While Jurgen Klopp appears to be lifting Liverpool from the disarray that plagued the early part of their season, Jose Mourinho and Chelsea appear to be plunging deeper into chaos heading into their intriguing clash Saturday at Stamford Bridge.
It took four matches, but Klopp finally got his first victory since replacing Brendan Rodgers as the Reds advanced to the quarterfinals of the League Cup with a 1-0 home victory over Bournemouth on Wednesday. Overturning most of his starting XI from Sunday’s 1-1 draw versus Southampton, defender Nathaniel Clyne scored the match’s lone goal in the 12th minute, and the German manager is pleased with the progress the team has been making in limited practice time since taking over earlier this month.
"I feel much better than after a draw," Klopp told Liverpool’s official website. "We didn’t have too much time again between the games, not too much time for training, only one hour training with this new team and new system.
"I’m really fine with these guys," he added. "And, very importantly, the other players didn’t think because the manager did this it’s not such an important tournament. I saw in the eyes of all the players that they wanted to win tonight. That’s very important."
Liverpool (3-5-2) also got an encouraging 87-minute effort from Roberto Firmino, who had been sidelined since their previous League Cup win over Carlisle United with a back injury. Defender Kolo Toure, who is yet to play in a Premier League match this season, will miss as much as a month due to a hamstring injury that forced him off in the first half Wednesday.
However, first-choice striker Christian Benteke is expected to be available after being held out of the win as a precaution. The Belgian scored on a header as a substitute against Southampton after missing the previous three top-flight matches because of a hamstring problem.
The Reds – currently ninth in the table on 14 points – are unbeaten in their last 10 matches across all competitions since a 3-1 loss at Manchester United on Sept. 12, but eight results in that run have been draws and they’ve scored more than one goal just once in 15 overall matches this season.
As Klopp sees signs of optimism, his counterpart continues to show defiance as the defending champions’ struggles continued with Tuesday’s crash exit from the League Cup on penalties at 10-man Stoke City on Tuesday. Chelsea forced extra time on Loic Remy’s second-half stoppage-time goal, but Eden Hazard had the final spot kick at the Britannia saved, worsening the crisis around Mourinho and the Blues (3-2-5) on the heels of their 2-1 loss to London rivals West Ham on Saturday.
Despite his team’s ouster, Mourinho insisted there were good things to take away from this match and once again revived his snarl for the media, hitting out at reports he was losing control of the team.
"I think what some people write and say is really bad for the players, and because most that do that were players, maybe they think my players are like them when they were players," Mourinho told the club’s official website. "My players don’t do that. They tried everything. If anyone saw the second half on Saturday playing the way they did with 10 men, once more it’s a lack of respect for the players to (doubt) their moral principles."
Trying to climb from their current position of 15th in the table could prove challenging without Diego Costa, as the striker left in the first half due to what Mourinho described as a rib injury. Remy, though, gave his manager a show of support and remained optimistic on Chelsea’s chances to still right themselves this season.
"I’m really sure that Saturday will be a big game, but we can still be in the top four of the league if we win games," the France international said.
"It’s important for (Mourinho) to stay and we don’t want to give up. We were champions together only last season and he is a really great manager. Of course I don’t want him to leave. I think all the players don’t want that."
Chelsea took four points off Liverpool in the two league matches last season and eliminated them in the semifinals of the League Cup by a 2-1 aggregate. The Blues are unbeaten in their last eight versus Liverpool (4-4-0) across all competitions, and the Reds are winless in their last five (0-2-3) at Stamford Bridge since a 2-0 victory Nov. 29, 2011, in the League Cup.