Photo: SPORTCO
Photo: SPORTCO

Liverpool host Chelsea at Anfield on Thursday night in a huge Premier League clash as the race to finish in the top four heats up.

Liverpool finally won a game in the league after four successive losses. On Sunday night, the Reds beat Sheffield United 2-0 at Bramall Lane.

Liverpool vs. Chelsea: Match preview

The top-four race is not one either of these clubs would have gone into the season hoping to be involved in, and certainly not one they would have expected to be chasing, with ground still to make up at this stage of the campaign.

However, both teams - and Liverpool in particular - have been forced to temper their expectations over the course of the season and securing Champions League football next term is now the sole priority for both as far as their league ambitions are concerned.

Liverpool's slide down the table has been more recent, winning just two games out of 11 prior to Sunday's much-needed 2-0 triumph over Sheffield United at Bramall Lane.

A Curtis Jones strike and Kean Bryan own goal ensured that the champions ended a four-game losing streak in the Premier League, and the challenge for Jurgen Klopp's side now is to build on that and get their season back on track.

Plenty of problems still exist for Liverpool, though, not least a scarcely-believable run of form at home which has seen them lose their last four Anfield outings.

That is already the worst run Liverpool have suffered since 1923, and incredibly as many home defeats as they had suffered in their first 100 such games under Klopp, and another loss on Thursday would see them fall to five successive home defeats for the first time in their entire history - either in the league or across all competitions.

It would be a remarkably poor record at any time, but becomes even more baffling considering it has come immediately after a 68-game home unbeaten run in the league - the second-longest such streak in English top-flight history.

Liverpool's winless run at Anfield now stretches back seven games to December 16, and they have scored just once in their last five matches at Anfield, having netted in each of their 42 outings prior to that.

Those stats paint a bleak picture, particularly coming up against a Chelsea side that has looked so solid defensively under Thomas Tuchel, but the positive for Liverpool is that they still have time to save their season.

Despite such a poor recent run, only two teams have picked up more home points than the Reds this season, while victory on Thursday would lift them back into the top four and would suddenly make the situation look a lot rosier.

The champions outclassed Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in the reverse fixture, but Thursday's visitors appear to be a different proposition under Tuchel and only Manchester City have picked up more points over the last six league games.

Indeed, Tuchel is yet to taste defeat since taking over as manager, winning six and drawing three of his nine games at the helm - only Jose Mourinho and Luiz Felipe Scolari, with 10 games and 12 games respectively, have enjoyed longer unbeaten starts as Chelsea boss.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of that is the fact that Chelsea have conceded just two goals in those nine games - they shipped 12 in their final nine under Frank Lampard - giving Tuchel a firm foundation to build upon.

The task now will be to improve the team's balance going forward; while they have only conceded twice, they have also only scored 10 goals in those nine games and drew a blank last time out against Manchester United.

Callum Hudson-Odoi survived a contentious penalty call in that otherwise-uneventful goalless draw at Stamford Bridge - a result which saw Chelsea fail to capitalise on defeats for Leicester City and West Ham United earlier in the weekend.

The Blues remain one point outside the top four as a result, but they are also just one point above Merseyside duo Liverpool and Everton, both of whom they play in their next two games.

Negative results in those two matches could see them plummet down the table, but they will arrive at Anfield in confident mood given their hosts' recent struggles at home.

Chelsea's away record has also improved lately; they have won four of their five on the road across all competitions under Tuchel, drawing the other, having lost four of their last five away games under Lampard.

The Blues have not won a league game at Anfield since 2014, but they will know what to expect heading into what will be their sixth meeting with Liverpool in the last two seasons.

The two managers will also know each other well having faced off 14 times in the past, with Tuchel winning just two of those and losing nine - the most matches he has lost against anyone in his top-flight managerial career.

Liverpool Premier League form: WLLLLW

Liverpool form (all competitions): LLLWLW

Chelsea Premier League form: WWWWDD

Chelsea form (all competitions): WWWDWD

Photo: Reuters
Photo: Reuters

Liverpool vs. Chelsea: Team News

Goalkeeper Alisson Becker will return to Liverpool's starting lineup after sitting out their last match following the death of his father.

Midfielder Fabinho returns from injury while forward Diogo Jota, who would have been in the squad for Sunday's win at Sheffield United but for late illness, is set for his first involvement in three months after a knee problem.

Klopp has to decide whether to keep the inexperienced centre-back partnership of on-loan Ozan Kabak and Nat Phillips after they became the 17th different central defensive pairing of the season at Bramall Lane.

Liverpool provisional squad: Alisson, Alexander-Arnold, Kabak, Fabinho, Robertson, Wijnaldum, Thiago, Jones, Salah, Firmino, Mane, Adrian, N Williams, Phillips, Keita, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Milner, Shaqiri, Jota, Origi.

Thiago Silva will miss out for Chelsea, with the Brazil defender not yet ready for match action after a thigh issue. Winger Callum Hudson-Odoi is fully fit after a minor knee problem though, and will be in the squad.

Striker Tammy Abraham remains a doubt due to an ongoing ankle complaint that he has managed over a number of weeks.

Chelsea provisional squad: Mendy, Azpilicueta, Zouma, Rudiger, Hudson-Odoi, Chilwell, Kante, Jorginho, Havertz, Ziyech, Giroud, Arrizabalaga, James, Christensen, Emerson, Alonso, Kovacic, Gilmour, Pulisic, Werner, Abraham.

