Predicting the Liverpool XI vs Chelsea: Lucas to return? Lambert to drop out?

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Brendan Rodgers’ Reds travel to west London to take on Jose Mourinho’s title winners at Stamford Bridge. Ben Twelves discusses the possible team selection options available to the Liverpool boss ahead of the clash.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, November 8, 2014: Liverpool's manager Brendan Rodgers and Chelsea's manager Jose Mourinho during the Premier League match at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The Reds head to the capital on Sunday afternoon to play their penultimate away game of the season as the end of a frustrating campaign draws closer with only three games left.

Liverpool do – mathematically at least – have something left to compete for as they sit four points behind rivals Man United with nine points still left to win, but realistically, the season is over with the chances of catching Louis van Gaal’s side only a distinct improbability after a number of sloppy results and spurned opportunities to close the gap over recent weeks.

There’s little riding on Sunday’s fixture therefore, with extremely contrasting seasons now done dusted for both sides, but the incentive remains for the Reds to exact revenge for League Cup elimination and the 2-1 defeat at Anfield earlier this season, and for Rodgers to finally record his first win against his former club in the hope that a positive result drags his side to within a point of United with two matches to play.

Similarly, the Anfield boss and his squad will want to build on last weekend’s 2-1 success over Chris Ramsay’s QPR to ensure they finish the campaign strongly, but that promises to be easier said than done with Chelsea yet to be beaten at home this season in the league, meaning a dominating performance from the Reds selected will be required.


The Team

There’s little change over who is and isn’t available for selection, with Mamadou Sakho still out along with long-term absentees Jon Flanagan and Daniel Sturridge, who is now set to miss the beginning of next season too, but Mario Balotelli could return from a foot injury to feature on Sunday.

Aside from the injured trio being missing, Rodgers has a large squad at his disposal to pick from for the clash – albeit one desperately short of striking quality – and with plenty of options available, the Liverpool boss could choose to make some changes to his side.

Alberto Moreno and Lucas Leiva both made immediate returns to match-day involvement last time out following brief injury spells, with the Brazilian coming on for the remaining minutes in the 2-1 win, and the duo will be hopeful of returning to the starting XI this time out, as will Joe Allen who was an unused substitute.

LONDON, ENGLAND - Tuesday, January 27, 2015: Liverpool's Lucas Leiva in action against Chelsea during the Football League Cup Semi-Final 2nd Leg match at Stamford Bridge. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

So too will natural attacking options Jordon Ibe and Lazar Markovic who both entered as second half changes last weekend, though Rodgers could opt to keep faith with Adam Lallana, Philippe Coutinho and Raheem Sterling as the creative hub of the Liverpool side ahead of Jordan Henderson and Steven Gerrard.

In the absence of Sturridge and Balotelli, Rickie Lambert was the man chosen to lead the Reds attack last Saturday, and with the Italian having just returned from injury and Fabio Borini once again out frozen out ahead of a likely summer exit, the 32-year-old could make a consecutive start up front – but only if Rodgers decides against using Raheem Sterling as a striker.


Liverpool’s XI

With 4-3-3 having become Rodgers’ formation of choice since the end of the 3-4-2-1 shape, Liverpool could once again line up in the preferred current system against Mourinho’s side.

The back four and Simon Mignolet is likely to remain unchanged, though the need for a more solid and energetic midfield against a physical side could see Rodgers recall Allen to the starting team to form the midfield three alongside Gerrard and Henderson.

That allows Liverpool to line up with a mobile attacking unit of Philippe Coutinho, Adam Lallana and Raheem Sterling, with the 20-year-old making the familiar switch to playing as a striker, and with those alterations, Rodgers’ side could line up like this at Stamford Bridge:

Chelsea XI 4-3-3

However with midfield, wide and attacking options aplenty for the Liverpool manager, Rodgers could revisit 3-4-2-1 on Sunday afternoon.

That would see Emre Can adopt his usual right centre-back role alongside Martin Skrtel and Dejan Lovren, and a four man Reds midfield should allow Lucas to return to a defensive midfield role with his physicality and added bonus next to Henderson, with Jordon Ibe and Moreno filling the wing-back positions.

There is a vast number of talented offensive options to fill the three attacking shirts, and it should be Coutinho and Gerrard to play in support of Sterling, keeping Markovic in reserve and relegating Lallana and Lambert to the bench.

If Rodgers does decide to make the system switch, Liverpool’s starting XI could take to the Stamford Bridge pitch looking like this come 4pm kick-off time:

Chelsea XI 3-4-2-1

Sunday’s clash is one of the more meaningless fixtures between the two clubs in recent years, but for the Reds the game does represent the chance to record a confidence-boosting win if nothing else, a result which could have more interesting consequences should United slip up at Crystal Palace.

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