Get the end of season drama and all of next season with two Sky Sports football channels for the price of oneLiverpool head to Stamford Bridge this Sunday aiming to derail Chelsea's faint hopes of a top-four finish. Marcos Alonso, fresh from serving a suspension, will be tasked with limiting the effect of the Premier League's leading performer this season - the former Chelsea player, Mohamed Salah.
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Much of Alonso's more prominent contributions for Antonio Conte's side have come in the final third. He's the Premier League's top scoring defender this season with six goals, and no defender has scored more than his total of 12 since he first arrived at Stamford Bridge in August 2016.
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Chelsea have come to rely on his steady attacking output from wing-back, which has become a primary feature of the team's approach. Tottenham's Ben Davies is the only Premier League defender to have created more chances from open play this season, while Arsenal's Hector Bellerin is the only one to have had more touches in the opposition's box.
Most chances created from open play by defenders - PL 2017/18
Alonso's attacking tendencies are likely to play a pivotal role in Sunday's match. Charge forward, and he will leave Chelsea's three centre-backs man for man against the significant threat of Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane. Curb some of those instincts, and Chelsea might limit Salah's opportunities, but at the expense of some of their own attacks.
Most touches in the opposition box by defenders - PL 2017/18
Chelsea's three-at-the-back formation, which they have used in every Premier League game this season, may play into Liverpool's - and Salah's - hands, as has been the case for most teams this season. Jurgen Klopp's side have a far better record facing a back three than any other formation, as was shown in their recent Champions League semi-final first leg rout of Roma.
Liverpool stronger against a back three?
|Liverpool 2017/18||Games||Win %||Points per game|
|vs back three||14||78%||2.4|
|vs other formations||39||49%||1.8|
Suppressing Salah was not something Chelsea achieved with much success in the reverse fixture. While the points were shared, Salah managed seven shots at goal, his joint-most in a Premier League match this season, one of which resulted in a goal. His touches in the box (14) and dribbles completed (5) were also top-three seasonal returns, suggesting Chelsea's initial plan might need adjusting.
Salah's performance in Chelsea's 1-1 draw with Liverpool in November
|Salah||Total||Game rank||Liverpool rank|
|Touches in opp box||14||1st||1st|
Salah's effectiveness this season is no secret. The Egypt international has delivered one of the most prolific campaigns in Premier League history. He's on the brink of a new goal-scoring record for goals in a 38-game season. Only one previous Golden Boot winner has ever scored at a faster rate.
Best mins per goal rates in 38-game PL seasons
|Player||Season||Goals||Mins per goal|
Salah hasn't been one to shy away from the big occasion, either. He has scored seven goals in games between the top-six sides this season - almost twice as many as any other player.
Goals in games between the top six - PL 2017/18
|G Jesus||Man City||4|
|I Gundogan||Man City||4|
|L Sane||Man City||4|
Aside from finding the net, Salah has also created more chances than any other Liverpool player this season, a side of his game which is occasionally masked by his scoring exploits. His total of nine assists means he's only the fifth player involved in 40 or more goals during a Premier League season, with Thierry Henry's 38-game record of 44 (set in 2002-03) in his sight.
Whichever way Chelsea line up and however they deploy Alonso, the west London side will have their hands full stalling Salah's charge towards the Golden Boot. The Egypt international hasn't scored in two games but he seems destined to score against his former club having not gone three without a goal since October.
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If he does find the net on Sunday, Chelsea's need to push forward and leave three-at-the-back should make this an exciting attacking spectacle.
Watch Chelsea v Liverpool live on Sky Sports Premier League from 4.15pm on Sunday