Sun | Dec 4, 2016

Rodgers under scrutiny

Published:Friday | November 7, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Newcastle United's Steven Taylor (right) vies for the ball with Liverpool's Mario Balotelli during their English Premier League football match at St James' Park, Newcastle, England, on Saturday. Newcastle won 1-0. AP photos
Arsenal's Alexis Sanchez (right) celebrates scoring his side's third goal with teammate Theo Walcott during their English Premier League football match against Burnley at the Emirates stadium, London, on Saturday. Arsenal won 3-0.
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MANCHESTER, England (AP): Criticised for picking a perceived weakened line-up against Real Madrid in midweek, Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers can justify that controversial selection if his regulars return to hand Chelsea a first Premier League loss of the season tomorrow.

Rodgers was accused by some of betraying Liverpool's rich European pedigree by dropping his star names for Tuesday's Champions League match in Spain, appearing to show he valued the Chelsea match higher. Liverpool lost 1-0.

If the gamble pays off and the likes of rested quartet Steven Gerrard, Raheem Sterling, Jordan Henderson and Mario Balotelli return to inspire Liverpool to victory at Anfield, some of Rodgers' critics may fall silent.

Chelsea, though, are unbeaten in all competitions, lead the league by four points and have returned from the northwest with draws at Manchester City and Manchester United already this campaign.

Liverpool are in seventh place - 12 points behind Chelsea - and showing none of the form that took the team to a second-place finish last season.

Here are some other things to watch out for in the Premier League this weekend:

SUBLIME SANCHEZ

After a slow start, Alexis Sanchez is showing just why Arsenal spent 35 million pounds ($60 million) to buy him from Barcelona this summer. The Chile forward has scored five goals in his last three games and 11 overall in his debut season at Emirates Stadium.

"He's a good leader and something that we haven't had in the Arsenal team before," Arsenal winger Theo Walcott said. "He's a dream to play with."

With Walcott back after 10 months out with knee-ligament damage and Danny Welbeck settling in quickly after his deadline-day move from Man United, Arsenal are looking a potent attacking force once again, scoring at least two goals in their last five matches.

Defensively, the team is suspect, though. Arsenal threw away a 3-0 lead after 60 minutes to draw 3-3 with Anderlecht in the Champions League on Tuesday and are hoping centre back Laurent Koscielny will be fit again for the trip to Swansea tomorrow.

Arsenal are fourth in the standings.

MISERABLE MOURINHO

Chelsea are undefeated in 14 games this season, top of both their domestic and Champions League standings and have no apparent weaknesses in their squad. You would not know it listening to their manager over the past week.

After the 2-1 win over Queens Park Rangers last weekend, a sullen Jose Mourinho said he was not happy with his team and complained about the lack of atmosphere inside Stamford Bridge.

"Playing here is like playing in an empty stadium," he said.

Then after a 1-1 draw with Maribor in the Champions League on Wednesday, Mourinho criticised his players for lacking focus and underestimating opponents.

A win at Anfield should cheer up Mourinho, though. After today, Chelsea will have played arguably their three toughest away games at Manchester City, Manchester United and Liverpool and are sure to be in first place.