All Eyes on the Champions League: Chelsea vs. Liverpool Preview
Liverpool travel to Chelsea having booked their place in the Champions League Final in midweek. But both teams are in danger of missing out on next year’s competition
Jürgen Klopp and his Liverpool side will have to put the champagne on ice for the time being. The Reds went through to the Champions League Final despite losing to Roma in the Italian capital on Wednesday night. They still have the unfortunate formality of having to qualify for next year’s competition. Chelsea are hot on the heels of both Liverpool and Spurs, attempting to steal a top four qualification spot off one of their rivals at the last opportunity.
“The most important game of my career so far” - Klopp
Klopp has rightly played up the importance of this game, even if it comes with a touch of hyperbole. In his pre-match press conference on Friday he said that the Merseyside club are treating their remaining two games as semi-finals. The German understands how important continued participation in the Champions League is to the club’s long term ambitions.
The Scousers are undefeated in their last six games in the Premier League. However, their European escapades have seen their form suffer, having drawn three of those six matches.
James Milner has been a pivotal figure for Liverpool this season
They could still mathematically finish second after Manchester United failed to capitalise on Friday night and were beaten away at Brighton. The Seagulls weathered through a dismal United performance to secure Premier League football for another season. United are five points ahead of their northern rivals, and six points ahead of Spurs. But it’s unlikely United will drop all points over their remaining two games.
Liverpool can’t afford to lose focus in the Premier League. It’s crunch time in their domestic campaign when results are vital. They won’t want to slip up and let a Chelsea team that is in many ways inferior, succeed at the last chance.
“If we want to keep the hope alive we have to win” - Conte
Last season’s champions have been less than impressive this time round. Never has a defending champion performed so poorly in the modern Premier League era.
Many will blame Chelsea manager Antonio Conte, who has cut a weary and forlorn figure for much of the season. This comes in stark contrast to his dapper swagger when he arrived in England in August 2016. Last year he showed up and changed the game, deploying fresh tactics, marauding wingbacks, and breathed a new life into world-class playmaker Eden Hazard.
However, former star striker Diego Costa fell out of favour with the Italian and his messy exit-saga affected team morale and bled well into this season’s campaign. Costa’s goals and his stature in the side have still not been adequately replaced.
Chelsea will be hoping to channel past victories against Liverpool
Chelsea had a shaky start to 2018. They’ve racked up five defeats this year and drawn three – losing out on a total of 21 points. Recently they have returned to form with three consecutive wins against Southampton, Burnley, and Swansea. The Blues have performed poorly against the big boys this season. Spurs schooled them at the beginning of April, and both Manchester United and Manchester City ground out tight and convincing wins.
Liverpool will want to go into their Champions League Final knowing they have secured a place in the competition for next season. Chelsea will have to fight for it themselves, knowing that they need a top four finish this season to compete with the top European teams after the summer. Even if Liverpool are crowned European Champions and finish in a top four qualifying spot, the remaining Champions League place will not be carried down to the fifth place finisher in the Premier League as has happened in previous years.