While not a Champions League play-off as such, the result of this match might shape 2018/19 for both these sides in a big way. Assuming a goal difference swing of 17 in Chelsea’s favour is beyond them over the next week, then a draw here will secure Liverpool’s place in the top four, and leave the Blues hoping Spurs collapse.
But then they’ve been here before. Not that you Millennials will remember, as it was way back in 2003. Liverpool travelled to Stamford Bridge on the final day of the season level on points with Chelsea, but behind them and outside the top four on goal difference.
The Reds took the lead, but Steven Gerrard got sent off (why always him against Chelsea, eh?) and Claudio Ranieri’s side won 2-1 in the end. Two months later Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea, and then bought a load of trophies to go with it.
This match won’t have repercussions as seismic as that, but if there’s a fate worse than not qualifying for the Champions League, it’s finishing second bottom of the big six mini league, with only the comedy stylings of Arsenal below you.
That fate awaits either side should they lose this match, which is the final top six clash of the season. If it comes to a fire power shoot out, you must favour Liverpool.
Mohamed Salah has scored seven goals against the rest of the top six in the league this season, and assisted a further two for good measure. That means he has contributed to more goals than Chelsea have scored against the big teams this season. No wonder he was player of the year. You don’t see Kev de Bruyne doing that, do you?
Salah has scored the opening goal eight times in the Premier League this season, which is second only to everyone’s favourite precious little flower, Harry Kane.
The Egyptian king also has two openers in the top six mini-league, which is the joint-most, so a bet on him to score first looks worth considering. That’s priced at 7/2, or if you prefer an anytime bet, that’s available at 11/10.
One man who can match Mohamed Salah for opening goals in big games is Alvaro Morata. His pair have both come at Stamford Bridge too. While his form has cooled since the opening months of 2017/18, he has scored three in his last seven appearances for the Blues.
Antonio Conte has preferred the talents of Olivier Giroud in recent weeks, so perhaps wait for the team news before having a bet, but if he starts then Morata has the pedigree to score here. Chelsea’s number nine is 13/8 to score at any time, or 9/2 to bag the opener.
I often tip players here who are perhaps due a goal, and especially when they’re key players for their team. Eden Hazard appears to tick both boxes, or at least he does until he leaves Chelsea this summer.
The Belgian hasn’t been repeatedly hammering at the door, but with only one goal from 15 shots in his last ten appearances in league and Europe, his next goal won’t be too far away. Plus, he always wakes up at the end of the season when there’s an international tournament on the horizon. He’s the same price as Morata to be awake for this one; 9/2 to score first, or 13/8 at any time.
But should we expect many goals? After all, not only have Chelsea scored the fewest in the top six mini league, they’ve also conceded the joint-fewest too. That’s entertainment, folks.
Ten of the 29 league matches among the top six this season have featured under 2.5 goals. Of those, Chelsea have played in five, with three of them at Stamford Bridge.
It’s a similar picture with regards to matches where both teams scored. There have been 12 matches among the big six where at least one side failed to score, and the Blues were involved in four of them. Unfortunately for Chelsea fans, it was their side who were goal-less in three of them.
However, that doesn’t seem to be an issue when these sides clash.
In the 13 league meetings over the last seven seasons, there has only been one occasion where one of the sides failed to score. That was at Anfield in 2014, and I wouldn’t ask Steven Gerrard about it if I were you.
With Liverpool having the fewest away clean sheets of the top five in 2017/18, but also the second most goals themselves, it seems reasonable to assume both sets of fans will get to cheer at least once here. Both teams to score is priced at 8/13.
However, it’s less clear whether there will be at least three goals or not. Both teams usually score when the Reds play the Blues, but four of the last six league meetings have ended 1-1 (albeit three of those have taken place on Merseyside). Paddy has odds of 6/1 if you think it will again.
I certainly wouldn’t rule that score line out, and the expected goal nerdy numbers rate that as the most likely outcome too. But I’m inclined to expect more goals than the numbers.
Six of Chelsea’s nine top six home clashes under Antonio Conte have seen over 2.5 goals, and six of Liverpool’s big away matches (including all four this season) have too. Over 2.5 goals is the bet, and 4/6 is the price.
All things being equal, I could see this ending in a draw as matches between these two often have in recent years. A lot will depend on how hard Liverpool celebrated after reaching the Champions League final on Wednesday night though. Pass the Ribena, Milly, Chelsea might just sneak this one.