4 Oct 2009

CHELSEA v LIVERPOOL - Preferred line-up, formation and tactics

One of the highlights of last season was Liverpool's briliant double over Chelsea. Despite the club's poor overall record at Stamford Bridge - and a frustrating inability to beat the better teams so far this season - today's game is eminently winnable...but only if the formation and tactics are right, and that means aces in their place.

My preferred line-up and formation:

--------------------- Reina

Johnson -------- Carra --- Skrtel/Agger -------- Aurelio

--------------- Masch --- Gerrard

Kuyt -------------- Benayoun --------- Riera

--------------------- Torres

* Against Chelsea, it is important to win the midfield battle, so it is imperative that Mascherano and Gerrard play there. Lucas is progressing okay this season, but against the physical might of Chelsea's midfield, he is not the person for the job.

* Given the suspect nature of our defence at the moment, extra protection is required, especially given Didier Drogba's brute force and tendency to play well against Liverpool. With Gerrard and Masch in central midfield, they can provide extra defensive protection where needed.

* I don't want to see square pegs in round holes - that means no left wingers on the right; no left backs in central midfield, and no link men being wasted on the flanks.

* Emiliano Insua's form has dropped slightly over the last couple of games, and his defensive lapses against Fiorentina were glaring. Aurelio is more experienced, and will provide a greater set-piece threat, so I would use him instead of the Argentinean in this game.

* The Essien factor: Michael Essien may be tasked with man-marking Steven Gerrard, as he has done to great effect in the past. If Gerrard plays behind Torres, then man-marking will significantly reduce his ability to impact the game, and will also dull Liverpool's creative threat in the final third.

With Gerrard playing centrally, he can drift around, and even if he's man-marked, Liverpool still have Benayoun behind Torres to torment Chelsea, thus the team doesn't lose out so much up-front.

* Given Martin Skrtel's poor form recently, it is tempting to replace with him with Daniel Agger for this game. I would hold off from doing that though for the following reasons:

i) Chelsea is a tough game in which to return from injury. Will Agger be able to pick up the pace straight away? Can Liverpool risk any 'settling back in' problems?

ii) Skrtel's lack of confidence recently is palpable - dropping him would only exacerbate this.

iii) If Agger returns and has a torrid time against Drogba et al, it will not be goof for his confidence either. If Liverpool lose because of a bad defensive display, he will inevitably come under fire. Skrtel is used to it this season (!)

Having said that, Agger is a professional, and if he's 100% ready, then I'm sure he could come in and do the business if necessary.

* There's also a case to play Sotiris Kyrgiakos alongside Carragher - he is just the type of combative defender needed for this type of game. Plus his ability in the air would be useful in defending and attacking set-pieces. Liverpool paid money for him - what's the point of never using him, espcially when the defence is stuttering?

I don't want to see this team/formation:

---------------------- Reina

Johnson -------- Carra -- Skrtel -------- Insua

------------------- Lucas --- Masch

Kuyt --------------- Gerrard -------------Benayoun

---------------------- Torres

* The Gerrard/Torres partneship is not consistently effective against top class teams, and if Gerrard is marked out of the game, then he will become isolated and Liverpool will lose a lot of thrust and impact

* Furthermore, if Gerrard is further up the field, Chelsea can bypass him and all they have to contend with in midfield is Masch and Lucas, which is not the strongest combination.

I personally don't think this is a must-win game. At the start of the season I made a list of all LFC's fixtures and marked down whether each one should be a 'must-win', 'acceptable draw' or 'probable defeat, and for this game I put 'acceptable draw'.

It would be fantastic to get a win but given Liverpool's dire record at Stamford bridge, a draw would not be the end of the world. Plus, teams will inevitably draw games every season, and there's no shame in drawing against Chelsea.

Having said that, as Liverpool proved last season, the players are more than capable of winning at the Bridge, so barring weird formations, illogical tactical decisions and dropping players who deserve to play, there's no reason why we can't have a repeat performance this season.