The stakes couldn’t be any higher as the feeling of Déjà vu descends upon Liverpool and Chelsea supporters ahead of their hotly-anticipated Premier League clash on Sunday afternoon.
Almost half a decade ago the two sides clashed in one of the most iconic and era-defining fixtures the Premier League has ever seen.
A true test of Liverpool’s mettle is dawning as the title-chasing outfit prepare to exorcise the ghost of Demba Ba which still haunts the Anfield walls and Steven Gerrard’s mind almost five years later.
Liverpool go into the fixture in a steely run of form which has seen them score a dramatic late winner to down Tottenham Hotspur, recover from a goal down to beat Southampton on the road, and also survive further scares against Burnley and Fulham.
The omens suggest that this Liverpool squad has a level of composure and bottle which perhaps eluded Brendan Rodgers’ fallen soldiers in the 2013/14 season, but Chelsea will be hoping to crush that sentiment with a victory which could help them to sneak into the top-four.
This is the battle which could define the war and Football FanCast are here to look at some of the key factors which are likely to shape the result, including the influence of Eden Hazard and Mo Salah, predicted starting XI’s and how the history books look.
What history tells us
The two sides are almost inseparable in terms of their head-to-head record. Chelsea boast a marginally superior number of wins, goals scored and clean sheets, but the difference is as fine as that which could decide the title race this season.
Sarri’s side do not boast a particularly strong record at Anfield with a win percentage of just 23%, and Liverpool’s dominance in this regard hints that the home crowd will have a huge role to play.
The only piece of history which statistics cannot reveal, though, is the emotional trauma of 2014, a pertinent factor which Chelsea will be aiming to use to their advantage.
There’s nothing quite like a clash of two attacking virtuosos to stir the imagination of neutrals. Eden Hazard arrives at Anfield fresh from his masterclass display against West Ham United, which forced Jamie Carragher to declare him as the Premier League’s best player for the second time this season, per Sky Sports.
Mo Salah, meanwhile, has bagged two more goals than the Belgian but his notable dip in form from his unprecedented maiden campaign has been a significant sub-plot in Liverpool’s season.
Hazard’s solo wonder-strike on Merseyside when the two sides met in the Carabao Cup earlier this season provided an indicator into what he can do when he is afforded ample time and space to slice through the defensive unit, but Salah has plenty of history of his own to prove he is equally capable of single-handedly downing Chelsea today.
The winner of this clash may well hinge upon a moment of ingenuity which both Salah and Hazard are equipped to provide.
Ref in Focus
Michael Oliver is no stranger to overseeing titanic clashes of this magnitude and his experience should ensure the game is played at a high intensity but without any major controversy.
Oliver ranks around mid-table for number of fouls given per tackle and fouls given per game, per Whoscored, hinting that the game should be relatively free flowing and physical.
But it’s Oliver’s willingness to make the big calls which separates him from the rest of the Premier League’s referees: he ranks third highest for both the number of red cards and number of penalties he has awarded per game.
And an away win bias of 48% provides a subtle boost for the visitors in their search for another famous win at Anfield.
There are no major injury concerns for Jurgen Klopp to consider ahead of the game and his relatively clean bill of health will give him a dilemma in central midfield. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain remains sidelined and Adam Lallana is a doubt, but everyone else is available.
Joe Gomez was back on the substitutes bench on Tuesday in Liverpool’s 2-0 victory over Porto, but this game surely comes too soon for him to step into the starting XI.
Expect Andrew Robertson, Joel Matip and Georginio Wijnaldum all to return after being rested in the Champions League tie earlier this week.
Maurizio Sarri is in an equally privileged position from which to choose his starting XI, with Marco Van Ginkel and Ethan Ampadu the only notable absentees.
Callum Hudson-Odoi and Ruben Loftus-Cheek have both been in excellent form for the Blues since stepping into the first-team against Brighton & Hove Albion, and the fact both players were omitted from the team which faced Slavia Prague on Thursday evening is telling.
Expect both players to return this afternoon along with Eden Hazard, Gonzalo Higuain, N’Golo Kante, David Luiz and Emerson.