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Juan Mata, centre, admits that he didn't understand the rivalry with Liverpool when he first arrived at Stamford Bridge.
Juan Mata, centre, admits that he didn't understand the rivalry with Liverpool when he first arrived at Stamford Bridge.

Gravitas of Chelsea-Liverpool rivalry weighs down Mata

Chelsea's Juan Mata finally understands the rivalry with Liverpool and knows the Reds will be elevating their game when the two meet at Stamford Bridge.

Juan Mata has admitted he was given a rude awakening about Chelsea's rivalry with Liverpool when he arrived at Stamford Bridge.

Mata could have been forgiven for underestimating the Merseyside club after joining Chelsea from Valencia last summer, with the Anfield club having been nowhere near challenging for the Premier League title in the previous two years.

But the fierce rivalry that had existed between the clubs for the best part of a decade ensured Liverpool consistently raised their game against Chelsea. They won three of the sides' four meetings last season - losing only being the FA Cup final.

Mata played in Chelsea's home defeats in the league and Carling Cup and was desperate to put that right in the kind of game he admitted they needed to win to pose a serious title challenge.

"Playing against Liverpool is a tough game, as I realised last season when we lost in the Carling Cup, [and] in the league as well," Mata told Absolute Radio. "I think we have to be strong at home. We are feeling really good playing in Stamford Bridge with our supporters, with their support.

"It's going to be tough, but I think if we want to win this Premier League, we have to be at the level in these kind of games, against massive rivals."

Chelsea's outrageous midfield trio of Mata, Oscar and Eden Hazard have been pivotal to their fine start to the season. But one area where they need to improve is helping out a defence that has conceded 14 goals in the past six games.

In Wednesday's Champions League victory over Shakhtar Donetsk in particular, Hazard regularly left Ryan Bertrand exposed at left-back. With Ashley Cole still injured, Bertrand is likely to start again on Sunday, although he should be helped by having captain John Terry back alongside him.

Luis Suarez, the Liverpool striker, likes to do much of his work out wide and will need no second invitation to exploit any weakness there.

"He's a magnificent player, isn't he,"Di Matteo said of Suarez, "and a very dangerous player; a big threat for any defenders that have to play against him."

After 10 games, Liverpool remain in the bottom half of the table with just two wins to their name and 11 points, their chief problem having been goal scoring.

The club have struck only 13 times and seven of those have come from talisman Suarez, who is presently their only fit and available established striker.

"The bottom line is results every week," said Brendan Rodgers, the Liverpool manager. "I look at the result and there is absolutely no doubt we are in the business of winning. It is not the case where I override the result. But I am very optimistic in my professional life. I tend to take a lot of good aspects out the performance and break those down and analyse which is important, and improve the areas where we need to.

"I don't think there is a lot wrong with our game. We are up there with the top four teams in the country in terms of creating chances. The clear area we need to improve on is finishing, and getting the goals to finish off our approach play. I will never forget that.

"But if you are performing well, nine times out of 10 you will get a good result."

Rodgers knows Liverpool face a stiff test today. He said: "Traditionally Stamford Bridge is a very difficult place to go and get a result but we are going there with great confidence.

"We have some really top players here that can hurt any opponent on a given day. That will be the objective."

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