29 min: Cucurella’s back up again. We play on.
28 min: Salah catches Cucurella accidentally on the knee and the Chelsea defender goes down. On comes the physio.
27 min: Konate strides forward and swings a pass wide left for Elliott, who has plenty of time and space but can’t beat the first man with his cross. Kepa has had nothing to do. “Mary Waltz is wrong,” begins Jeremy Boyce. “Actually it’s a strange old world that’s come time-warping round again. With Arsenal, Man Utd and Newcastle in the top four, Chelsea and Liverpool languishing mid-table, Villa and Wolves lower down. If you imagined Burnley and Bolton as this season’s Bs (Brighton and Brentford) you’re nearly there. All that’s missing are the names on the team sheets, Milburn, Wright, Lawton and you’re right back there in the 1950s eating your bread and dripping.”
25 min: Chelsea have enjoyed 79 percent of possession during the last five minutes. The home crowd are getting frustrated as a result. Liverpool are struggling to string more than a couple of passes together at the moment.
24 min: Mount hassles Gomez down the left and forces a corner. Liverpool defend this one properly and clear … but the ball keeps coming back at them, and Gallagher is able to loop a shot goalwards from the edge of the D. Straight at Alisson.
22 min: Yet another long ball towards Havertz. Yet again Liverpool look uneasy. He cuts back for Mount, but the pass rolls behind his team-mate, who slips. Chelsea come again soon after, through Havertz down the right again. The ball’s worked via Mount to Hall on the left. Hall whistles a shot through the six-yard box. Chelsea on top.
20 min: Gakpo strips Hall, 30 yards from the Chelsea goal. Impressive work that leads to a not quite so impressive shot. He snatches at a long-distance effort and the ball sails harmlessly into the crowd behind.
19 min: Thiago goes long again towards Havertz. Straight down the middle this time. Alisson sweeps up. Liverpool attempt to counter, Milner creaming a pass down the right to release Salah … but with Liverpool committing men to the attack, the flag belatedly goes up for offside.
17 min: Robertson throws in long from the left, towards nobody in particular, and gives Konate far too much to do. Mount nips in and nearly tears clear down the middle, but Milner, recovering from the other flank, slides in to guide the ball back to Alisson. Once again, Liverpool were a little sloppy.
16 min: Gakpo dribbles handily down the right and wins a corner off Cucurella. Liverpool don’t get their reward, though, the assistant referee flagging incorrectly for a goal kick. The home fans are incandescent, Gakpo merely disappointed.
14 min: Silva floats a gorgeous long pass down the inside-left channel towards Havertz, who decides to take a first-time lash at the ball. He shanks his volley into the Kop. Full marks for ambition, but he had time and space to take that down and advance.
12 min: Chelsea have completed their first task successfully: they’ve quietened the home crowd considerably.
10 min: Some space for Ziyech down the right. He swings long for Havertz at the far stick, but Alisson has it covered and ushers the ball out for another goal kick. Chelsea have been the better team during these early exchanges.
8 min: Havertz nearly gets in down the right. Konate comes across and is forced to head behind for a corner … though the ball takes a light flick off Havertz en route so that’s a bonus goal kick for the hosts. Liverpool are looking a little jittery at the back.
6 min: Gakpo, in search of his first goal for Liverpool, latches onto Salah’s pass infield from the right. He leans back and hoicks over the bar. An eventful start all right.
… but VAR intervenes! Silva was onside when he shot, played on by Milner. But the lurking Havertz was off, and the goal’s chalked out! Liverpool get away with one there, big style. Their attempts to defend that corner were woeful.
Chelsea win the first corner of the match out left. Gallagher swings it in. The ball drops to Silva, six yards out. He’s one of three Chelsea men in acres! He slams the ball against the base of the left-hand post. Havertz is first to the rebound and slots into the bottom right. What a start for Chelsea! Liverpool go behind yet again!
2 min: Robertson catches Gallagher late, and hard, an old-fashioned boot on the shin. Robertson is lucky not to go into the book. The fact there were barely 90 seconds on the clock probably a factor there.
Chelsea get the ball rolling. They’re kicking towards the Kop in this first half. “It’s a strange new world,” begins Mary Waltz. “Both teams mid table, Salah only seven goals, everything turned upside down. It does make watching more interesting.”
The teams are out! Liverpool are red men, while blue is the colour for Chelsea. A fine atmosphere at Anfield this lunchtime. “Nunez, please!!! I really want to see Nunez play.” Our old friend Jeff Sachs there, with a cri de cœur on behalf of every last one of us. We’ll be off in a couple of minutes.
Graham Potter speaks to BT. “We’re looking forward to the game. We’re in a good mentality. We’re facing a top opponent, we know the challenge. [Mudryk] can play the back end of the game. He hasn’t played too much recently, but he’s been training. We’re in for a tough game.”
This is of course a re-run of both of last season’s domestic cup finals. Here’s how those panned out, minute by minute, should you wish to be reminded.
Jurgen Klopp speaks to BT Sport. “We have to find a way for the boys to feel really comfortable, to have the right distances. We have to win more challenges. We were not angry enough. But it was not on purpose. A week ago we were really down, frustrated, angry, and four days ago we were quite happy. But we can’t go through a season like that, we have to find consistency. Imagine if I didn’t play [18-year-old Stefan Bajcetic] today! What would I have to do as a football player, to play outstanding, but the coach then tells you that was good my friend, but back in the cupboard?! It was clear that if we can, we start with the same midfield.”
It’s Jurgen Klopp’s 1,000th match as a manager, and he makes three changes to the team that beat Wolves 1-0 in the FA Cup. Alisson, Andy Robertson and Mohamed Salah are back, with Caoimhin Kelleher and Kostas Tsimikas dropping to the bench and Fabio Carvalho missing out altogether. Darwin Nunez is back but only as a sub.
Chelsea make one change to their starting line-up from the 1-0 win against Crystal Palace. Marc Cucurella replaces Carney Chukwuemeka. Mykhailo Mudryk is on the bench waiting to make his debut.
Liverpool: Alisson, Milner, Konate, Gomez, Robertson, Bajcetic, Thiago, Keita, Elliott, Salah, Gakpo.
Subs: Kelleher, Fabinho, Henderson, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jones, Tsimikas, Nunez, Matip, Alexander-Arnold.
Chelsea: Kepa, Chalobah, Silva, Badiashile, Hall, Jorginho, Gallagher, Cucurella, Ziyech, Havertz, Mount.
Subs: Bettinelli, Azpilicueta, Humphreys, Koulibaly, Chukwuemeka, Loftus-Cheek, Mudryk, Aubameyang, D Fofana.
You’d have got good odds at the start of the season on both Liverpool and Chelsea languishing in mid table at the halfway mark. But here we are!
Neither team are yet in pipe-dream territory regarding a top-four finish. But they’ll be cutting it fine if they don’t get a wriggle on soon, and with little margin left for error, three points today are something close to a necessity. Chelsea are without the suspended Joao Felix but could hand a debut to Mykhailo Mudryk, while Liverpool may welcome back Darwin Nunez from injury. All told, then, this has the potential to be a cracker. This weekend’s Premier League action begins at 12.30pm GMT. It’s on!