The first match of the weekend is also the biggest, with Saturday morning seeing Liverpool taking on Chelsea at Anfield, a fixture that blew the title race wide open last season following Chelsea’s 2-0 away win, ending Liverpool’s 11-game winning streak with a deserved victory for the visitors.
This fixture was played at the end of April last season and saw league leaders Liverpool side suffer their first defeat in 16 games, handing momentum back to eventual champions Manchester City. A nightmare slip by captain Steven Gerrard allowed Demba Ba through at the end of the first half, while Willian killed off any chance of a home victory with a with a breakaway goal in stoppage time.
Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho followed through on his threat to field a weakened team at Anfield ahead of their second leg Champions League semi-final with Atletico Madrid, but his lineup selection was enough to claim all three points following a disjointed Liverpool display, dominating possession but struggling to unlock Chelsea’s well-organised defence.
Coming into this game on Saturday, the roles have been firmly reversed: Chelsea now sit top of the table, already looking favourites for the title, with 8 wins from 10 games. Liverpool, by contrast, continue to struggle, with 4 wins from 10 and coming off the back of a defeat to this year’s surprise package Newcastle. Mourinho will again seek to unlock Liverpool with another tactical lineup selection while Reds boss Brendan Rodgers will be only too aware of the impact this fixture had on his side’s title hopes last year. To see what fans of both Clubs may be thinking about the fixture this season, we looked at the Beat Your Manager! Fantasy Football data from this game last season, to see what players were picked for the lineups last year.
Beat Your Manager! Fantasy Football is a game similar to “Football Manager”, but applied to live football, where you manage your favourite Club and pick lineups, bench, formations and substitutions, all in real-time. When fans play the game, the Beat Your Manager team can measure the popularity of different players, by looking at how frequently they are selected for the starting lineup, substitutes bench or not selected at all.
The app ran for the 2013/4 EPL season and is currently inactive while the developers are creating the revised version – we’ll keep you posted on when it’s going to re-launch.
Formation: 4-4-2 the most popular choice, but only just
Both LFC and CFC fans were pretty divided on the formation to pick for this game, but a solid 4-4-2 again won out with both sides. 29 per cent of LFC fans opting for this setup, with a more attacking 4-3-3 formation just missing the cut in 2nd place, selected by 27 per cent of Reds. 27 per cent of Chelsea fans also went for 4-3-3, but this formation was even more soundly defeated by the 4-4-2 option, picked by 32 per cent of Blues.
Goalkeeper: Fans and Managers on the same page
Liverpool fans did not go for any surprises in goal, with Simon Mignolet easily making the cut on an 84 per cent rating, his highest fan score since mid-January. However, given the high ratings achieved for his colleagues, this score was only enough to make him Liverpool’s 8th-most popular player on the day. Rodgers agreed with the fans and Mignolet lined up between the posts.
Petr Cech was sidelined with a knee injury and so Mark Schwarzer (67 per cent) was chosen for the lineup by a substantial majority of Chelsea fans. , which should keep the first-choice boys on their toes. Mourinho also agreed with the fans and Schwarzer made the cut for the lineup.
Defence: One switch between LFC fans and Manager; two between Mourinho and fans
Liverpool had two clear fan picks in defence for this game; Martin Skrtel was Liverpool’s most popular defender (and jointly 3rd-most popular player), polling a 98 per cent rating for the lineup, with Glen Johnson close behind, on 95 per cent. Jon Flanagan was next in line for the home fans, on 80 per cent, while Daniel Agger (63 per cent) made up the last spot in the back four; Mamadou Sakho (52 per cent) the only other Liverpool defender to register any sort of a reasonable rating with fans.
Branislav Ivanović was Chelsea’s most popular defender for this game, his 83 per cent rating making him the club’s 2nd-most popular player on the pitch. The next two most popular defender spots were taken by the closely-rated César Azpilicueta (73 per cent) and Gary Cahill (71 per cent), with David Luiz (55 per cent) just making it into the lineup.
