough to pick the Reds to lose at home- even in this nightmare of a season, 5 of their 6 losses have been on the road- so I’m not going to; but it’s also near-madness to bet on either of these sides to actually win a game right now; that’s right, my pick is the draw at +275, and I’m also going to go against the grain and take under 2.5 goals at +115. Aside from the recent history of low-scoring matches between these sides, both attacks have often looked absolutely hapless in recent outings, and neither group will be at full strength; the best move here is to bet on attacking dysfunction.
Who can score first? Evaluating both attacks
This season, Liverpool have developed a nasty habit of conceding the first goal; they’ve done it in 11 of their 18 league matches thus far, and they’ve picked up just 9 points from those contests. Meanwhile, across the 6 instances in which they’ve struck first, they’re a perfect 6-0-0 with 19 goals scored to just 3 allowed. So, suffice it to say, each team’s absolute number one priority has to be getting onto the scoresheet first; whoever’s able to do so will likely to secure at least a draw, if not the win.
Let’s start by talking about forwards who are not available to score that key opening for the Blues this weekend; newcomer João Felix was immediately red carded and suspended upon his debut, so he’s out of the lineup, while Raheem Sterling and Christian Pulisic are both injured and unavailable on the wing. Recent signing Mykhailo Mudryk is expected to be in the squad, but for a first-time Prem player who hasn’t played competitive football since November, I would expect him to appear off of the bench if at all. So, that leaves Chelsea with just a couple of options in attack; the wingers will almost certainly be homegrown talent Mason Mount on the left and Morocco’s World Cup hero Hakim Ziyech on the right. Up top, we can expect Kai Havertz; the German international is not in his best form but actually does lead the team in league goals with 5. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, one of Chelsea’s many summer signings, has struggled to break into the side and/or score goals, but he’s a serious talent and can slot into the lineup or as a sub at either striker or on the wing. Reinforcements are coming soon for Potter’s squad, but this Saturday, it looks like the pickings will be pretty slim. That being said, they’ll be going up against a Liverpool defense that, even when healthy, has been far from elite this season, and will be missing the injured Virgil Van Dijk, so opportunities should exist.
As if the news couldn’t get any better, Liverpool’s attacking group will also be pretty limited for this particular fixture. Diogo Jota, Roberto Firmino, and Luis Diaz are all in various stages of injury recovery, and will all be unavailable- that’s a solid starting front three right there! Darwin Nunez, the incredibly overpriced summer signing, is recovering from a knock as well but he might potentially be available for the Chelsea clash; it might just be as a sub, but there’s a real possibility we could see him chunking easy, important chances at Anfield this weekend. So who will be starting for Liverpool? At times this is a tough question, but injury-based process of elimination has made the task relatively easy for us. For starters, Mo Salah will start at right wing, which of course would not be in question even if the team was entirely healthy. The Egyptian King is in far from his best form this season, but has shown flashes of the level of play that makes him by far the best winger in the World when he’s on his game; any given matchday, he could still explode. New arrival Cody Gakpo will all but certainly start at striker, his adjustment to life in red has been a bit rough, although his teammates haven’t been much of a help thus far, so we’ll see how much of that changes on Saturday. Lastly, the left wing position is a bit open; Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has been filling it as of late, but he’s no superstar and the team has not had good results. After Klopp mentioned that contributors from the cup win at Wolves will be in contention to play against Chelsea, I wouldn’t be stunned to see Fabio Carvalho get a shot, as he started on the left in that match. Harvey Elliott generally plays on the right, but could see some time as a pass-first winger, as could 17-year-old Ben Doak, who has gotten some sub minutes lately and has been impressive. They’re attacking a Chelsea defense which, like Liverpool’s, has a strong veteran presence with the likes of Thiago Silva and Kalidou Koulibaly in the fold. But also like Liverpool’s, they’ve been good not great, and surely not consistent; if the Reds play their best, they’ll get one in the net.
The Midfield Battle
While it’s far from a perfect measure when it comes to quality of midfield play, it’s interesting to note that the Prem possession percentage leaderboard sees Liverpool (60.5%) and Chelsea (58.2%) behind only Man City. It’s not hard to imagine possession being a defining factor after that key first goal comes, so let’s dive into the sometimes-unheralded players on both sides.
Now this is where Liverpool actually have some options; the issue is that few have been good. Thiago Alcântara is the one near-lock to start, as he’s been the steadiest performer in centre-midfield all year. Veterans Fabinho and Jordan Henderson have typically started beside him this season, but typically, the midfield play has been horrendous, so I’d imagine that Klopp might switch things up a bit, once again in light of his comments about contributors from the second Wolves match. In that vein, Elliott, Carvalho, and to a lesser extent Doak all have the potential to play in one of these starting spots, but a more likely outcome would be for Spanish teenager Stefan Bajcetic, who started in that win over Wolves, to start. He’s seen more playing time than the others as of late, and at times has been quite impressive. Naby Keita also played a full 90 against Wolves, encouraging for a player who has shown a lot of quality at Liverpool, but is rarely a consistent presence for the team- I would not be shocked to see a midfield of himself, Bajcetic, and Thiago, the group Klopp used in the cup replay. Curtis Jones could also pop in at some point, but he’s had limited opportunities and generally mediocre performances for Liverpool this year; I’d expect someone like Elliott to break into the team before Jones would.
Chelsea also have a number of options, but few certainties, when it comes to their midfield group. The one near-lock in the midfield is Jorginho, the sometimes-controversial Italian defensive midfielder. Surely he’s played below his top level for much of this season, but he has the definite ability to positively and significantly impact a match. Croatia legend Mateo Kovacic should also be in the mix for the Blues; he’s another player who has shown World-class ability, just not so much for Chelsea this season. That being said, he had another really nice World Cup for Croatia, so maybe better performances are on the near horizon. Conor Gallagher is another player who has been just decent for Chelsea this year, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in the lineup after a nice full-game performance against Crystal Palace. Lastly is a piece of good injury news- Chelsea will be regaining the services of a true legend, none other than the much-beloved Frenchman N’Golo Kanté. He’s one of those players who can absolutely turn a game on its head when he’s at his best, but after a layoff of four months or so, it’s hard to imagine he’ll start or play anything close to a full 90. Still, if he’s able to spend any time on the pitch, it could be the boost this team needs to secure a desperately-needed win, or at least limit Liverpool enough to secure a draw.