THE BIG MATCH

Chelsea fight to save season and boss' job against Liverpool

History brings a warning to beleaguered Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho (left) as he fights to retain his job. Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp (right) has contributed to his downfall once before.
History brings a warning to beleaguered Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho (left) as he fights to retain his job. Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp (right) has contributed to his downfall once before. PHOTO: REUTERS

It is no mean feat to overshadow Juergen Klopp right now. Then again, Jose Mourinho is unaccustomed to taking second billing to anyone, even those who rival him in the charisma stakes.

The German's quest for a maiden Premier League win is demoted to the status of a sub-plot.

The more pertinent question is if his first victory proves Mourinho's last defeat.

These are serial winners whose sides have achieved rather different results. Before and after Klopp's appointment, Liverpool have drawn eight times in 10 games. Counting their penalty shoot-out setback at Stoke as a defeat, Chelsea have lost eight times in 16. These were clashes of formidable forces in the heydays of Mourinho and Rafa Benitez. Not now. 'Pool are among the lowest scorers. Chelsea have one of the worst defences.

But history brings a warning to the beleaguered Mourinho as he fights to retain his job. Klopp has contributed to his downfall once before. His Borussia Dortmund side demolished the Portuguese manager's Real Madrid 4-1 in the first leg of the 2013 Champions League semi-finals.

 
 

It meant Mourinho was destined not to win the Champions League with them. Then, however, Klopp possessed an enviably sharp striker, in Robert Lewandowski, who scored all four.

He has had no option but to select the impotent Divock Origi, who is yet to find the net for Liverpool, as his starting centre-forward in each of his first four games. No wonder he hopes the more prolific Christian Benteke will be fit. Chelsea have striking concerns of their own, with the possibility Diego Costa's bruised rib will sideline him.

As they average fewer shots on target per game than Norwich, he is crucial. So, too, is their spirit. As Klopp demands Liverpool to play a pressing game, Chelsea have to match their energy levels. They also have to use the full width of the Stamford Bridge pitch. Deprived of natural wingers, Klopp has played a narrow 4-3-3 formation. If Chelsea can stretch the game, they may be able to isolate the Liverpool full-backs. It could entail a role, perhaps as an impact substitute, for the dynamic young Brazilian Kenedy, especially if Eden Hazard is used as a central creator.

Klopp's problem is that his designated flair player, Philippe Coutinho, is out of form. At least Roberto Firmino's bright showing against Bournemouth on Wednesday suggested the £29 million (S$62.4 million) Brazilian will belatedly offer some incision. Nonetheless, this, like many a previous Chelsea-Liverpool game, promises to be a war of attrition.

There is a case for arguing that Chelsea's performance levels have actually risen in the last four matches, albeit from a low base. But with a solitary defining win this campaign, against Arsenal, they require a second, both to reverse the course of their sorry season and to keep Mourinho in employment.


CHELSEA V LIVERPOOL

Singtel TV Ch102 & StarHub Ch227, 8.45pm

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 31, 2015, with the headline 'CHELSEA MUST CROSS THIS BRIDGE'. Print Edition | Subscribe