Liverpool vs. Chelsea defined by two key battles – with “clever” Roberto Firmino the dangerman

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Premier League champions Liverpool are preparing for a historic night against Chelsea on Wednesday, but it’s also a key 90 minutes for the Blues.

Jurgen Klopp‘s champions have had a week off after their 2-1 defeat away to Arsenal, as they continue to revel in their status as champions.

On Wednesday, Jordan Henderson will hold the Premier League trophy aloft on the Kop, in what will be a memorable moment in the club’s great history.

Prior to that, however, they take on a Chelsea side in pole position to seal a top-four finish, following a good first season under Frank Lampard.

With kickoff on the horizon, we spoke to Chelsea regular Richard Long (@Chelseafan_Rick) to get his thoughts on the season overall, as well as Wednesday’s clash.

 

How would you assess Chelsea‘s season overall?

LONDON, ENGLAND - Sunday, September 22, 2019: Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold scores the first goal during the FA Premier League match between Chelsea's FC and Liverpool FC at Stamford Bridge. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster, to be honest.

If you had told me at the start of the season that with two games remaining we would be third, in an FA Cup final and gone through the first stage of the Champions League, all after losing Eden Hazard, having a transfer ban and a new manager playing a lot of the academy players, I would have bitten your hand off.

That said, there has been plenty of frustration, too.

We have had a terrible habit of losing to the smaller teams and our defending has been very poor throughout—there’s plenty of room for improvement.

If we do secure a top-four finish and win the FA Cup then I think the season would have to be hailed as a huge success.

 

Do you still have ultimate faith in Lampard?

LONDON, ENGLAND - Sunday, September 22, 2019: Chelsea's manager Frank Lampard applauds the supporters after the FA Premier League match between Chelsea's FC and Liverpool FC at Stamford Bridge. Liverpool won 2-1. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Absolutely. Anyone questioning him as a manager or calling for him to leave simply doesn’t understand football.

He has been given an incredibly hard job with no money to spend and no Hazard to bail us out.

He needs lots of time and a few transfer windows to mould the team how he wants and stamp his personality down.

The fans are completely behind the style of football he is trying to play and that in itself has been something to enjoy after suffering watching ‘Sarriball’ last season.

Frank Lampard is one of our own and Chelsea fans will back him all the way.

 

Is a title push out of the question next year?

LONDON, ENGLAND - Sunday, August 18, 2019: Chelsea's substitute Tammy Abraham after the FA Premier League match between Chelsea's FC and Leicester City FC at Stamford Bridge. The game ended in a 1-1 draw. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Yes, I think so.

Even with the likes of Timo Werner and Hakim Ziyech coming in, which will add huge quality, I still feel like we are some way off challenging for the Premier League title.

You can’t ignore the points gaps between us, Liverpool and Man City.

I think we will get better, but players will take time to gel and rivals like Man United and City will undoubtedly continue to spend huge sums, which we haven’t been able to compete with in recent seasons.

 

Who have been Chelsea’s best and worst performers this season?

LONDON, ENGLAND - Tuesday, March 3, 2020: Chelsea's Willian Borges da Silva during the FA Cup 5th Round match between Chelsea FC and Liverpool FC at Stamford Bridge. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

It says something when I can’t think of one player who has really shone for us but can think of plenty who haven’t.

Other Chelsea fans would probably slate me for it, but I actually think Willian has been very solid and performed consistently well.

He has been our main source of creativity and despite his contract saga off the field, his effort levels can’t be questioned.

In terms of worst performers, you can take your pick from any of the following: Kepa, Andreas Christensen and Ross Barkley.

It has been astounding how many times Christensen, in particular, has started this season.

He will make a big mistake every game and it often gets punished, but for some reason he keeps getting in the team and gets an easy ride from the pundits.

He has only been dropped in the last couple of games, but I am honestly not sure if he is Cheltenham standard, let alone good enough for Chelsea.

 

Where does this Liverpool side rank among the best you’ve seen in your lifetime?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, November 10, 2019: Liverpool's Mohamed Salah (#11) celebrates scoring the first goal with team-mates during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Manchester City FC at Anfield. Liverpool won 3-1. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

It’s the best Liverpool team from memory in my lifetime.

The team that had Luis Suarez was very good—mainly because of him—but this team has quality distributed throughout the field from front to back.

In terms of whether it’s one of the best teams I’ve seen in my lifetime overall? Not a chance.

I think there have been title-winning sides from Chelsea, City—particularly the form shown last season—and United that have been stronger.

Liverpool fans won’t like hearing it, but nobody other than themselves thinks this could be the best title-winning team ever.

To be in that category they need to now go on and prove it by winning another Premier League title and continue dominating the competition.

 

Looking ahead to Wednesday’s game, who do you fear most for the Reds?

Salah and Mane celebrate. (Mike Egerton/PA Wire/PA Images)

I’m always worried about our defence playing against Liverpool’s front three and it will be no different on Wednesday.

We are making so many mistakes at the back and I don’t think Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane, in particular, will have a problem cutting through it.

Crosses sent in from Trent Alexander-Arnold will also be a concern, given our vulnerability in that area.

 

Where do you see the key battles taking place?

LONDON, ENGLAND - Sunday, September 22, 2019: Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk during the FA Premier League match between Chelsea's FC and Liverpool FC at Stamford Bridge. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Olivier Giroud vs. Virgil van Dijk will be a great battle.

Giroud is bang in form and arguably the best hold-up striker in the league.

He has done well previously against Van Dijk and I’m expecting them both to be very physical, with Van Dijk always within touching distance to stop the cute layoffs and flick-ons from Giroud.

At the other end, Kurt Zouma seems to have nailed down a starting spot and is performing well.

He is an old-fashioned style of defender who relies on his physicality and is all-or-nothing in the challenge.

I wonder if Roberto Firmino might make him look a bit silly with his clever changes of pace and footwork with the ball.

They are two very different kinds of player, so it will be interesting to see who comes out on top.

 

Finally, hit us with your prediction…

LONDON, ENGLAND - Sunday, September 22, 2019: Liverpool's Roberto Firmino celebrates scoring the second goal during the FA Premier League match between Chelsea's FC and Liverpool FC at Stamford Bridge. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

I will go for 2-2.

I expect Liverpool to be slightly off the pace following their title win and we will be full of confidence after beating United in the FA Cup.

I am expecting it to be a very open game with lots of attacking from both sides.

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