6 February ~ Recent years have seen some bitter battles between Chelsea and Liverpool, but none as potentially severe as today's game at Stamford Bridge. The mood among fans on Merseyside seems weighted between rancour and disbelief following Fernando Torres’s swift departure to west London. The timing of his decision – hours after Liverpool had finally signed him a worthy strike partner in Luis Suárez and just as the post-Hodgson Reds appear to be back on the up – has brought on the rage.
Never mind such eager defection to a staunch rival, what’s harder for Liverpool fans to take has been the apparent glee with which Torres has approached this weekend’s encounter, vowing that to score against the club whose supporters have deified him for the past four years is “my destiny”.
But there’s more to this fixture than Torres’s proposed dagger through the heart. Both clubs have momentum, each of them emerging from a tortuous Christmas period to rediscover some form. Chelsea have scored 18 times in the past five games while Liverpool have won their last three without conceding. The Dalglish factor has resulted in renewed vigour and a more flowing style of play, though it goes without saying that Chelsea at Stamford Bridge represents an altogether stiffer test than Wolves, Fulham or Stoke.
After his debut goal in midweek, it’s likely that Suárez will start, with Jamie Carragher finally fit again after his long-term shoulder injury. Much will depend on how much emphasis Liverpool place on attack, primarily in the use of Raul Meireles (promoted to a more advanced role under Dalglish’s stewardship) and full-backs Glen Johnson and Martin Kelly, both of whom have marauded freely in recent games.
Carlo Ancelotti may also choose to hand a debut to this week’s other fresh Blues signing David Luíz, a player who looks ready made as a long-term replacement for Ricardo Carvalho. The Chelsea boss may also elect to play Torres and Didier Drogba up front as part of the new diamond formation he hinted at after Tuesday’s 4-2 win at Sunderland, with Nicolas Anelka reprising his offensive role in central midfield.
Statistically, the odds are heaped in Chelsea’s favour – only seven goals conceded at home all season, allied to a dismal record at Stamford Bridge that has seen only three Liverpool wins in 20 years, though the inside knowledge of Dalglish’s first-team coach Steve Clarke, the man who helped mould the trenchant Chelsea ethic of the Mourinho era, could be critical. But let’s not kid ourselves as to where all eyes will be on Sunday. With emotions boiling fast already, the question may not be whether or not Torres scores but how he chooses to celebrate afterwards. Rob Hughes