The Big Match

Football: Liverpool v Chelsea - Intriguing clash of contrasts

As Jurgen Klopp's (left) brand of high-octane anarchy goes up against Antonio Conte's (right) preference for micromanaged control, it is a test of Chelsea's physical strength against Liverpool's mental strength.
As Jurgen Klopp's (left) brand of high-octane anarchy goes up against Antonio Conte's (right) preference for micromanaged control, it is a test of Chelsea's physical strength against Liverpool's mental strength.PHOTO: AFP, REUTERS

Fatigue is Blues' worry as they face a Reds side with attacking talent but weak in defence

It is a modern-day rivalry where the two sides have often liked to imagine themselves as opposites. Now, for different reasons, they really are.

As Jurgen Klopp's brand of high-octane anarchy goes up against Antonio Conte's preference for micromanaged control, it is a test of Chelsea's physical strength against Liverpool's mental strength.

The Premier League champions arrived back in England from Azerbaijan around 60 hours before kick-off today, needing no reminders that they lost to Manchester City three days after a European away game.

The challengers have had extra recovery time. Their problem is not aching muscles but the scars left by Sevilla's three-goal comeback on Tuesday.

The notion that their defending had improved since the 4-1 defeat by Tottenham was eviscerated in 45 minutes at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium.

It will be instructive to see how Klopp responds. He tends to be a loyalist and, but for injury, would have persevered with Dejan Lovren after his nightmare at Wembley.

Now the focus is on Alberto Moreno, culpable for two goals on an ignominious return to Sevilla.

If Klopp sticks with the Spaniard, the left half of his defence looks a weak link. It is a test for the strategist in Conte. His reconfigured, counter-attacking 3-5-1-1 has worked well away from home, but it offers little width in the final third.

The chances are that Willian, who scored two goals and won two penalties in the 4-0 Champions League win over Qarabag, will be on the bench. If he gambles on the Brazilian, he could expose Moreno.

But Conte will probably be more cautious and field a third central midfielder. It owes something to Klopp's unbeaten record against Chelsea, and Liverpool have twice overwhelmed the Londoners at Stamford Bridge with demonstrations of energy.

Liverpool's defensive deficiencies should not deflect from their attacking threat: They have scored at least three goals in their last five games.

For only the second time in the Premier League, Klopp could unleash Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Philippe Coutinho together.

He overloads with progressive talents. Conte rations his, relying on Eden Hazard and Alvaro Morata.

He fields two genuine defensive midfielders. Klopp has none, with captain Jordan Henderson scarcely an N'Golo Kante-style destroyer.

Conte is a connoisseur of centre-backs, and will surely pick the prodigy Andreas Christensen ahead of the more erratic David Luiz. Klopp may have a blind spot when it comes to them.

But it did not tend to matter on such stages until Liverpool's supposed big-game specialists were hammered by City and Spurs. Chelsea have produced some of the season's outstanding displays on major stages to beat Tottenham, Atletico Madrid and Manchester United. They have had opposing experiences.

Now opposites both know the reward for victory. The winner will definitely be ahead of fierce rivals and in the top four, the loser probably outside it.


LIVERPOOL V CHELSEA

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 25, 2017, with the headline 'Intriguing clash of contrasts'. Print Edition | Subscribe