It’s too easy to paint this as an important clash for Champions League position contenders. Not only would it be too easy but it would also be a fallacy. These are two teams that probably had title ambitions at the start of the season. Chelsea as last season’s runners up had genuine hopes of leading from the front and Liverpool, a team which had been on a great run of form in the second half of last season since Kenny Dalglish took the managerial reigns, had hopes of being surprising unexpected challengers. It’s not even the end of November, however, and it appears quite clear that both teams are some way short of guaranteeing a Champions League qualifying position, let alone challenging for the title.
In the space of a year Chelsea’s defence has fallen to pieces. It was in November 2010 that the Carlo Ancelotti reign started to unravel. A horrendous run of form that stretched for almost 3 months came about for two reasons. A porous defence and a profligate attack. The attack has since been remedied, even if the solution has not been Fernando Torres, whilst the defence has only become worse. Roman Abramovich understood the malaise and wisely invested in central defence and attack. David Luiz and Fernando Torres were purchased for close to 80 million Euros. Neither has performed consistently well. David Luiz has shown moments of genuine genius, although more recently his efforts have ended up yielding unwanted results – penalties conceded, strikers left unmarked, etc – whilst Fernando Torres has continued missing chances that defy belief. The Spaniard keeps missing when it appears certain that he will score.
Liverpool, on the other hand, have markedly improved under Kenny Dalglish. That being said, it is quite obvious that the team could not have deteriorated any more after the previous Roy Hodgson regime. Hodgson ran the team into the ground, employing the players in an ineffective formation with tactics that were all too negative considering the burden of expectation that resides at Anfield. Under Dalglish things were obviously only going to get better. They just couldn’t have got worse. The improvement has stalled of late, with disappointing home draws against Sunderland, Norwich and Swansea sucking some of the energy and sapping much of the morale.
Neither team is in particularly good form, neither team is particularly solid in defence and neither team has settled comfortably with their managers ethos. Kenny Dalglish likes his defenders to play a patient but calculated game and his midfielders to focus their passing down the flanks. Andre Villas Boas likes his defenders to press high up the pitch and play the offside trap regularly, his midfielders to move with the ball and utilise a fluid structure interchanging ceaselessly with the strikers, and the strikers to press and harry continuously. Chelsea are favouring a high tempo approach, Liverpool are favouring a traditional British style of grit, hard work and good intricate individual skill getting them through. Neither appraoch is proving particularly successful at the moment. Chelsea will probably edge the encounter but there is pressure on both sides as each club has failed, so far, to match the pre-season expectations.