Football Features

Liverpool vs Chelsea predicted XIs, stats + PL’s two most ‘clutch’ players revealed

By Harry Edwards

Liverpool v Chelsea predicted XIs, stats + PL's two most 'clutch' players revealed

Published: 10:12, 31 January 2024

Liverpool will be looking to re-extend their lead at the top of the Premier League table when they host Chelsea.

Following Tuesday’s action, Liverpool have seen their lead cut to just two points, with Arsenal’s win over Nottingham Forest. Before this game ends, Manchester City could also have cut the gap to two, so it’s imperative for Liverpool that they do not let it slip.

Of course, the build up to this game has been Jurgen Klopp’s impending departure — that will be the case for every Liverpool game between now and the end of the season — and the hopes of fans that they can end his tenure with a title. However, Chelsea will be looking to spoil the party at the very start, as they hope to climb up the table. The Blues had dropped back down to 10th after results elsewhere, but can move as high as seventh with victory here. Even a draw would lift them to eighth.

With that in mind, it’s time to look ahead with predicted XIs and players to watch for each team.

Liverpool vs Chelsea predicted XIs

Liverpool predicted XI

Liverpool had two big boosts at the weekend with both Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson returning from injury. Neither of them started in the FA Cup win over Norwich, but both came off the bench with Robertson getting 35 minutes and Alexander-Arnold 24. In other circumstances, Klopp might prefer to give both another game from the bench before throwing them into the starting XI, but given the magnitude of this match, we may see the partnership of Alexander-Arnold and Robertson return.

In between the pair, although Joe Gomez has performed well as a makeshift left-back, it’s hard to justify changing the centre-back partnership of Virgil van Dijk and Ibrahima Konate. In midfield, Dominik Szoboszlai should return to the three, having sat out of the wins over Bournemouth and Fulham due to injury. He’ll step in for Harvey Elliott, with Curtis Jones and Alexis Mac Allister completing the three. The latter is more comfortable in an attacking role, but he has had to be a makeshift No.6 to fill the void left by Wataru Endo who is still at the Asian Cup with Japan.

In the front three, it’s hard to argue anything other than Diogo Jota, Darwin Nunez and Cody Gakpo. Luis Diaz has performed well when called upon from the start, but Jota is in great form while Nunez has proven crucial to the way Liverpool play. And it would be harsh on Gakpo to not be rewarded for three goal involvements in his past three Premier League matches.

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Chelsea predicted XI

Mauricio Pochettino hopes that Nicolas Jackson will return in time for this game, after Senegal’s exit from the Africa Cup of Nations, even making the striker fly direct to Manchester rather than London. But if he doesn’t make it, the likely option is for Cole Palmer to start up front. Pochettino doesn’t seem to trust Armando Broja to lead the line, while Palmer is Chelsea’s top scorer this season, even though he does struggle sometimes in the False No.9 role.

Should Palmer start through the middle, it also allows Conor Gallagher to play just behind him as an advanced presser, hoping to apply pressure on a Liverpool defence that is normally so calm on the ball. Raheem Sterling will naturally start against his former club, while Noni Madueke feels likely to get the nod over Mykhailo Mudryk on the other flank, with the Ukrainian not in the best of form. Only injury will break the double pivot of Enzo Fernandez and Moises Caicedo.

At the back, Malo Gusto will be available in the squad, but Pochettino may not opt to change from Axel Disasi at right-back. On the left, Ben Chilwell should continue, especially with Levi Colwill out injured. In the middle, Thiago Silva and Benoit Badiashile have been building a decent partnership that won’t be broken.

Liverpool vs Chelsea: Five key stats

  1. Jurgen Klopp has own 199 of his 317 Premier League games as Liverpool manager. He would be the seventh manager to reach 200 wins in the competition, with victory in this game making him the second fastest to the milestone, after Pep Guardiola (269 games)
  2. Chelsea have won 18 Premier League games against teams starting the day top of the table. However, they are winless in four such games when Liverpool have been the side top of the league.
  3. The last seven games between Liverpool and Chelsea across all competitions have finished level, the longest run of consecutive draws between two top-flight clubs in English football history..
  4. Liverpool have lost just one of their last 11 Premier League games against Chelsea, although they are also winless in their last six games against the Blues.
  5. Chelsea have lost just two of their last 11 Premier League away games against Liverpool, winning three with six draws.

Liverpool vs Chelsea key players

Darwin Nunez

For some, Darwin Nunez is a bit of a meme. You can bank on him missing more opportunities than he scores, much to the frustration of Liverpool fans. But it’s time to start putting respect on his name. The Uruguayan is key to Klopp’s Liverpool, not just because of the chaos he brings, but in linking up the attack.

With seven goals and six assists in the Premier League this season, Nunez has already bettered his tally for 2022/23 (12 direct goal involvements) in nine fewer games. The goals and assists have generally been scattered across the season so far, but he does enter this game in good form. The Uruguay has scored three goals and provided one assist in his past three Premier League games.

The run started with the opening goal in a 2-0 win over Burnley, before he added an assist in the 4-2 victory against Newcastle. And last time out Nunez scored twice to help Liverpool comfortably beat Bournemouth 4-0.

Nunez’s goals scored and assists are, of course, only bettered by Mohamed Salah at Liverpool this season, while he is also second for shots (61) and shots on target (27). And, most crucially, Nunez’s goals have proven crucial across the season.

Four of the Urugyuan’s seven Premier League strikes this season have been winners, with no player managing more in the division. Match-winners are defined as the goal that makes the difference. So if a team wins 4-0, it would be the opening goal, or if it was 5-3, it would be the winning team’s fourth goal.

The first winner of the season came as Nunez changed the game from the bench against Newcastle, scoring two late goals off the bench in a 2-1 win for Liverpool. He then put Liverpool 2-1 up in their 3-1 win over West Ham, before opening the scoring against Burnley (2-0) and Bournemouth (4-0).

Cole Palmer

On the other side of this matchup is Chelsea’s own match-winner. When Chelsea paid £40m to sign Cole Palmer from Manchester City in the summer, many eyebrows were raised at the price for a player with very little significant action in senior football — though he had scored in both the Community Shield and UEFA Super Cup this season. But now, that’s looking like a bargain in today’s market.

Palmer is by far and away Chelsea’s best player and it’s clear that the team and the way they play is focused around the Englishman. He is on 10 goals for the season across all competitions, already bettering Chelsea’s best tally for 2022/23. Palmer is also just one goal away from breaking Chelsea’s record for most goals in a single Premier League season for players aged 21 or under.

Since his first Chelsea goal, against Burnley on 7th October 2023, only Salah (11) has scored more Premier League goals than Palmer’s nine. He’s joined on nine goals by striker Dominic Solanke, but per 90 minutes, Palmer wins that mini head-to-head.

He leads Chelsea for goals and assists in the Premier League, as well as chances created, through-balls attempted and completed, while ranking second for shots and shots on target. And, like Nunez, four of his Premier League this season have been match-winners.

His first Chelsea goal was a winner, getting the second in a 4-1 win over Burnley, and he then netted the opener in a 2-0 victory against Sheffield United. Palmer was crucial to Chelsea’s 3-2 win over Luton, scoring two goals (including the third) as well as providing an assist. And finally, last time out in the Premier League, he scored the only goal in Chelsea’s 1-0 win against Fulham.

CHELSEA VS LIVERPOOL
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