Chelsea visit Anfield on Saturday evening as Antonio Conte looks to taste Premier League victory over Liverpool for the first time.
The Blues collected just one point against Jurgen Klopp’s men last season, and Liverpool are, in fact, unbeaten against Chelsea in the last five matches in all competitions – the longest run of that kind since 1996.
Both sides have made stuttering starts to the new Premier League season, and each manager will be well aware that victory is essential in the battle to keep up with Manchester City as best they can.
But how do the do starting elevens compare when stacked side-by-side?
Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea). If one was to be really harsh, Courtois’ career progression hasn’t quite een him elevated to the level of the elite goalkeepers in world football (though at the age of 25 he still has time). That said, he is still up there with the best in the Premier League, and is far superior to Simon Mignolet in the Liverpool goal.
Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea). The Spanish international appears as comfortable in a back three as he does as a full-back, and Antoni Conte has been able to use that versatility to his advantage. Azpilicueta is a huge threat going forward as well as being a highly-skilled defender.
Joel Matip (Liverpool). The Cameroonian defender is Liverpool’s standout defender (granted that’s not a strong category), and while his class and composure cannot be called into question, there is still as sense there that a true defensive leader next to him in the centre would see his performances come on even more.
David Luiz (Chelsea). He may have fallen out with Conte recently, but as Gary Cahill continues his decline and Antonio Rudiger and Andrea Christensen adapt to the Premier League, Luiz is arguably the most proficient, consistent centre-back that Chelsea have. Conte has curbed the more kamikaze aspects of the Brazilian’s game to great effect.
Marcos Alonso (Chelsea). Alonso benefited the most from Conte’s shift to three at the back last season, and continues to impress this year. As he showed with his brace against Tottenham this year, the former Fiorentina man can be just as deadly going forward as his compatriot Azpilicueta.
N’Golo Kante (Chelsea). The tenacious heartbeat of the Chelsea midfield, Kante has gone slightly under the radar this season but has been no less influential for it. His recent injury laid bare just how important he is to Chelsea and Conte’s system.
Philippe Coutinho (Liverpool). Coutinho has responded brilliantly to the disappointment of not being able to join Barcelona last summer. The playmaker has had a tremendous season personally so far, scoring five goals and chiming in with four assists.
Eden Hazard (Chelsea). The Belgian has continued his brilliant form from last year and, if possible, has even built upon it. Inarguably among the best players in the league, it won’t be long before he Hazard starts climbing the Ballon d’Or ladder.
Mohamed Salah (Liverpool). Were it not for a bit of naivety on Chelsea’s part, Salah could have been on the blue half of this lineup. As it is, their loss has turned out to be Liverpool’s gain in the long run, with the Egyptian hitting flying form since the very beginning of the season. 14 goals in 18 games is a ridiculous return for a player that is still supposed to be settling in.
Sadio Mane (Liverpool). While Salah continues to dominate the headlines, Liverpool’s other pacy forward should not be forgotten. Jurgen Klopp’s side still feel Mane’s absence more than anyone else in that team, and the ex-Southampton man’s return of four goals and three assists from an injury-disrupted season so far are a solid foundation to build on.
Alvaro Morata (Chelsea). As with Salah, Morata has given lie to the theory that all players need time to adapt in the Premier League. The Spanish international has plugged the gap left by compatriot Diego Costa quite nicely, and his record of nine goals in 15 games so far is an extremely positive start for the striker.
On this week’s episode of the Mixer Irish Football Podcast, we’re joined by Burton Albion defender Ryan Delaney to look back on a double-winning season with Cork City, and discuss our Premier Division Team of the Year as voted by you.