3. How much respect is granted to Liverpool?
For a handful of reasons, this current iteration of Liverpool is anything but the buzzsaw we all came to know and decidedly not love over the last two seasons. They’ve been bad at home, bad away, and just haven’t looked brilliant even at the best of times this year. That said, a majority of the players who made up the freight train that ran through the league last season are still there, and a handful of them have kept up their performances this season as well. No matter how far they’ve fallen in recent weeks, there’s always the feeling that Klopp’s side is never more than two passes away from springing like a coiled cobra and striking before anyone has a chance to do anything.
Thomas Tuchel will approach this match with unusually fresh eyes. Unlike the Pep Guardiola’s and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s of the world, Tuchel hasn’t spent the past few years being roundly beat into submission by the juggernaut from Merseyside. In fact, Tuchel has spent the past few seasons not having any good reason to be afraid of anyone, given the monopoly PSG hold on Ligue 1. The closest Tuchel has ever come to being a massive underdog since he left Borussia Dortmund in 2017 was probably the Champions League final last season against an unfathomably excellent Bayern Munich side. Tuchel really doesn’t have any recent experience in needing to be particularly cautious of an opponent.
That said, it’s not as though the football has been especially reckless or gung-ho under Tuchel. It’s certainly dominant, but it’s also highly controlled. In fact, you could probably argue that it’s a bit too controlled in some areas. It would certainly be encouraging to see Chelsea racking up some bigger goal tallies when they dominate possession so severely, but there’s no question that most matches under Tuchel have played out with Chelsea dictating the tone of the match.
Against Liverpool, Chelsea will want to assert that control over the pace and flow of the match, but Tuchel will also hopefully grant an extra degree of respect to Klopp’s side. In many ways, this mirrors the Champions League match against Atletico Madrid last week. It’s one of the world’s best teams who, although dramatically out of form at the moment, will play with a certain well-drilled philosophy that requires excellent tactics and execution to overcome. They simply aren’t a side that’s easy to beat, no matter the circumstances. Even with the injuries and poor form, they will not play like some mid-table schmuck of a side; Liverpool is still Liverpool, and they still have more than enough about them to send Chelsea back down to London licking their wounds.
Chelsea will need to show up with the exact same measured intensity that earned them the valuable win against Atletico. If the intensity is there but the control isn’t, Chelsea will just get hit repeatedly on the break until they learn a lesson. Conversely, if they control the match but are limp throughout, it will be a copy of the Manchester United and Southampton matches, except Liverpool will punish Chelsea far more ruthlessly for their impotence. Playing to beat Liverpool is a bit of a highwire act, balancing aggression and caution, but Chelsea has the recent experience against a similar level of opponent and managed to combine those two facets perfectly. If they can strike that balance again, this could be a season-defining result. If they botch it horrifically, well, it could also be a season-defining result, just in a much darker way. Here’s to hoping what we saw against Atletico wasn’t just a fluke.
Can Chelsea’s club website once again push referees towards advantageous decisions?
Just kidding. Someone go check on Solskjaer and make sure he’s feeling okay.