DROPPING points over the festive period has been the death knell of many a title challenge but we will know much more about Chelsea and Liverpool’s fading chances this Sunday evening.
Whoever loses at Stamford Bridge this week will almost certainly find themselves out of the reckoning with a little under half the season still to play. Whoever triumphs will face the onerous task of chasing down a formidable Manchester City creation in peak condition who against Brentford racked up a tenth win from ten.
Of course, there is always the possibility of a stalemate muddying the waters and this is a distinct possibility given that draws are chiefly what has brought about this recent curtailment of a three-horse race narrative. Over a quarter of Liverpool’s league fixtures have finished honours even and this despite them reaching half a century of goals in record time. Thomas Tuchel’s men meanwhile have drawn four of their last five home games 1-1. In three of them they led.
It is pertinent to note that Tuchel himself has figuratively thrown in the towel regarding his side’s title hopes, calling it ‘stupid’ to believe they are still serious contenders, but some scepticism should accompany these words, stated just moments after Chelsea had once again conceded a costly late equalizer. To the German, as exasperating as the uncharacteristic concessions is the seemingly never-ending injury curse that is largely responsible for them, and Wednesday evening saw another two of his first-choice eleven ruled out for the foreseeable when Reece James and Andreas Christensen each limped from the action. The pair join Thiago Silva, Ben Chilwell, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, and Timo Werner in the treatment room and from these names it is telling that Tuchel must lead his team into their biggest game of the season to date minus four of the five defensive personnel he would surely have turned to. He will lose Edouard Mendy too to AFCON duties post-Liverpool, with three clashes with Tottenham – two in Carabao Cup semis – and Manchester City awaiting them in January.
Add a semi-fit N’Golo Kante into the equation and their slump in results and performances this past month begins to make sense, for all that cynics point to their impressive squad depth. In their first ten league games Chelsea conceded just three goals, a remarkable parsimony that had them compared to Mourinho’s miserly lot back in the mid-2000s. In their last ten, Tuchel’s reconfigured rearguard have shipped in 11, keeping only two clean sheets along the way.
Liverpool, by comparison, are in fairly good shape on the injury front with Thiago expected to return meaning Jurgen Klopp has almost a full roster to utilize. Furthermore, should we mark their stuttering loss at Leicester down as a bad day at the office there are considerably more positives to focus on than negatives, even if the general mood among the fan-base right now is somewhat morose. Mo Salah is still riding a career zenith, and a solitary point from their last two games doesn’t change that. The prolific attacker has been directly involved in a goal every 70 minutes across 2021/22 in the Premier League, an achievement that astounds.
— mosalah_egyptain (@mosalahking11) December 26, 2021
In alliance with Salah, the rest of Liverpool’s ferocious front three are banging them in regularly and perhaps we have come to take this for granted but what certainly isn’t a given from a typical Klopp side is that goals come from elsewhere. Significantly, we are seeing that this season. Between them Minamino and Origi have attained double figures across all comps while Alexander-Arnold, Henderson and Keita are chipping in with valuable contributions. All told, the Reds have averaged 19.4 shots per game this term and such a high volume means opponents require consistent good fortune and a well-drilled back-line to counter that. Do Chelsea presently have the latter?
That Liverpool’s main struggles this season have all occurred in London – to Brentford, West Ham and Spurs – is nothing more than a quirk but another capital-based record of theirs is worthy of note. Because since taking on the reins at Anfield in 2015, Klopp has lost only once in the league at Stamford Bridge from six visits.
Should that run continue don’t discount the prospect of Salah atoning for his penalty miss at the King Power or conversely, Jorginho scuppering the visitor’s hopes from six yards out at the other end. There have been seven spot-kicks converted for and against Chelsea in their last eight fixtures.