Football: Weekend guide to the Premiership - Chelsea v Liverpool

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The Independent Online
IT WILL be a relieved Gianluca Vialli at Stamford Bridge today for the visit of Liverpool, as the player-coach can at last choose from the plethora of striking options he has become so richly accustomed to in West London.

Vialli's Norwegian pine was cured last week with the sight of Tore Andre Flo returning to the fray, albeit as a substitute, in the 3-1 win at Nottingham Forest. Flo has been troubled by an ankle injury incurred in the FA Cup third-round tie at Oldham Athletic back on 2 January, but showed at the City Ground that he is close to full fitness

With Italian compatriot Gianfranco Zola in fine form, Vialli may summon Flo to start at the expense of his Finnish wunderkind Mikael Forssell, while Vialli always has the option of giving himself a run-out.

The defence, with the France pairing of Franck Leboeuf (left) and Marcel Desailly providing a formidable central pairing, is further bolstered by the return of Graeme Le Saux and Michael Duberry to fitness.

Even more importantly, though, could be the availability of Roberto Di Matteo in the absence of the suspended Dennis Wise. While a Wise versus Paul Ince midfield battle would undoubtedly have set the fur flying, Di Matteo's role at least means that Chelsea have a better than even chance of finishing with the full complement of 11 players on the pitch.

Ince, banned for the 2-2 draw with West Ham last weekend, will be champing at the bit to get back in the action. Unfortunately for the Liverpool manager, Gerard Houllier, as one player returns, others depart.

The Merseysiders must view their visit to Stamford Bridge as one of the last real opportunities to get back on the championship pace, but will be without key defenders Jamie Carragher and Rigobert Song. Carragher's three-match ban sidelines him until the Easter Saturday derby with Everton, while Song is on international duty with Cameroon.

However, Houllier will be the first to admit that the current Liverpool team rarely wins matches through its defensive prowess, instead counting on Michael Owen (right) and Robbie Fowler to enact their terrible twins show and pepper the opponent's goal instead.

Big guns still need a good supply of ammunition, though, and Patrik Berger, back in contention after his hamstring injury, may well figure in Houllier's plans. The Frenchman may consider reverting to a 4-4-2 formation in order to accommodate both Berger and Steve "Real deal" McManaman.

CHELSEA (from): De Goey, Hitchcock, Le Saux, Ferrer, Leboeuf, Desailly, Duberry, Lambourde, Terry, Babayaro, Petrescu, Goldbaek, Di Matteo, Morris, Nicholls, Newton, Zola, Flo, Forssell, Vialli.

LIVERPOOL (from): James, Heggem, Staunton, Matteo, Babb, Bjornebye, McManaman, Ince, Redknapp, Berger, Owen, Fowler, Riedle, Friedel, Ferri, Harkness, Thompson, Kvarme, Traore.

Suspensions: Liverpool: Carragher. Chelsea: Osborne, Percassi, Wise.

Referee: P Durkin.

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