Liverpool need to keep their ever-decreasing title hopes alive when they welcome Premier League leaders Chelsea to Anfield for a heavyweight clash this midweek (8pm Tuesday on Sky Sports 1).
A 2-1 defeat by Championship outfit Wolverhampton Wanderers in the fourth round of the FA Cup on Saturday made it just one victory in eight matches for Jurgen Klopp’s men, and that sole success came against League One side Plymouth Argyle.
It has been a costly time for a wobble, with Liverpool now out of both domestic cup competitions and 10 points adrift of Chelsea at the summit of the standings in the Premier League. Klopp may be starting to look over his shoulder at both Manchester clubs in fifth and sixth spots.
A matter of weeks ago the Reds’ place in the top four seemed secure, but a few more poor results in the top-flight could cost them Champions League football. A vast improvement in their level of performance will be necessary if Liverpool are to arrest their slide by getting the better of Chelsea on Tuesday.
Chelsea’s last game in the Premier League was a 2-0 defeat of Hull City, who played well at Stamford Bridge but ultimately could not find a way past a defensive unit which has kept clean sheets in seven of the Blues’ last 10 matches in all competitions.
Antonio Conte’s charges now have an eight-point cushion above their closest challengers Arsenal, but the former Juventus and Italy manager will not be taking anything for granted given that there are still 16 fixtures still to play and 48 points that can be won. Nevertheless, it is hard to see Chelsea throwing away their dominant position in the coming months, and another triumph this midweek would move them one step closer to a second league title in three seasons.
Adam Lallana should recover from a knock in time to feature for Liverpool, while Sadio Mane (pictured) could be involved after Senegal were eliminated from the Africa Cup of Nations on Saturday. Elsewhere, Nathaniel Clyne (rib) may face a late fitness test, but Marko Grujic and Danny Ings remain sidelined with hamstring and knee injuries respectively. Roberto Firmino is likely to start through the middle for the hosts, with Philippe Coutinho set to be a hugely important player now that he has regained match fitness.
Chelsea have no injury concerns ahead of their trip to Merseyside, with central defenders Kurt Zouma and John Terry having both returned to the fold in recent weeks. Conte has tended to stick with the same starting XI whenever possible since he switched to a 3-4-3 formation for the defeat of Hull in October and has no reason to make sweeping changes this time around, particularly as talk of a potential big-money move to China for Diego Costa has died off. The ex-Atletico Madrid man will be flanked by Eden Hazard and Pedro, with N’Golo Kante a key figure in the centre of midfield.
The form book points to a Chelsea victory at Anfield on Tuesday night, and it is indeed difficult to envisage Liverpool emerging from their current slump against such strong opposition. Chelsea will be content to sit deep and cede possession for much of the game, but the likes of Hazard, Pedro and Costa are all more than capable of doing damage on the counter-attack and will give the Reds something to think about at the back.
An away win looks like the way to go here (best 2/1 with BetVictor or Betfair), while Pedro can score at some point in the match (3/1 Bet365). He executed a neat finish against Brentford in the fourth round of the FA Cup on Saturday and the Spanish international has netted five goals in his last six outings in all competitions.
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