Dubai: Liverpool welcome Chelsea to Anfield on Saturday in what promises to be a mouthwatering clash against the two early pace setters of the English Premier League. Both teams have a maximum six points after two games and go into the fixture eager for their winning starts to the 2021/22 season to continue.
If Liverpool are to avoid defeat then I feel much will depend on how they tackle the threat of the dominant Romelu Lukaku. Against Arsenal on his second debut for Chelsea he produced a man-of-the-match performance as they comfortable won 2-0. The Belgium striker looked unplayable at times and took just 15 mins to get on the scoresheet. If the Reds are to stop him then they will have to do things very differently to what the Gunners did.
He destroyed their centre-backs single handedly using not just his physical prowess but also his experience to pull them apart to create space for his teammates to exploit. Arsenal’s Pablo Mari was weary of Lukaku’s pace and to counter that he continued to step back - but this was a mistake. He ought to have been braver and step in front and force him to change his position.
Liverpool will have to be far more solid and now allow him to dictate their positions if they are to keep him and the Blues at arm’s length. They will have been watching Lukaku closely and will not fall into the same trap by allowing him space and will especially not want him to get the ball on his favoured left foot, or they could be in trouble.
Mason Mount and Kai Havertz are also dangerous but the main threat will come from the new £97.5 million arrival. Sure, his hold-up play outside of the box sometimes leaves a bit to be desired. His first touch is still questionable - but not so inside the box. The ball seems to stick to his foot in there like he has glue on his boots.
They won’t mind if Mateo Kovacic and Jorginho see a lot of the ball, they can let them have possession, but as soon as it finds its way to Lukaku they will have to make sure they are switched on. Ideally, they will need to find a way to stop him getting the ball at all – Arsenal failed to do this and they paid the price. It was bad organization on their part.
While at Man Utd and Everton, Lukaku loved receiving the ball at his feet and then spinning away and striking it with his left. But in Virgil van Dijk, Liverpool have a man who is equipped to deal with his threat. He can cope against him in a one-on-one situation and because of that, Liverpool can be brave and take the game to Chelsea. Van Dijk’s shrewd positioning means he hardly ever needs to make a tackle while his knack of initiating attacks make him the complete defender. He’ll be unfazed by Lukaku’s aggressive approach too and in fact in three Premier League encounters he has shut out Lukaku each time. However, the Chelsea star is back at Stamford Bridge as the full package.
It will be a genuine heavyweight clash between the pair and something will have to give in Saturday’s encounter. Will Van Dijk be the immovable object, or Lukaku the unstoppable force? Get the popcorn ready because it is bound to be an entertaining tussle.