Rodgers decided to field Sakho rather than Agger, but otherwise went with the players chosen by the fans. Mourinho made two changes to the fans, playing a second-left back in Ashley Cole (41 per cent fan rating) instead of Cahill and fielding Tomáš Kalas (only 2 per cent fan rating) instead of Luiz.
José Enrique missed this game last season through injury and may miss it again this year following his knee injury against Newcastle United, although he is expected to return. Another knee injury will mean that Flanagan won’t get a chance to reprise his fine showing with fans for this game, while Sakho’s thigh injury means that he is also in doubt. With this injury list and Agger moved abroad to Brondby, Rodgers will most likely again employ the services of Dejan Lovren and Alberto Moreno.
With Kalas now at FC Cologne and Cole at Roma, Mourinho will most likely field his strongest defence, especially as he has no injuries to juggle – expect to see Ivanović and Azpilicueta return, alongside fan-pick Cahill and probably John Terry (50 per cent fan rating for this game).
Midfield: Liverpool lead the midfield lineup with fans
Liverpool topped the midfield charts, taking the top-three most popular spots. Steven Gerrard was the most popular midfielder and jointly the club’s most popular player on a perfect 100 per cent score, with Philippe Coutinho and Raheem Sterling grouped just behind, both on 95 per cent. With Jordan Henderson injured, Joe Allen took up the fourth midfield spot with fans, but was behind all four Chelsea midfielders, on only 43 per cent with Reds fans.
Chelsea’s midfielders couldn’t match Liverpool’s top three for popularity, but there was less of a gulf between the players, with Oscar topping the poll with a 91 per cent fan rating (and Chelsea’s most popular player for this match), followed by Willian (80 per cent), Nemanja Matić (79 per cent) and Frank Lampard (78 per cent) all ranked very closely by Blues fans.
Rodgers picked the same four midfielders as the fans, but included Lucas Leiva (39 per cent fan rating) in a five-man setup that gave Sterling the freedom to push forward. Mourinho again made two changes, starting John Obi Mikel (34 per cent fan rating) in place of fan-favourite Oscar and Mohamed Salah (35 per cent fan rating) ahead of Willian (although he did do a straight swap on 60 minutes, the Brazilian rewarding both fans and Manager with the final goal).
Saturday’s midfield should see less changes than the defence, although Liverpool’s Adam Lallana and possibly Lazar Markovic are expected to make an impression. Cesc Fabregas is likely to line out for the Blues in his first return to Anfield from Barcelona, while Mikel is injured and Lampard now playing for champions Man City.
Forwards: Chelsea in the ascendancy
With Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge available for this game, they were overwhelmingly the upfront choice of LFC fans, Suarez yet again getting a perfect 100 per cent rating, with Sturridge getting a staggering 98 per cent approval for the lineup. This score made Suarez him jointly (with Gerrard) Liverpool’s most popular player with LFC fans for this game, Sturridge jointly (with Skrtel) Liverpool’s 3rd-most popular player.
With Eden Hazard injured, Chelsea’s most popular striker was André Schürrle, with a 78 per cent rating from Blues fans, with Fernando Torres (52 per cent) the favoured second striker.
Rodgers initially started Sturridge on the bench, but made the switch with Lucas in the 58th minute, the deployment of Suarez as a lone striker with support from Sterling not breaking through the Chelsea defence. Mourinho also started Schürrle, but partnered him with Demba Ba (28 per cent fan rating), the Senegalese rewarding the Manager with the opening goal just before half-time.
Sturridge will miss this game through injury and with Suarez now at Barcelona and Mario Balotelli failing to set Anfield alight, it’s difficult to see where the goals will come from this LFC side, especially against Chelsea’s well-organised defence. By contrast, new signings Diego Costa (Atlético Madrid) and Didier Drogba has meant that Chelsea’s forward line is stronger than it has been for some time, even without the injured Loic Remy.