Two faltering behemoths come to blows in Tuesday’s Premier League battle at Stamford Bridge, as managerless Chelsea play host to Liverpool on the back of demoralising defeats for both sides.
The hosts were put to the sword 2-0 by Aston Villa on Saturday, a few hours after the Reds were swept aside 4-1 by Manchester City.
The international break undoubtedly came at the worst time for a Chelsea side who had begun to ease the pressure on Graham Potter’s shoulders in March, but Aston Villa had no difficulties picking up where they left off before the two-week hiatus.
Seeking to build on a streak of three wins and a draw when Aston Villa made the long journey south, Chelsea reverted to an all-too familiar version of themselves under Potter, succumbing to sublime goals from Ollie Watkins and John McGinn while wasting an array of gilt-edged chances in front of goal.
A toxic atmosphere was apparent at Stamford Bridge as Chelsea fell into the bottom half of the Premier League table – now occupying 11th place, wholly unacceptable for a club of their stature and financial firepower – and the reassuring pats on the back from the owners ceased on Sunday evening as Potter was relieved of his duties.
Bruno Saltor will temporarily take charge while the search for a successor gets underway, as the Blues now sit 13 points adrift of a place in the top four thanks to Newcastle United’s win over Manchester United on Sunday.
Almost everything that could go wrong for Chelsea on Saturday did go wrong, and only one of the hosts’ last five Premier League matches at Stamford Bridge has ended in victory, but their upcoming visitors have little reason for unbridled optimism either.
Now an unsightly weekly occurrence in the Premier League, players swarmed around the referee during Liverpool’s clash with Man City at the Etihad, with those in red infuriated that Rodri escaped a second yellow card only a couple of minutes after entering Simon Hooper’s book.
However, an emotionless Jurgen Klopp claimed that playing against 10 men would most likely not have made a difference for his side, who went ahead on Saturday lunchtime through Mohamed Salah before Ilkay Gundogan, Jack Grealish, Kevin De Bruyne and Julian Alvarez turned the game on its head for the champions.
According to Klopp, only “four-ish” players performed at an acceptable level in Manchester – some Reds fans may argue that figure is generous – as Liverpool head to Stamford Bridge having slipped to eighth place in the table, with Brighton & Hove Albion and Brentford leapfrogging the Merseyside outfit thanks to their 3-3 draw at the Amex.
A period of review and recuperation over the international break proved fruitless for Liverpool, who have now lost each of their last three games – all of which have come on the road – and five of the Reds’ last seven Premier League away encounters have ended in defeat.
Klopp faced Chelsea in his 1,000th game as a manager in January, but neither set of fans got their money’s worth in a drab goalless stalemate – the third time in a row that both sides have failed to score against one another in 90 minutes – and some may already be placing bets on a similarly tight and uneventful affair taking shape in the capital.
None of Armando Broja (knee), Cesar Azpilicueta (knee) or Thiago Silva (knee) will be seen in blue for the hosts this week, and the fixture may also come too soon for Edouard Mendy (finger) and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (back) to make their returns to the fold.
However, there is hope that Raheem Sterling can shake off a hamstring concern to earn some minutes against his former club, and the same can be said for Wesley Fofana, who Potter claimed should be in with a chance of returning to the squad for Tuesday’s battle.
Whether either man is fit enough to force their way into the first XI remains to be seen, but the likes of Benoit Badiashile, Mason Mount and maybe even N’Golo Kante – who made his first Premier League appearance since August off the bench against Villa – could benefit from some desired rotation from Saltor.
Meanwhile, Liverpool’s long-term absentees Calvin Ramsay (knee) and Stefan Bajcetic (adductor) remain absent, while Naby Keita is also at risk of missing the remainder of the season with a fresh muscular problem.
Luis Diaz has made his return to team training as he closes in on a comeback from knee surgery, but he will not be considered for selection just yet either, while Thiago Alcantara (hip) is also a couple of weeks away from returning to the turf.
While Klopp’s midfield options are severely limited, both of Roberto Firmino and Darwin Nunez could freshen up the forward line, while Andrew Robertson endured a torrid afternoon at the Etihad and could be afforded a rest as Kostas Tsimikas comes in.
Chelsea possible starting lineup:
Kepa; Badiashile, Koulibaly, Fofana; James, Fernandez, Kante, Chilwell; Mount, Havertz; Felix
Liverpool possible starting lineup:
Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Konate, Van Dijk, Tsimikas; Henderson, Fabinho; Salah, Firmino, Jota; Nunez