There are no prizes for guessing this weekend’s biggest and best Premier League fixture. Liverpool versus Chelsea is traditionally one of the most dramatic showdowns of the season, and for both teams, a victory has the potential to galvanize their campaign.
Liverpool v Chelsea (November 25, 17:30 KO)
Neutralizing the man they didn’t rate will be top of Chelsea’s agenda at Anfield, as red-hot Mo Salah attempts to further embarrass the club who made their mind up to let him go after just 13 Premier League appearances.
Stats-wise, Salah, 25, is right up there with Luis Suarez in the finishing stakes this season – and coming in off the right touchline to torment the likes of Marcos Alonso and Gary Cahill, he will need to be shackled expertly.
The superb Egyptian is 9/2 favourite to score the first goal in this Saturday evening belter.
While flying 2,500 miles back from Baku on Wednesday night wasn’t ideal for the Blues’ preparations, let’s not forget the players wouldn’t have had to endure legroom issues in economy. I expect them to be as sharp as normal on Merseyside.
Chelsea have a cracking record at Anfield too. In fact, they have not lost away to Liverpool since 2012, when Jonjo Shelvey scored for the Reds in a thumping 4-1 win.
For that run to be preserved there’s a price of 3-4 on Chelsea or the Draw, and aside from a debacle at Selhurst Park, you have to say Antonio Conte’s champions have been super-professional on the road, winning at Spurs, Leicester, Stoke, Bournemouth and West Brom.
Using a 3-5-1-1 formation, with Eden Hazard playing just behind Alvaro Morata I foresee Chelsea being nice and compact down the centre of the field.
There’s a temptation to bring Willian back into the starting XI after his excellent brace against Qarabag, but with Philippe Coutinho looking to pull the strings I’d suggest a trio of Kante, Bakayoko and Fabregas inside the engine room is the more sensible option.
If anyone can curb the magic of Coutinho it’s definitely N’Golo Kante.
Make no mistake, Liverpool will go on the attack here (it’s what they do best) and because they’ve scored three or more goals in five successive matches they have every right to feel confident.
The bookies are not so certain they’ll extend that run though, with 3/1 available on over 2.5 Liverpool goals.
It’s at the back that I worry for them.
I was at Anfield last weekend when they cruised past Southampton, but even then I could sense nerves among the fans every time the visitors attacked. Those fears will only have been compounded by a shocking three-goal collapse in Sevilla on Tuesday!
Anfield is a fortress, we know that, but whenever Chelsea break on them via Hazard or Morata the whole stadium will be covering their eyes. Jurgen Klopp might not be able to look either.
This definitely has the potential to be one of the best matches we see this season.
Goals should be forthcoming.
And my head says Chelsea will prevail because they are the stronger all-round team.
Burnley v Arsenal (November 26, 14:00 KO)
Arsenal are the first high-profile visitors to arrive at Turf Moor this season, and Burnley may be surprised to see themselves as long as 5/1 in the pre-match betting.
After all, Sean Dyche’s side are level with the Gunners on 22 points ahead of kick-off, and have leaked just two goals in front of their own supporters all season. They couldn’t come into this clash in better shape.
A wonderful display in last weekend’s North London Derby (a win I tentatively predicted!) has no doubt given punters more confidence in Arsene Wenger’s men, and a repeat of that level would be too much for the Clarets.
Their away form remains a concern though. Four losses, one draw and one win, is not a record you usually associate with the Gunners.
Personally, I think they will knuckle down and scrap it out for a win on Sunday, just as they did in the corresponding fixture last term.
It won’t be pretty – it rarely is at Burnley – but providing they retain last week’s fighting spirit, I can see Arsenal’s more talented forwards making hay as the contest opens up.
Crystal Palace v Stoke City (November 25, 15:00 KO)
Glamorous this fixture isn’t, but in the context of both clubs’ seasons, this has to be one of the most pivotal matches of the entire weekend.
For Mark Hughes’ Stoke City it is psychologically crucial they don’t slip up.
A win would take them up to the comfort zone of mid-table, whereas defeat would entrench them firmly in a relegation battle for the time being.
It’s huge for them, and having conceded two goals in each of their last couple of outings it’s imperative they tighten up at the back.
My fear for the Potters is that Palace look tailor-made to hurt them.
I’m enjoying the Wilfried Zaha and Andros Townsend experiment up top, and together I feel they have the tools to cause damage to a Stoke defence that can appear ponderous.
The Eagles are improving and should continue that upward curve on Saturday.