How will Rafael Benitez attack Essien and Carvalho?
Last season one of the shock scorelines was Chelsea's three-nil away defeat in February to Middlesbrough. The in-depth analysis made by Sky's Chris Kamara of this match was superb. He showed that Steve McClaren had deliberately instructed Yakubu to be on Ricardo Carvalho with the aim that Boro's defence would launch long ball after long ball in the direction of the Nigerian striker. The plan worked perfectly: the well-built Boro forward predictably out-muscled the Portugese defender which resulted in a couple of the goals that was scored. Meanwhile the indomitable John Terry was looking on like a helpless by-stander as his centre-back partner was given a really rough time.
At Anfield this lunchtime there will be only Carvalho as a recognised centre-back in the Chelsea defence. With Terry and Boulahrouz injured and Gallas and Huth gone the 'billionaire club' is in the incongruos position of likely having to resort to playing compact midfielder Michael Essien at centre-back. If Carvalho was having problems with the high ball at the Riverside last year, I think that Essien could have an equally bad time tomorrow. For Benitez' master-plan for this match should be to do with emulating McClaren and targeting the aerial weakness of the makeshift Chelsea centre-back pairing.
Benitez is not afraid to play aerial-ball football: indeed the signing of Peter Crouch was primarily for this purpose. I expect Crouch to start tomorrow so that Chelsea's apparent achilles heel can be given a full test. Crouch does not have the muscle of Yakubu but his sheer height advantage will mean that he should win the majority of long balls played in his direction. Then it will be up to Liverpool to maximise the knock-downs that come their way around the box.
Gerrard will be a chief threat in this regard, and the fact that he will be attacking the box from a central position can only be a positive thing for this potential tactic. I also think that Kuyt's greater physical presence means he is probably a better option than Bellamy in going for this 'direct-football' option . Kuyt has an excellent Anfield scoring record and I have a feeling that he will be on the score-sheet today.
This is my feeling for the strategy and personnel that Benitez will opt for and I think it is one that will pay-off with a couple of Liverpool goals. We'll see... and lets hope for an overall exciting encounter.
P.S. It will be excellent to see the return of Chelsea's Petr Cech in goal. His injury was truly life-threatening and to make a comeback within three months is an outstanding testament of his strength of character. We at EFT wish him a safe return to competitive action.