Chelsea travel to Merseyside tonight to face Liverpool in the last away game of the season. Champions League qualification could be all but secured tonight if the West London club secure all three points.
Liverpool may have already wrapped up the Premier League title, and their form may have dropped since being crowned champions, but today is their trophy day. They will not want to lose on their famous night, the first time they have lifted the Premier League title.
Both sides have immense quality, the game could come down to individual brilliance which means the direct battles between opposing players could be the deciding factor. Who is likely to match up against each other? Which players are going to have the role of nullifying their opponents' threat?
Olivier Giroud v Virgil Van Dijk
Chelsea’s French forward has been in fine form since the restart in June, after netting four goals in seven since the Aston Villa game and the opener in the F.A. Cup semi-final against Manchester United.
It seemed like he was not part of Frank Lampard’s plans after only participating in nine games before lockdown, now we are back underway, he was played in every game.
Olivier Giroud has built up a partnership with Christian Pulisic since the restart, the two have combined to aid Chelsea a place in the top four fight, this was demonstrated against Norwich when Pulisic crossed one in for the World Cup winner who headed past Tim Krul.
Oli’s presence is always frustrating for defenders but they do not come tougher than his opponent tonight, the colossus of Virgil Van Dijk.
The Dutch national side skipper completely transformed Liverpool when he arrived in January 2018. His speed, composure, passing ability and overall dominant prowess has hugely helped his side to a Champions League trophy and now a first topflight title in three decades.
Van Dijk may have been at fault for conceding a goal against Arsenal last time out, but no one doubts his ability. It is due to a be a physical, old fashioned tussle between the two six foot plus professionals.
Jorginho v Fabinho
These two may not be direct rivals but their role for their sides are of a similar ilk.
Chelsea’s number five divides opinion within the fan base but his impact is often noticeable. He was introduced against Crystal Palace when his side were on the back foot, but he changed the game, eventually seeing the game out 3-2 at Selhurst Park. Sometimes he becomes a passenger in games, against Manchester United himself and Matteo Kovacic controlled the midfield.
Lampard wants Jorginho to pick the ball up deep, play the short passes and link defence to attack. He perfects this to a world class level when he is on his game, he must provide a similar showing against Liverpool.
Chelsea usually hold the possession stats when they play but that could change tonight. This means Jorginho must be affective when he does have the ball. Being clinical and ruthless could be pivotal in this one.
Fabinho has had an outstanding since his move to Anfield. The Brazilian midfielder has shown why Jurgen Klopp paid £39million. His role is like Jorginho for Chelsea, maybe even more effective due to his physicality and an eye for a wonder strike from distance.
The number three has played 27 Premier League games this season, missing eight through ligament damage. He more often plays 90 minutes; the former Monaco man will look to disrupt the Chelsea counter attacks and the link up play to Giroud.
Cesar Azpilicueta v Sadio Mane
This could be one of the most significant battles in tonight's encounter. Chelsea’s skipper is the ultimate professional, he like many of his teammates since the restart, have constantly put in applaudable performances.
Playing most of the season as a full-back, ‘Azpi’ played as the right centre half in a back three against United on Sunday. You could argue he is world class in this position due to his reading of the game and his one on one defending.
His work is certainly cut out tonight with Sadio Mane in town. Playing 33 games this season and scoring 17 goals, Mane has had another magnificent season, putting his name amongst Europe's elite.
He will look to get at Azpilicueta tonight, wing-back Reece James will go forward a lot of the time. This could leave Mane with space to run in to. He has the beating of Azpi with his pace, but Chelsea’s captain will rely on his superb positioning and defending to stop the clinical Senegal international.
Chelsea have not won at Anfield since 2014. For this to change, Lampard needs his side to keep momentum from the F.A. Cup semi-final and nullify the counterattack of Liverpool.
A place in the top four is at stake if Chelsea can get all three points, Champions League qualification is massive due to where Lampard wants to take his beloved club. For this reason, tonight's game is simply, huge for Chelsea Football Club.