Here are the three talking points ahead of Friday night's blockbuster clash between Chelsea and Liverpool at Stamford Bridge:
Coutinho, Firmino, Mané or Sturridge—Who Gets Dropped?
Squad depth is undoubtedly an asset for any team. However, it comes with a downside—when everybody is fit, rested and in form, someone who doesn't deserve to be benched is forced to sit out.
Jurgen Klopp faces such a dilemma as he picks the starting line-up for Friday’s clash with Chelsea. All of his four key attacking players are fit, ready to play and arguably in top form. Sturridge, who was impressive against Leicester on the weekend, provided a focal point to Liverpool attack and his off-ball movements consistently opened up spaces for Mane and Firmino to run into.
Equally impressive was the weekend’s man of the match, Roberto Firmino, who found the net on two occasions and attempted more passes in the final third (43) than any of his teammates. Mane, on the other hand, has arguably been Liverpool’s player of the season so far and his pace has been crucial for Liverpool to open up opposition defences. Mane's absence was glaring in Liverpool’s shock 2-0 defeat to Burnley on 20th August.
Coutinho, who was outstanding in Liverpool’s opening day victory against Arsenal, is capable of single-handedly changing the outcome of the game. The Brazilian was rested against Leicester having arrived late from the international duty, but should be reinstated into the starting XI against Chelsea considering his impact in the big games over the past two seasons.
Moving Coutinho to a deeper position in place of Adam Lallana is another option for Jurgen Klopp. However, the Englishman is currently in top goal scoring form and is virtually undroppable from the Liverpool starting XI. Jordan Henderson and Gini Wijnaldum, meanwhile, will operate in their usual holding midfield roles.
Klopp's decision to drop one of these four stalwarts from the starting XI is one of the many intriguing plots to look ahead to on Friday night.
Diego Costa—‘The Real Warrior’
Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp branded controversial Chelsea striker Diego Costa as the "real warrior" during his pre-match press conference. Klopp felt that it’s crucial for his defenders to be ‘aggressive’ in dealing with Costa, while at the same time, keeping their cool around the striker who is infamous for his ability to get under the opposition's skin.
But is the centre-back pairing of Lovren and Matip capable of matching the Spaniard's threat—both physically and mentally? In the past seasons, Liverpool had Martin Skrtel in their ranks – someone who relished the physical battle with Costa and had the experience to never fall prey to the best wind-up artist in the league. The ability of Matip and Lovren to cope with Costa's antics on the night will be pivotal in determining the evental outcome of the match.
The return of David Luiz
David Luiz and his mop of unruly hair return to Stamford Bridge after leaving London for Paris as the most expensive defender in the world—a record he still holds.
Ideally, Conte would have preferred a little more time to make the error-prone defender adapt to his philosophy of demanding discipline at the back. But the injury to Terry has forced Conte to push his card out earlier than expected, and it would be fascinating to see how Luiz fares against the rampant Liverpool attack that put four past the reigning champions Leicester last weekend.
However, one shouldn’t forget that Luiz is capable of producing impeccable performances—particularly in the big matches. Most remember his inspirational display in the 2012 Champions League final where he risked his health for European glory.
So, which David Luiz will turn up on Friday night? Can he be the inspirational maverick who leads his team to glory? Or will he be the defender who stampedes forward with little regard for the acres of space he leaves behind at the back? No one can predict, or as football analytics guru Ted Knutson puts it, ‘I have no opinion on David Luiz. He seems to exist just to perplex people trying to evaluate him.’
Whatever happens, the Brazilian's presence on the field will bring enough excitement to tonight’s match—not just for the supporters wearing blue but also for the ones wearing red. He is a unique, equal opportunity generator, and that we can guarantee.