In any given gameweek, when the league leaders take on the team in third place, you’d expect it to be the focal point for the majority of onlookers. Even more so when both clubs, Manchester City and Newcastle United, are the last remaining unbeaten sides in this season’s Premier League after eleven rounds of fixtures.
Despite the efforts of Roberto Mancini and Alan Pardew, however, Saturday’s Etihad Stadium game doesn’t quite top the appeal of a Chelsea-Liverpool showdown. The glamour of a “Big Four” showdown never fails to set the pulses racing and although both clubs are currently in a period of transition, Sunday’s match at Stamford Bridge looks as tantalising as ever. WhoScored takes a look at some of the major protagonists in what promises to be an intriguing showdown.
A look at both sides’ form over the last six fixtures shows each has taken 12 points. Chelsea have tasted defeat twice in that period, though; an ill-disciplined away performance at QPR, where they were reduced to nine men and picked up seven yellow cards, was followed up by a sensational 5-3 home thrashing at the hands of Arsenal. Although they bounced back with a narrow win at Blackburn in their last league game, it’s clear that the back line, in particular, are struggling to adapt to the high defensive line so insistent of new boss Andre Villas-Boas.
While Liverpool have remained unbeaten in their last six, it’s been home draws that have proven costly. Their last three Anfield fixtures have failed to return more than a single point, with frustrating draws against promoted Norwich and Swansea halting their march up the table. They currently sit 3 points behind their hosts in sixth place but with their form superior on the road, Kenny Dalglish’s side will be confident of tormenting that out-of-sorts Chelsea defence.
Villas-Boas’ passing game means Chelsea have tended to dominate games at Stamford Bridge, with an average of 60.8% home possession bettered only by Swansea’s 61.4%. Intriguingly, Liverpool keep the ball better on the road, though, with 56% compared to 54.5% at Anfield, perhaps explaining why 3 of their 5 victories have come away from home.
The pair are evenly matched for goal attempts here; Chelsea have an averaged 16 goal attempts at home, with Liverpool recording 15 per away game, the fourth-best of any side. Dalglish’s side have a tendency to be caught offside time after time, though; 4 per game on the road is the second-worst in the Premier League but with Chelsea’s high back-line still a work in progress, they could take advantage.
It’s likely to be a physical encounter, too; Chelsea make the second-most tackles per home game (22.8), while Liverpool have the third-highest tackles average (21.4) of any away side. The likes of Ramires (3.2) tackles per game and Lucas (5.6) will surely be significant to their respective teams’ chances come Sunday.
Defensive Dilemmas for Both Sides
Chelsea’s last league game away to Blackburn saw Jose Bosingwa dropped for the first time this season. The result? Their first clean sheet since the season opener at Stoke, as Branislav Ivanovic moved from the centre into the right-back slot, with Alex coming in to play alongside John Terry. Comparing their stats over the season would be a little imbalanced, given nine of Ivanovic’s ten appearances have been at centre-half, so instead, we’ve looked at his performance at right-back at Ewood Park against Bosingwa’s to date.
While Ivanovic’s sample size is just a single game, it’s immediately clear just how superior a full-back he is defensively than Bosingwa. He made 5 tackles against Steve Kean’s side, with Bosingwa averaging 2.2 over the season, though his 1 interception is less than the latter’s 2.4. Ivanovic made 9 clearances and won 6 aerial duels, while Bosingwa has recorded 1.7 and 0.9 respectively. In addition, Ivanovic produced 3 key passes, one which led to the game’s only goal - Bosingwa has averaged 1 per game over his nine appearances.
For the visitors, the return of Jamie Carragher from injury could prove problematic. Liverpool’s 0-0 draw with Swansea, following on from the 2-0 win at West Brom, was the first time this season they have recorded back-to-back clean sheets. The two games were also the only league fixtures their vice-captain has missed this term. Coincidence? A look at the stats would suggest not.
In Carragher’s absence, Dalglish has paired Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel in the heart of the back-four. For tackles per game, Agger (1.5) and Skrtel (1.4) both edge Carragher’s 1.3 and while Carragher matches Skrtel’s 0.8 interceptions, Agger is far more impressive with 1.3. When it comes to aerial ability, the duo leave Carragher trailing - his average of 0.9 successful duels pales into insignificance in comparison with Skrtel (1.8) and Agger (2.1). Even in terms of attacking, both players are superior. Agger has produced 0.9 shots per game, Skrtel 0.6, while Carragher has failed to register a single effort over his nine appearances.
Analysing both sides’ two main creators shows a marked difference in their respective returns. For the home side, both Frank Lampard and Juan Mata have produced 2.7 key passes each per game and as a result, have picked up 4 assists apiece so far. From a total of 51 key passes between them, they have produced 8 assists - an average of 1 assist per 6.3 key passes.
Lampard has also chipped in with an average 2.7 shots, finding the net 6 times, the most of any player from Villas-Boas’ side. Mata has scored twice, averaging 1.1 shots over his nine appearances as he settles into the Premier League with ease. A combined total of 37 shots between them has returned 8 goals, which is 1 goal per 4.6 shots.
For Liverpool, Charlie Adam (2.2) and Stewart Downing (2.1) have led the way for key passes, though Adam’s 2 assists are all they have to show between them, despite both playing all eleven games so far. That’s a total of 47 key passes between them, an average of 1 assist per 23.5 key passes.
In terms of goal threat, it’s a similar scenario. Downing has 2.5 shots per game yet has failed to find the net even once, while Adam has managed 2.1 shots and scored on 2 occasions, with one of those coming from the penalty spot. That’s a total of 51 shots, producing 2 goals- which is 1 goal for every 25.5 efforts between them.
Torres and Suarez
Comparisons will forever be made between Fernando Torres and the man who replaced him at Anfield, Luis Suarez. While El Nino has hinted in recent weeks of a return to the form that took Merseyside by storm in his first couple of seasons, Suarez has been an immediate sensation, with his swashbuckling displays quickly winning the hearts of the Liverpool faithful.
Suarez has averaged 4.6 shots over his eleven appearances, a total of 51 attempts, which is the most of any player in the Premier League. Despite his constant goal threat, the Uruguayan has only found the net on 4 occasions, an average of a goal every 12.7 shots. He’s also shown plenty of creatively, with a total of 20 key passes, or 1.8 per game, returning just 1 assist. With 2.2 successful dribbles per game, he’s the top-rated Liverpool player in the WhoScored rankings, with an average of 7.32.
Torres has been far less of an attacking force. Over his eight appearances for the Blues, he’s had less than half the number of shots per game as Suarez, with an average of 2.1. With 2 goals to his name, he’s scored with every 8.5 shots- a more clinical rate then Suarez, though neither has been particularly impressive when it comes to finishing chances. Creatively, he’s been near non-existent, with just 0.5 key passes per game and no assists so far. Torres has also produced 1.9 successful dribbles on average but with a lowly 6.3 WhoScored match rating, is the nineteenth best in the Chelsea squad thus far.