Explaining Liverpool and Chelsea’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad seasons

Remember the last time Chelsea and Liverpool played? No? Well, it feels like it was six years ago.

Back in May, they met in the FA Cup final, just a couple of months after meeting in the Carabao Cup final. The latter ended scoreless in penalties, and so did the former; their league matches would have gone to penalties too, were it possible. Their second league fixture was a thrilling 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge, while their early-season matchup at Anfield ended 1-1, with the Blues holding the Reds mostly at arm’s length after Reece James was sent off right before halftime.

After winning the Carabao Cup, Liverpool won the FA Cup. For Jurgen Klopp’s team, it ended up salvaging the bare minimum of success from their lights-out, season-long performance. Despite reaching the final of all three cups and running Manchester City all the way into the second half of the final game of the season, they only won the lesser two of the four major trophies. In an oh-so-slightly-alternate universe, two bounces go differently, Liverpool also win the Champions and Premier leagues, and there’s a legit argument for them as the best English team of all time.

For Chelsea last season, there’s at least an argument for them as one of the best English teams to win nothing. Their plus-43 goal differential was a top-35 mark in league history. Thomas Tuchel & Co. beat Real Madrid 3-1 at the Bernabeu to force extra time in the Champions League quarterfinals. On the whole, they outplayed the eventual champions … though you could say the same thing about City and Liverpool, too. Plus, they played Liverpool to a stalemate in two cup finals, only to come away empty-handed from the lottery that is two penalty shootouts.

Despite two seasons that ended in disappointment, each club still had one of the five best managers in the world. Chelsea won the Champions League just a year earlier, while Liverpool somehow had managed to improve on the team that won 99 points. With deep, proven squads and brilliant coaching, they each entered this season as top-five teams in the world.

Now, they each enter Saturday’s matchup at Anfield barely clinging to a top-10 spot in their own league. Liverpool sit ninth, Chelsea 10th. Even though it’s mostly the same players who’ve been excellent in the past, both sides have been unthinkably terrible so far this season. What the heck happened? Maybe they just played too many games.

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