Ahead of Sunday's Premier League clash, defender Martin Skrtel has spoken of the need to keep ex-Red Fernando Torres off the scoresheet. Liverpool fans who believe in jinxes will now be very, very worried.
After a season spent largely out of favour under Andre Villas-Boas, Fernando Torres' career appears back on track now that Roberto Di Matteo is in charge. With four goal in ten Premier League matches this season and seven in 22 overall, his roughly one in three scoring rate may still be a ways off his career best of a goal in every game and a third managed in the 2007-08 season with Liverpool, but at least now his place in the starting lineup once again appears all but guaranteed.
With Torres expected to start on Sunday, then, it's hardly surprising that his former Liverpool teammates will have been asked about his potential to influence the game's outcome. And while many fans will fondly remember Daniel Agger's elbow to the Spaniard's chin when the player first reunited with his former club, the man most likely to determine Torres' chances on the Liverpool side of things will be Martin Skrtel, who will be expected to mark the Chelsea striker.
"If I play I will be marking him," began Skrtel when asked about matching up once again against the player he used to face in practice. "It's going to be special but we have to look after him because even if he isn't scoring goals at the moment he is still one of the best strikers in the world and still dangerous. We have to keep our eye on him for 90 minutes and not let him score.
"It's going to be hard playing against him but I believe in my qualities and the quality of our team and I believe we won't let him score."
Even with Torres' form less than when he left Liverpool that could be a hard task for this season's at times defensively challenged side. When the clubs last met, Liverpool was one of the strongest defensive outlets in the league with Steve Clarke in charge of coaching the backline, finishing the 2011-12 season behind only the two Manchester clubs as third stingiest. So far this season, Liverpool stand 14th when it comes to goals against.
Having gone from conceding slightly more than a goal per game to giving up a goal and a half every week signals a significant decline in Liverpool's ability to keep the ball out of their own goal, and even taking into account the occasional mental error caused by a squad adapting to a new system doesn't entirely explain away the difference.
And in the end, too, it won't just be about Liverpool's newly shaky defence stopping Torres, no matter what form he's in. At present, Chelsea are second in league scoring with 22 goals in ten matches, and with six players on two or more goals—including Torres, currently Chelsea's co-leading scorer alongside Juan Mata—accounting for 18 of them, it's fair to say the Blues' scoring threat is spread across the entire squad rather than being about one or two players.
"They are close to the top of the table and it's going to be a tough game," said Skrtel. "Games against Chelsea are always tough and this one is going to be the same and we just hope we can get the three points. They have got a good team and a lot of attacking players but we will go there and try to play our game and if we can continue with the performance we gave in our last game against Newcastle and play our game with a lot of movement, a lot of passing, it could be good against them."
In the end, though, any hope for a result from Liverpool's side of things may be less about whether Skrtel and the defence can keep Chelsea from scoring but rather whether Liverpool can convert a few chances of their own at the other end:
"We need to change the small things and take our chances because I'm pretty sure we will create [them]."
Of course, based on the recent evidence that could be nearly as tough a task for this year's Liverpool as keeping a clean sheet.