Tuesday 22 April ~
So here we go again. Over the last three seasons Liverpool and Chelsea have played each other 13 times. But the divide between results in the Premier League and the Champions League could not be clearer. In domestic competition Chelsea have only lost once to Liverpool and finished above them in each of these seasons. On the other hand, in Europe, Liverpool have only lost twice to Chelsea and, as we all know, beat them at the Champions League semi-final stage in both 2005 and 2007. Familiarity breeds contempt however and the levels of personal rivalry and enmity are only increasing.
The fact that of these 13 meetings seven matches have been in Europe is, for the neutral, just unfortunate coincidence. The players and supporters of each club are of course now very familiar with each other but the primary cause for such personal bad feeling is because games between Liverpool and Chelsea now assume such huge importance. The Premier League is now so stratified that for the “big four” the season is defined predominantly by the results against the other three. Whether in domestic competition or Europe, there is now so much riding (professionally, emotionally and most importantly financially) on any Chelsea v Liverpool fixture. It is unsurprising that the games are niggly, fraught affairs.
So we see John Terry speaking of the continued “burning” from previous defeats against Liverpool and concluding that tonight's opponents “may not have the best team on paper but on the pitch they're together”. Team-mate Didier Drogba was more than happy to provide tabloid headlines by stating: “I’m not in the least bit worried about them.” The Liverpool interview style was just as confrontational. Steven Gerrard talked up the Anfield atmosphere in unfavourable comparison to Chelsea's ground: “Stamford Bridge has nothing like the aura about it that Anfield does and it certainly won’t intimidate us in the slightest.” Meanwhile, Rafa Benitez adopted a pseudo-scientific approach, believing that Chelsea may have a “psychological problem”.
Tonight the neutral retains only a faint hope of an entertaining game of football. But they can at least keenly anticipate comeuppance for one team and their supporters. The “big four” are now so deeply instituted that many supporters of other clubs now have their own preferences among them, or can place them in descending order of least liked. Chelsea have elbowed their way into the elite through the contentiously acquired billions of their owner and they have a dull playing style. Liverpool are immersed in media hype over the “European night at Anfield” and their interminable boardroom wrangling is the most boring story of the season (and according to some, it's still threatening to overshadow tonight's game). May the least annoying team win (whoever that is).