Opinion: Is Liverpool vs Chelsea a top four clash?

Opinion: Is Liverpool vs Chelsea a top four clash?

Seventeen points separated champions Chelsea from fourth-placed Liverpool in the Premier League last season. Now, in their first meeting of this campaign, will both teams be fighting for Champions League football next season?

Ben Lockett

Another tale of two halves took place in southern Spain on Tuesday night, as Liverpool somehow managed to let a dominant 3-0 lead slip away against a passionate Sevilla side

Undoubtedly, Éver Banega and co. are talented footballers who did not turn up in the first half, but Liverpool allowed their opponents to rediscover themselves and fulfil any lingering half-time hope that the Spanish side still had. 

Alberto Moreno was particularly at fault for the first two Liverpool goals (and arguably indirectly responsible for the third, given his responsibility for the pressure that Liverpool found themselves under in the closing stages). The Spanish left-back has looked reborn this season, but once again came unstuck against his former club. 

All of his erratic traits were suddenly back, and any luck Moreno had in the first half with his positioning, with Sevilla missing a few clear chances, was wiped out after the break. 

The shove that led to free-kick, the marking that led to the first goal, and the penalty that led to the second goal were all largely or entirely Moreno's fault, which is a cruel shame for him but also a reminder to Jürgen Klopp that Moreno has not suddenly become the perfect left-back - he was behind James Milner last season for a reason. 

Moreno has improved however and deserves another chance to make amends, but will that chance immediately arrive against Chelsea

Liverpool face the reigning Premier League champions this Saturday in an evening kick-off. Chelsea were victorious in their away trip to Qarabag on Wednesday night in the Champions League, but have faced an all-round trip comprising of thousands of miles. 

Combined with an extra day's rest, Liverpool should be the fresher side, boosting Klopp's pressing style that is more likely to be unleashed at Anfield. 

Adam Lallana's return should also benefit the Reds in this regard, although the England international may be on the bench as he looks to rebuild his match-fitness. Lallana also displays excellent composure when on the ball - a trait the Reds lacked let again on Tuesday, when under pressure against a top-class side, and they could find themselves under similar pressure again on Saturday night.

For all of Liverpool's inconsistencies this season, there will be just a three point gap between themselves and Chelsea when they meet this weekend. 

Can Reds close the gap to Conte's Blues?

Chelsea have not run away with the title this season - that dominance has been left to Manchester City this time around - and instead find themselves in a group of five teams (six if you include surprise package a Burnley, although they are unlikely to maintain their form across the entire campaign) fighting it out for three Champions League places. 

City are eight points clear of second-placed Manchester United after only twelve games played, while only four points separates United from Arsenal in sixth, with Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool inbetween. 

All of these five teams have been lauded and lambasted at different stages throughout the season so far, lacking City's consistency, but all will fancy their chances of Champions League football next season. 

Consequently, Saturday night is even bigger than the usual heated Liverpool-Chelsea encounter. The modern rivalry remains, but Liverpool cannot afford to go six points behind Antonio Conte's side.

Going back to Moreno, Klopp should probably retain the 25-year-old against Chelsea. There is always the risk of another mistake, but dropping Moreno could be the final straw in his Liverpool future, and there is no guarantee that summer signing Andy Robertson is ready for the step-up to the Liverpool first-team. 

Joël Matip is likely to return if fit, and Trent Alexander-Arnold may be preferred over Joe Gomez at right-back if Klopp wants to be more attacking at Anfield. The midfield and attack will likely stay the same as from Tuesday night.

Liverpool have enjoyed some famous wins over Chelsea in the last decade, and also some famous losses. Yet the Reds need the former on Saturday night if the two clubs are going to remain top four rivals this season.