BILLY BUNTER

Weblog: The football punter

Tricky tie to call between Liverpool and Chelsea

EFL Cup third round
Sky Sports Football & Main Event, 7.45pm Wednesday


It's part one of this week’s double-header between title rivals Liverpool and Chelsea and if previous meetings are anything to go by expect this showdown at Anfield to be titanically close.

The stakes will be far higher on Saturday when these two meet again at Stamford Bridge with Premier League points up for grabs.

So even though these two great clubs have a proud affection for the League Cup, which they’ve won 13 times between them, savvy bosses Jurgen Klopp and Maurizio Sarri are sure to ring the changes on Merseyside.

Neither man has given a clear indication of quite how deep the axe will fall on their established first-team stars.

But in a competition where team selection is crucial, punters could be forgiven for hanging back before parting with their cash. On the face of it, however, and given the comparable starts to the season these sides have made plus the fact that six of their last nine meetings have ended all-square, the 90-minute draw looks a bigger runner than the prices suggest.

This isn’t a fixture which historically produces goals – just two of the last nine have yielded three goals or more.

But we’ve never before seen a dust-up between Klopp and Sarri, two men who love to get the ball forward quickly, so no matter who starts for each side presumably the philosophy of both gaffers will dictate the tempo of the match.

Klopp wouldn’t be drawn on team selection other than to confirm that Simon Mignolet will start in goal.

As for Sarri, he’s a man who stays incredibly loyal to his first team, a point not lost on back-up centre-back Gary Cahill, who has already declared his intention to walk in January. At Napoli last season ten players started 30 or more Serie A matches.

However, when Napoli met Atalanta in the quarter-finals of the Coppa Italia in January – at which point it would normally be safe to presume Sarri might be taking the event seriously – he made seven changes from the side which had played Crotone in the league a few days earlier. Napoli lost.

Sarri, of course, was deep into a thrilling title battle with Juventus at the time and if he believes – as he surely must despite public protestations to the contrary – that he’s also in with a shout with Chelsea, he’ll pick his team accordingly.

So when it comes to strength in depth, who has the edge? Probably Liverpool, though that is reflected in the quotes.

Confidence is soaring at both clubs. Liverpool start the game on a run of seven straight wins; they haven’t made a start like that in the league since Kenny Dalglish was in charge.

As for Chelsea, they were matching Liverpool win for win until the weekend when Manuel Pellegrini did a first-rate blanket job on Eden Hazard in a 0-0 draw at West Ham.

Hazard probably won’t feature in this one, then again nor might Mo Salah. Or David Luiz or Virgil van Dijk, Jorginho or James Milner. It’s a tough tie to call.

Recommendation
Draw

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