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Friday, 14 December, 2018

Chelsea and Liverpool set for another close encounter

Stamford Bridge rivals are hard to separate

Eden Hazard's midweek EFL Cup match-winner
1 of 1

Premier League
BT Sport 1, 5.30pm Saturday

The first instalment of Chelsea’s double-header with Liverpool went the way of the Londoners courtesy of a stroke of genius from Eden Hazard, but it’s probably best not to read too much into Wednesday night’s EFL Cup tie.

Yes, Chelsea won it, in doing so ending Liverpool’s winning start to the season and confirming that Sarri’s rebuilding project at Stamford Bridge is looking hugely impressive.

But both bosses made eight changes with Jurgen Klopp tearing the heart out of his side, and Liverpool were duly punished for missing chances.

This more valuable Premier League meeting has to be treated in isolation and like so many showdowns between these English giants, it promises to be a close encounter.

The draw looked a strong contender in the first match and it looks every bit as appetising again.

Liverpool look fairly precarious favourites against a resurgent Chelsea who have impressed everyone in Sarri's first two months.

Seven wins in a row before Wednesday’s 2-1 reverse is hugely impressive and they were very good in the majority of those wins.

But they probably shouldn't be favourites to win at the Bridge.

Chelsea had themselves won six in a row prior to last weekend’s 0-0 draw with West Ham and then got back in the winning groove in the EFL Cup.

Liverpool have more individual match-winners while Chelsea rely on the incredible Hazard, who has failed to score in only one of his last seven appearances for either club or country.

If Wednesday night proved anything to Jurgen Klopp it’s that the likes of Alberto Moreno and, for the time being at least, Fabinho, aren’t easy to trust. He needs Virgil van Dijk back and fit and his A team available.

He needs to make a call on whether or not to stick with Xherdan Shaqiri playing off the front three, a ploy which worked well against Southampton, or revert to a 4-3-3 and attempt to stop pass-master Jorginho running the show for Sarri’s men.

Liverpool lost at Chelsea in May but they will be more encouraged by the fact they won at Tottenham two weeks ago, proof they can succeed in the massive matches against their rivals. Chelsea’s sternest test was a home game against Arsenal which they edged 3-2.

That, though, was six weeks ago. Since then Sarri has successfully preached his ideology and his players have bought into it. Chelsea are only going to get better.

Only one of the last 12 tussles between Chelsea and Liverpool has had more than a single goal in it and it would be a surprise if either side is capable of running riot. A tight game would make the draw a decent bet.

1pt 13-5 general

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Team news
Antonio Rudiger picked up a knock at West Ham and is a doubt. Pedro and Ruben Loftus-Cheek are close to returning.

Adam Lallana and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are injured. Virgil van Dijk is expected to shake off a rib injury.

Key stat
Liverpool haven’t kept a clean sheet in their last 14 Premier League clashes with Chelsea.

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Only one of the last 12 tussles between Chelsea and Liverpool has had more than a single goal in it
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