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Liverpool's poor record against rivals opens door for tired Chelsea

Liverpool's poor record against rivals opens door for tired Chelsea

ESPN

There has been some good news for Liverpool in what has largely been a week to forget for Jurgen Klopp's team.

Chelsea, Saturday's Premier League opponents at Anfield, landed in London at 4.15 a.m. on Thursday morning following their Champions League victory against Qarabag in Azerbaijan -- the squad then arrived back at their Cobham training base at 5 a.m. before having to drive home.

So even after throwing away a 3-0 lead to draw 3-3 against Sevilla 24 hours earlier, Liverpool can at least draw a positive from the fact that Antonio Conte's men will be in anything but optimum condition when they take to the field on Merseyside.

Right now, Liverpool need to take all the positives they can get, especially when it comes to facing their top six rivals.

Last season, when they were free of the distraction of European football, Liverpool ended the season at the summit of the Premier League's "top-six mini league" with 20 points -- five wins and five draws against Chelsea, Tottenham, Arsenal, Manchester City and Manchester United.

But something has changed this season and the alarm bells should be ringing for Klopp and his players.

Liverpool have been dismal against their top six rivals. So far this season they have played four key games and won just once: beating Arsenal 4-0, but drawing 0-0 with Man United and falling 5-0 to City and 4-1 to Tottenham. They've also failed to beat Watford and Burnley, who are in this season's top eight: drawing twice.

And it's not much better in the Champions League either where, after Tuesday's shambolic collapse against Sevilla, they have failed to record a win against their rivals to progress from Group E -- drawing twice with the Spanish side and once against Spartak Moscow.

So how have Liverpool gone from being the team that gets results against their rivals to one that has won just once in seven of those important fixtures this season?

Have opponents learned how to nullify Jurden Klopp's attacking style of play? Has the German manager failed to evolve his approach, in the same way Pep Guardiola has tinkered with his philosophy to such devastating effect at City?

The answer to both is probably "yes" and Klopp is now approaching the territory that Brendan Rodgers found himself in towards the end of his three-year reign as manager in 2015.

Rodgers had turned Liverpool into a formidable attacking force, but defensively, they were too often undone in key games. The Northern Irishman, however, had to cope with the sale of Luis Suarez to Barcelona and, as yet, Klopp has had no such body blow to recover from at Anfield.

Adam Lallana's five-month absence due to injury, which is now at an end, has clearly hampered his plans, but losing Lallana is not like losing Suarez.

The additional loss of Sadio Mane due to injury and suspension, which has restricted the Senegal forward to just 12 appearances, has been another problem for Klopp to overcome, as has been Philippe Coutinho's indifferent form since he failed to secure a summer move to Barcelona. But it's nothing every other rival hasn't had to deal with in some way.

The manager has no excuses for the ongoing problems at left-back, which were once again exposed by Alberto Moreno's poor performance against Sevilla. The question marks over Moreno's defensive concentration have never gone away, but the Spaniard had made 17 appearances this season while Andy Robertson, the Scotland left-back who arrived from Hull in the summer, has played just three times.

Klopp has stubbornly persisted with Moreno and also chose to invest £35 million in Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in August -- who has started just once in the Premier League and appeared for just 127 minutes in the Champions League -- despite clearly needing a different kind of midfielder to enable Liverpool to do what he admitted they could not do against Sevilla: keep the ball and control the game.

The visit of Chelsea will tell us plenty about Liverpool's progress under Klopp and whether it is in danger of slipping into reverse.

Klopp has never lost to Chelsea and Liverpool remain good at what they have always been good at under the former Borussia Dortmund coach, but the team's deficiencies appear to be getting worse.

If their unconvincing form against their top six rivals continues with a failure to defeat the defending champions, Liverpool risk becoming consigned to another race for fourth rather than chasing down City at the top.

RB Leipzig midfielder Naby Keita is lined up to arrive next summer for over £55m, but the cavalry may turn up once the battle has already been lost. Klopp needs to find a way to put all the pieces together now, with what he has. The evidence so far suggests he may not have the right players do it.

Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_

ESPN