Liverpool play Chelsea at Anfield on Tuesday night in the Premier League in a game that the Reds will be desperate to win following a dramatic recent slump in form.
Defeat at home to Antonio Conte’s side would leave Jurgen Klopp’s men 13 points adrift of Chelsea and realistically end their title challenge, but win and they would be right back in the mix.
FOX Sports Asia looks at some of the crucial talking points that could affect the outcome of Tuesday’s crunch Premier League clash.
Sadio the Mane man?
Senegal forward Sadio Mane has enjoyed a spectacular start to his career at Anfield and the stats show that he has been missed while on duty at the African Cup of Nations. Liverpool have picked up just one point in three Premier League games that Mané has missed (D1 L2).
The former Southampton forward has been involved in 13 goals for Liverpool in the league this season with nine goals and four assists. Mane is available for selection after returning from Africa on Monday, which means that the Reds will have Mane, Firmino, Coutinho and Lallana all available for selection for this first time since late November. The four combined so effectively early on in the season as Liverpool swept all before them and having them back together could be just the boost that Jurgen Klopp’s beleaguered side needs.
The Anfield side are in a slump following three successive home defeats that saw them crash out of the EFL Cup to Southampton and the FA Cup to Championship side Wolves. Should the Reds lose against Chelsea, a fourth loss would also equal their worst run of home form since 1923. Klopp named a much-changed squad for the Wolves tie, giving youngsters a chance, but will no doubt be picking a full-strength side for the clash with Chelsea.
Liverpool are unbeaten against the top six sides this season, having beaten Chelsea, Arsenal and Man City and drawing against Tottenham and Man United. Klopp’s team tend to raise their game against better opposition and the German will be hoping facing the league leaders will inspire his team to snap their losing streak.
Diego Costa in the Premier League:
ONE DIEGO! pic.twitter.com/1QsP9IWUoe
— iChelseaTweets (@iChelseaTweets) January 25, 2017
We are not sure what Antonio Conte has been putting in Diego Costa’s tea, but whatever it is the results have been fantastic. Costa has been transformed this season, scoring 15 goals in 20 games while using his physical presence to cause havoc for Premier League defences in the process. Joel Matip aside, Liverpool’s defence has looked shaky at the best of times this season and Costa will be looking to capitalise on any hesitancy at the back, especially with goalkeepers Simon Mignolet and Lorius Karius struggling for form.
Chelsea come to Anfield with the best defensive record in the Premier League with just 15 goals conceded in 22 matches and 13 clean sheets. The switch to a back three by Conte has proven to be a masterstroke, with David Luiz, Gary Cahill and Cesar Azpilicueta proving very solid. Luiz in particular has defied the critics who quietly guffawed when the Blues resigned him in the summer.
A solid foundation is the basis behind all title challenges and with several of Liverpool’s first-choice forward line either out of form or recovering from injury it will be hard for Coutinho and co. to break down Conte’s well-organised defensive wall.