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Chapecoense AF
12:00 AM UTC Jun 23, 2017
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Vickery: Can Chile keep up the tempo?

Chile
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Salah leaves Roma a rough diamond

Liverpool
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Red and Blue deja vu

After last season's gripping Champions League semi-final victory against Chelsea, Rafa Benitez had to cause to chuckle.

It was all because of a simple question from his young daughter, Claudia, and it went something like this. 'Why dad, is it that you're always playing against that blue team?'

I suppose it's fair to surmise that the Liverpool and Chelsea were borderline sick of the sight of each other last term. Two league meetings, a League Cup Final and then the pair of afore-mentioned European semis will have that effect.

Now, here we are preparing for another Anfield showdown of reds and blues, just four days after the last one. In the wake of Wednesday's tense, tight and highly tactical goalless draw, one wonders if the European club champions and the English champions have become too familiar with the tendencies of the other: likewise the two managers.

Wednesday night was not without its drama and talking points, but it was a game that only fleetingly hit the high notes. Most of us weren't surprised. This after all, was the group stage, not the searing heat of the last four. 0-0 was always going to be a result that did little to hamper the qualification prospects of Liverpool and Chelsea.

Liverpool remain something of a conundrum. They finished 37 points behind the Premiership champions last time around, and are already in arrears to the tune of 14 points this season.

However, in their last three games against Chelsea, the Merseyside club have beaten them once when it really mattered, and held them to stalemates, when such an outcome was somewhat desirable. With a referee, other than Italy's Massimo de Santis in charge, Liverpool are entitled to believe that they would have been given at least one chance to beat Petr Cech from the spot.

Liverpool have, in a bizarre kind of way, become the English team with the best chance of asking difficult questions of Chelsea.

By Sunday night, Benitez will have faced Mourinho seven times in little more than a year. But the old saying that familiarity breeds contempt is not one likely to be uttered by the studious Spaniard. He wears the look of a man contented with his lot, and honoured to be able to carry on the traditions of Shankly and Paisley.

Personnel wise, not much has changed since the end of last season. On the face of it, Liverpool have strengthened themselves in goal, although Jose Reina, while adept at stopping shots, is prone to the odd flap when it comes to dealing with crosses. We saw one such example in the first half on Wednesday evening.

Peter Crouch, the £7 million signing from Southampton has yet to open his account since moving to Anfield. Indeed Liverpool's inability to score goals in the early part of the season (they've managed only three in their first five Premiership games) has brought much criticism.

Benitez, I believe, is correct to point out that it will take time for his players to fully understand the strengths and weaknesses of their new beanpole teammate.

Crouch, while a giant at 6 foot 7, is not your typical old-fashioned battering ram. Granted, he's a massive asset in the air, but there's more to his game than just height. Crouch has a deft, soft touch, and can play just as important a role creating chances as he can finishing them.

Benitez has rightly stressed the significance of quicker support for Crouch, presumably from the likes of Luis Garcia, if the new man is to be used more effectively.

What impresses me most about the 2005-2006 Liverpool squad is the strength in depth, compared to last season. Steve Finnan or Josemi? Djimi Traore or Stephen Warnock? Finally, the manager has options in the full back positions.

The same sadly can't be said of the middle of the Liverpool defence. Besides the imperious Jamie Carragher and experienced Sami Hyypiä, centre backs are thin on the ground.

Central midfielders, on the other hand are in plentiful supply. Three of them - Steven Gerrard, Xabi Alonso and Didi Hamann - started Wednesday's game. Momo Sissoko, had it not been for a thigh injury, would have been a candidate to play too. That is real strength in depth.

Whereas last season, it was a struggle to fill the substitutes' bench, Benitez now can often count on having experienced professionals, such as Boudewijn Zenden and John Arne Riise waiting in the wings.

The results have yet to come, save for one win in the Premiership and another away to Real Betis on Matchday 1 in the Champions League.

It'll take a gargantuan effort if Liverpool are to beat Chelsea this weekend.

I won't be at all surprised though, if come Sunday, they more than match the champions, pass for pass, tackle for tackle, yet again.

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