A year on from Steven Gerrard’s infamous slip, the outgoing Liverpool captain and the rest of the Liverpool squad will be forced to undergo the surely galling task of forming a guard of honor to welcome Chelsea as the new Premier League champions. Last season, of course, Liverpool were on the verge of winning their first championship in 24 years before Gerrard’s mistake sent Chelsea on their way to a 2-0 win. Already an enemy on the red half of Merseyside from his first spell at Stamford Bridge, Jose Mourinho’s reveling in knocking Liverpool’s title challenge dramatically off course has furthered the animosity between the clubs.
But the painful truth for Liverpool is that this season they have fallen a long way short of even competing with Chelsea. After finishing above them 12 months ago, Liverpool go into Sunday’s meeting at Stamford Bridge a full 22 points behind Chelsea in the Premier League table. While Chelsea were able to add the key pieces last summer to turn their squad into a title-winning one, Liverpool were stripped of their best player and failed to use the money to compensate for Luis Suarez’s loss or develop the rest of their squad. While there have been significant missteps from those at Anfield, it has also been a sobering lesson in the modern financial landscape where Chelsea currently exist on a different plane to the 18-tme English champions.
Still, Brendan Rodgers, a one-time coach under Mourinho at Chelsea, has gone from being lauded far and wide for returning Liverpool to the upper echelons of the Premier League and back to the Champions League, to now having to defend his job. Last week a banner flew over Anfield demanding Rodgers be dismissed and former manager Rafa Benitez return. It is the availability of outgoing Borussia Dortmund manager Jurgen Klopp, though, that will likely provide him with more anxiety.
Even if Rodgers, as still looks likely, remains in his post, Liverpool are heading for major change over the summer. Gerrard, for so long the constant, influential presence at the heart of the Liverpool team, will walk away to LA Galaxy and a new era will fully begin. It will be an uncertain time and if given the vote of confidence, Rodgers and Liverpool’s thus far bungling transfer committee will have to show they are capable of filling the void and leading the club into the new era with success.
And yet, despite all the trials and tribulations Liverpool have gone through this season, they could still fulfill their main objective. Painful defeats to Manchester United and Arsenal and then a woeful loss to Hull 10 days ago looked to have ended all hope Liverpool had of remaining a Champions League club. However, Manchester United’s sharp drop in form means the door is still, unexpectedly, ajar.
Following their victory over Queens Park Rangers, Liverpool go into the weekend just four points behind fourth-place United. If Lois van Gaal’s side were to lose to Crystal Palace on Saturday then Liverpool would take on Chelsea with the chance to cut the gap to just a single point going into the final two rounds of the season.
Of course their objective still remains a long shot, not least because Chelsea will be in no mood to make it easy. While Chelsea already know they will be picking up the Premier League trophy after their final home match of the season, the visit of Liverpool and the chance to dent their ambitions once again is likely to provide plenty of motivation for Mourinho’s squad.
Regardless of their relative positions, meetings between Chelsea and Liverpool can seemingly not help but be intense occasions. Indeed their last clash, in the second leg of the Capital One Cup semifinal, saw Branislav Ivanovic head an extra-time winner while Chelsea striker Diego Costa was later handed a three-match ban for his stamp on Emre Can. Adding spice to Sunday’s encounter, Costa could be back in the fold for the first time in more than a month despite Mourinho having previously stated that the striker would be given the rest of the season off to rest a persistent hamstring problem.
Chelsea: Mourinho has said that Costa wants to play and that he could be included. Chelsea’s only confirmed absentee is Oscar, who will miss the rest of the campaign with a thigh problem.
Liverpool: Daniel Sturridge has undergone surgery on his hip, with Rodgers stating the striker will now be out of action until September. Mamadou Sakho also continues on the sidelines, although Mario Balotelli could return.
Prediction: The loss of Sturridge continues to leave a massive void. And having scored just three goals in their last four matches, Liverpool could struggle to make inroads against a Chelsea defense that has been rock solid in recent weeks. Meanwhile, especially with the prospect of having Costa back in some capacity, Chelsea should again have just enough going forward to get another narrow win.
Predicted score: Chelsea over Liverpool, 1-0.