“Welcome to Merseyside in another combustible Saturday’s lunchtime kick-off fixture between two of English Premier League’s heavyweights as Liverpool welcome Chelsea to Anfield…”
That will be the familiar voices of seasoned commentators Peter Drury and Jim Beglin filtering through your television this afternoon from 2.45pm in what promises to be the match of the week.
The mind games started early in the week with Jose Mourinho providing fuel to the fire with a thinly veiled tongue in cheek statement accusing Brendan Rodgers of throwing in the towel after he rested almost seven first team players mid-week against Real Madrid in the Champions League.
Goalkeeper Simon Mignolet, central defender Martin Skartel and left-back Alberto Moreno were the only remnants from the previous starting eleven against Newcastle. The undercard team, however, didn’t fair badly though against a rampant Los Brancos as the score remained at 1-0.
We should not criticise Rodgers a lot as he could be vindicated in the long run. He knew it would be useless to field his best players against Madrid at their own backyard. Now he has a fresh team against Chelsea. He has two more games in the Champions League against Basel and Ludogorets which if they win they could qualify to the last 16.
Although both teams are in the Champions League, there is a huge chasm in form between Liverpool and Chelsea in the domestic league. Liverpool lie seventh with 14 points, 12 points adrift of their counterparts Chelsea perched at the summit of the log after 10 matches apiece.
Chelsea should expect an even tough game because Liverpool are fresh after resting their key players.
Daniel Sturridge is available today and has been touted as Liverpool’s missing element. His return could galvanise and inspire the team and upset the tables on the league leaders. My take has always been that Liverpool’s problem is not Mario Balotelli failing to score nor is it the absence of Sturridge or Suarez. That is reductionist thinking which does not work in football.
My take is that Liverpool bought too many new players in the summer and are failing to glue and work together to produce that harmonised consistent attacking verve that characterised their amazing season last year. Of course, we cannot rule out the contributions made by Suarez and Sturridge. But other players can also be singled out for their contributions.
Against Swansea tomorrow, Arsenal have an opportunity to redeem themselves from the midweek shambolic performances against Anderlecht that had my Arsenal-loving friend I prefer to call Atate, raving and ranting. He has been the lone voice on social media that thinks Wenger has lost it. I don’t want to delve into that debate, but if what Paul Merson said midweek about a ‘tactless Wenger’ is anything to go by, Atate might feel; vindicated after all.
And I have nothing to say to defender Chris Smalling. Coach Luis van Gaal called him ‘stupid’ for receiving a needless red card when the match seemed 50-50 against rivals Man City. Apart from the coach, my friends on Facebook called him all sorts of names; I have no wish to add to that list. Suffice to say, it was painful for all United supporters.
Interestingly, some marketing department of some local soccer body has been jolted into action in a bid to raise funds for some continental competition. Isn’t this the case of too little too late? Where were you all that time?