It is a repeat of the League Cup final when Chelsea and Liverpool go head to head this Saturday, this time for the FA Cup trophy. The Carabao Cup final in February ended in a stalemate after 120 minutes, the third time these two sides have drawn this season.

There was a 1-1 draw at Anfield earlier in the season where Thomas Tuchel’s side held firm despite playing the entire second half with ten men. There was then a 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge when Jürgen Klopp’s outfit threw away a two goal lead.

These two sides have cancelled themselves out in all three encounters this season. They are well matched across the pitch, we take a look at the six key battles which will go a long way in deciding who wins the oldest Cup competition in football.

Luis Diaz vs Reece James

The signing of Luis Diaz has proved another masterstroke in recruitment for Jürgen Klopp. The Colombian has added to the forward ranks and played himself into Liverpool’s best XI. He was the best player on the pitch when these two sides met at Wembley two and half months ago.

He’s in even better form heading into this final having been involved in 6 goals in his last 7 appearances (3 goals, 3 assists). He will be directly up against Reece James on Chelsea’s right flank. James is a potent outlet for Chelsea down that side.

He will bomb on whenever the opportunity presents itself, especially if it’s Chalobah behind him. If given time and space, James can cause problems with his crossing ability. He isn’t shy to dribble his way into shooting positions and have a crack either. His 5 league goals and 7 assists underline his threat.

Virgil Van Dijk vs Romelu Lukaku

There was huge fanfare about the battle between these two ahead of the Premier League game at Anfield. All the talk of an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object didn’t live up to the hype, mainly due to Reece James’ sending off seeing Chelsea retreat into a defensive shell.

Since then, it’s been a completely different trajectory for both players. Van Dijk has been a pillar of consistency as he’s once again established himself as the best defender on the planet following almost a year out injured. Lukaku meanwhile has struggled to live up to the initial fanfare.

He struggled and eventually fell behind Kai Havertz in the pecking order. That has all changed over the past week though. He’s started the last two games (Wolves and Leeds) and scored three goals. He’s smiling again and looks like he’s got his confidence back.

He is the Blues’ topscorer in all competitions with 15 goals. He caused a few problems off the bench in the League Cup final (including scoring a goal that was ruled out via a tight offside decision). He will be up for the fight on Saturday and Van Dijk (and whoever partners him) will have to keep him quiet.

Jordan Henderson vs Mason Mount

With Fabinho pulling up with a hamstring injury, skipper Jordan Henderson will have to drop into the holding role. He will have his hands full with Chelsea’s best player. Mason Mount is enjoying another stellar season. He’s scored 13 goals and laid on 16 assists in all competitions.

He registered a goal and assist in a Man of the Match display against Leeds last night. He was particularly wasteful in that Carabao Cup final and might feel he has something to prove on Saturday. He loves to pick up the ball in the half spaces and Hendo will have to track him all the way.

Sadio Mané vs Thiago Silva

Since a switch to a more central role, Sadio Mané looks reborn. There was a brief period where his place in the side seemed under threat with the arrival of Luis Diaz. Injuries to Firmino and Jota saw him utilised in a false nine role and he hasn’t looked back.

He played in that position in the League Cup triumph. He heads into this final looking in the best shape he’s been in for a few years. He’s directly contributed 9 goals in his last 10 starts (8 goals, 1 assist). He was named Man of the Match in the comeback win over Villa.

Aiming to keep him under wraps will be Chelsea’s veteran leader at the back. 37 year old Thiago Silva continues to defy his age. He’s still going strong and remains unflappable at the back on his day, both on the deck and in the air. This should be an intriguing battle.

• Trent Alexander-Arnold vs Christian Pulisic

The American has started the last two games for the Blues, and like Lukaku, has delivered the goods. An assist against Wolves was followed up with a crisp strike against Leeds. He seems to always play well against Liverpool.

He scored the equaliser when these two teams collided at Stamford Bridge. He started in the final as well and is likely to get the nod again on Saturday. He will look to capitalise on any space Trent leaves behind. His movement could cause gaps to open up for the advancing Alonso to benefit.

Tuchel could throw a curve ball and opt for Havertz instead. The German was Chelsea’s best player when these two last met. He was involved in a bit of a shoving match with Trent and that battle could be reignited. Trent will have to strike the balance between his defensive duties and his creative ones no matter who starts.

Thiago Alcantara vs N’golo Kanté

Thiago was named in the starting XI for the League Cup final but succumbed to an injury in the warmup. He will hope for better luck this time round. He’s been the heartbeat of the side since the turn of the year with almost everything going through him.

He’s yet to face Chelsea this season, but did make his Liverpool debut at Stamford Bridge when he came on as a halftime substitute and broke passing records. He will have to be at his brilliant best here as he is likely to come up against the tireless Kanté

The Frenchman has missed the last three games through injury and is still a bit of a doubt. How many times have we seen him make a miraculous recovery to face the Reds though? With Kovacic out, Tuchel will do everything possible to have Kanté available.

These six battles will prove key to deciding the destination of the FA Cup trophy. To be fair, there will be lots more individual battles on the day. Salah against Rudiger and Alonso, James against Robertson, etc. It promises to be a keenly contested affair. It always is when these two sides meet.



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