READ MORE: Liverpool vs. Chelsea Premier League Preview: Betting Tips, Odds, Key Points

Liverpool vs. Chelsea predicted lineups

Liverpool vs. Chelsea: Possible lineups
Liverpool vs. Chelsea: Possible lineups

Chelsea

Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel has a number of selection dilemmas facing him for Thursday's trip to take on fellow top-four hopefuls Liverpool at Anfield. Most of them are the type of headache a manager likes to have though, with Chelsea boasting a relatively clean bill of health in comparison to their injury-stricken hosts. Thursday's match could come too soon for Thiago Silva, who is now back in training after a thigh injury, to start, but Callum Hudson-Odoi is available after coming off at half time against Manchester United and then being spotted with an ice pack on his knee. Tuchel also revealed in his pre-match press conference that Tammy Abraham is suffering with an ankle problem and, having been omitted from the matchday squad entirely for the visit of Manchester United, he could be set to miss out again here.

Aside from that, Tuchel has a fully-fit squad to choose from and plenty of options at his disposal should he choose to chop and change his side in order to keep them fresh.

In addition to Abraham, big-money summer arrivals Timo Werner and Kai Havertz were also notably left on the bench for Sunday's match against Man United and will be knocking on the door for a return.

Whether the trio have fallen out of favour under Tuchel or if the German is just rotating his squad ahead of an important spell in three different competitions remains to be seen, and his selection at Anfield may provide a major hint to that.

Olivier Giroud will hope to keep his place having scored seven Premier League goals against Liverpool in the past, including four at Anfield, but a relatively unthreatening showing against Man United makes him one of many players whose position looks uncertain.

The unbeaten new manager is particularly spoilt for choice in the positions behind the striker, with Christian Pulisic, Havertz, Werner, Hakim Ziyech and Mason Mount among those pushing for inclusion.

Werner will hope to start against the club he was heavily linked within the summer, but Tuchel has already revealed that he does not necessarily see the Germany international as an out-and-out striker and so he will likely be in support of either Abraham or Giroud if included.

Further back, the likes of Marcos Alonso, Kurt Zouma and Jorginho were on the bench against Man United having featured regularly under the new manager, while Reece James could come in at right wing-back despite Hudson-Odoi being passed fit.

Chelsea possible starting lineup: Mendy; Azpilicueta, Christensen, Rudiger; James, Kante, Kovacic, Alonso; Mount, Giroud, Werner.

Liverpool

In a season defined largely by injury problems, Liverpool could be handed a trio of timely boosts ahead of this match with some key players set to come back into contention.

Jurgen Klopp mentioned after the victory over Sheffield United that both Alisson Becker and Fabinho are expected to return in time for Chelsea, and the Brazilian duo could both go straight back into the starting lineup.

Alisson missed out at Bramall Lane on compassionate grounds following the tragic death of his father in a swimming accident in his native Brazil last week.

The shot-stopper will be granted as long as he needs to recover, and Adrian is on standby again after a keeping a clean sheet at the weekend, but Alisson is expected to come back into the side for this one.

Fabinho, meanwhile, has been sidelined for almost a month and it will be interesting to see whether he returns at centre-back, where he has featured for most of the season so far, or in his more familiar central midfield position.

Klopp could be tempted to give Nat Phillips and Ozan Kabak - his 18th centre-back pairing of the season - more time to build a partnership given that Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip are all likely to miss the rest of the season, but Fabinho has excelled at the heart of the defence and so is expected to return in that position.

Kabak appears to be above Phillips in the pecking order following his January arrival, but a couple of shaky performances against Everton and Sheffield United could see Klopp favour Phillips for this match.

The other fitness boost comes in attack, where Diogo Jota could make his first appearance since December having now recovered from a knee injury.

The Portuguese forward missed the Sheffield United game through illness after returning to training last week, and he is likely to be eased back in via a substitute's role rather than being thrown straight back into the starting XI.

Jota's return should give Klopp the chance to rest some of his front three over the coming weeks, although Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane are all expected to start this game.

Mane scored both goals in the reverse fixture at Stamford Bridge to make it seven goals in 16 appearances against Chelsea across all competitions - only against Crystal Palace and Aston Villa has he scored more in England.

The champions will still be without captain Jordan Henderson, while backup goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher is also sidelined.

Liverpool possible starting lineup: Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Phillips, Fabinho, Robertson; Thiago, Wijnaldum, Jones; Salah, Firmino, Mane.

LIVERPOOL VS CHELSEA: PREDICTIONS

Given the way in which Liverpool won the Premier League last season, there can’t have been too many who expected Jurgen Klopp’s side to be fighting for a top four spot in 2020/21. But after a positive start to their title defence that is exactly the case, with the Reds currently down in sixth, albeit just two points behind fourth-placed West Ham.

Prior to their 2-0 win over bottom-of-the-league Sheffield United at the weekend, Liverpool had lost four games in a row for the first time since December 2002, conceding 10 goals and scoring just twice. They remain in terrible form at Anfield, losing their past four home league games having previously gone 68 without defeat, and are the first reigning top-flight champions to go on such a run since Everton in 1928/29.

Travelling to Anfield, looking to condemn Liverpool to five consecutive home defeats for the first time in their history are Chelsea, who will also be hoping to end their own mini winless run in the Premier League. The Blues have drawn their past two games in the league, against Southampton and Manchester United, but remain in a good position in the race for the Champions League.

Chelsea are now unbeaten in nine games across all competitions since Thomas Tuchel replaced Frank Lampard as manager in January, winning six and drawing three, their third-best start to life under a new boss. That form, which includes seven unbeaten in the Premier League, has seen Chelsea move to within one point of fourth-placed West Ham and they will be looking for the win to jump into the final Champions League spot ahead of the final run-in.

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