This weekend, a potential title rival of Liverpool’s, Chelsea, travel to Merseyside.
It’s of course not to face Liverpool as they ironically head to West London, the home of Frank Lampard’s men, to take on Fulham. Chelsea instead travel north to take on neighbours Everton in the Saturday night late kick-off.
At the time of kick-off, Liverpool players will most likely be settled in their hotel rooms and watching this one with some keen interest given the impressive form of Chelsea in recent weeks.
They’re currently just two points behind Liverpool and could potentially leapfrog them into top spot with a win against Carlo Ancelotti’s side.
Some may have predicted that Lampard’s men may be in an around the top spot this season, particularly given that they invested an eye-watering £220m on a plethora of players that as individuals would have most likely become the marquee signing of the summer at another club.
Yet despite this excellent window, there was another school of thought that opined these new recruits would require some form of a bedding-in period before we would see them at their best and as a result, we were unlikely to see Chelsea as legitimate Premier League contenders this year.
This thought process looked to be reaffirmed by the fact that they started the season in a fairly unremarkable manner, winning just two of their opening six Premier League matches. That run included a 2-0 home defeat to Liverpool, a loss that felt revealing in terms of their potential title-chasing credentials.
However, since their goalless draw at Old Trafford in gameweek six, Chelsea have gone onto win five of their following six league matches, dropping points only to high flying Spurs in a 0-0 draw.
Furthermore, their underlying numbers look very good at both ends. In terms of shots generated per 90, they rank 5th with an average of 14.1 and their combined non-penalty Expected Goals (NPxG) total of 16.6 is the third-best in the league behind only Leeds and Liverpool.
Although, they actually jump to second behind the Reds when we look at Post-shot xG (PSxG), illustrating the benefits of introducing new clinical forwards to their attack this season.
Their biggest issue last season was undoubtedly the number of goals they conceded. Their total of 54 against was the eighth-highest in the league, despite the fact that they had the fourth-best Expected Goals Against (xGA) total.
Amongst this summer’s shopping spree, improving the defence and replacing Kepa was top of the agenda. Their recruitment of Mendy in the summer does draw some parallels with how Liverpool brought in Alisson to launch them from top-four hopefuls into genuine title contenders. As does the acquisition of Thiago Silva when compared to the arrival of Virgil Van Dijk.
Clearly, the Dutchman is a younger and better all-round defender than Silva, especially at this stage of his career. However, the Brazilian does act as a great short team solution for this season with bags of elite-level experience.
The consequence of an improved defence and a better keeper is that they currently rank inside the league’s top four for fewest shots faced and have conceded just twice across their previous six league matches.
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Despite the quality of their new signings and their obvious improvements as a unit this year, when comparing their best 11 against Liverpool’s best 11, most would back Jurgen Klopp’s team as the superior.
However, this season, players are struggling to meet the physical demands of playing matches every two or three days due to the lingering impact of the COVID pandemic.
This means squad size and depth are more important than ever, and frankly, no team in the division, including Liverpool, has the depth quality that Lampard has at his disposal. As a result, the former England international can replace and rotate within his team without there being a huge drop-off in terms of the on the pitch performances.
Klopp’s squad and academy players have served him well so far, highlighted by the fact that the Reds still sit joint top of the table despite all the adversity they have faced so far. Yet based on the above, Chelsea look to have the potential to push them all the way this season.
For that reason, Liverpool players may be reluctantly hoping that their Everton rivals can do them an unlikely favour this weekend.