Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Match Preview: Chelsea vs. LiverpooL

Chelsea and Liverpool confounded most of the footballing world by serving up a thrilling quarter-final first leg at Anfield last week.

Expected to be the usual dour war of attrition, the game was instead a super spectacle with Guus Hiddink’s men producing a fantastic display to run out 3-1 winners.

Yet it had all started so promisingly for the Reds who opened the scoring after only six minutes courtesy of Fernando Torres.

However, the Blues stormed back to take full control of the game with Branislav Ivanovic bagging a brace before Didier Drogba added the icing on the cake with the third away goal.

The win has filled Chelsea with optimism and the Blues are now daring to dream that this may finally be the year in which they conquer Europe.

Liverpool, meanwhile, must now travel to west London knowing they have to score three times, without reply, if they are to maintain their Champions League dreams.

Of course the Merseysiders are no strangers to sensational comebacks and with three goals required, memories of their 2005 Champions League win resurface.

The Reds were famously trailing AC Milan 3-0 at half-time in the final before roaring back to level the game and then eventually prevailing on penalties.

Whilst that comeback was remarkable, something similarly brilliant will be required on Wednesday if they are to knock Chelsea out and book themselves a semi-final date with either Barcelona or Bayern Munich.

Although it looks a tall order there are signs that this game is not quite over and that Liverpool can pull off the seemingly impossible.

Benitez’s boys are in good goalscoring form, having hit 14 goals in their last four Premier League games.

The Anfield outfit can also draw comfort from the fact that they scored four times at Old Trafford recently, put five past Aston Villa and bounced back from their defeat to Chelsea with another 4-0 win over Blackburn at the weekend.

Yet Chelsea’s defence have also, inadvertently, handed the Reds reason for optimism ahead of the game.

Hiddink’s men were 4-0 up and cruising on Saturday at Stamford Bridge but three goals in nine minutes from Bolton Wanderers set up a nervy finish and will have given both Hiddink and Benitez food for thought.

The Liverpool boss undoubtedly has much to ponder going into the game and not least his skipper Steven Gerrard.

Liverpool’s talisman sat out the Blackburn game nursing a groin injury but is expected to play on Tuesday.

However, he was so brilliantly nullified by Michael Essien at Anfield that Benitez will need to think again about how best to employ his No. 8 if Liverpool are to have a chance of making the last four.


Last Five Results


Apr 11: Chelsea 4-3 Bolton Wanderers
Apr 8: Liverpool 1-3 Chelsea
Apr 4: Newcastle United 0-2 Chelsea
Mar 21: Tottenham Hotspur 1-0 Chelsea
Mar 15: Chelsea 1-0 Manchester City


Apr 11: Liverpool 4-0 Blackburn Rovers
Apr 8 Liverpool 1-3 Chelsea
Apr 4: Fulham 0-1 Liverpool
Mar 22: Liverpool 5-0 Aston Villa
Mar 14: Manchester United 1-4 Liverpool



John Terry is suspended but Ricardo Carvalho is fit again and should partner Alex in central defence.

Nicolas Anelka and Deco featured as substitutes at the weekend but, aside from replacing Terry, Hiddink may keep faith with the team that began the first leg.

Possible starting XI: Cech, Ivanovic, Alex, Carvalho, Cole, Essien, Ballack, Lampard, Malouda, Kalou, Drogba.


Javier Mascherano returns from suspension and should replace Lucas Leiva whilst Steven Gerrard should also start after being rested from the win against Blackburn Rovers at the weekend.

Daniel Agger is also vying for a place in the starting XI after starting and scoring in the weekend win against Rovers.

Possible Starting XI: Reina, Arbeloa, Carragher, Skrtel, Aurelio, Kuyt, Mascherano, Alonso, Riera, Gerrard, Torres.


Chelsea – Ricardo Carvalho

With John Terry missing through suspension and Liverpool needing to score three goals Chelsea will need to be strong at the back on Wednesday night.

After missing large chunks of the season through injury Carvalho is expected to return to the side and his presence could prove crucial.

The Portuguese has long been the linchpin of the Chelsea backline and with Torres and Gerrard in top form, he will need to be at his very best at Stamford Bridge.

Liverpool – Fernando Torres

With three goals the order of the day Fernando Torres has to be Liverpool’s main danger man at Stamford Bridge.

‘El Nino’ is on fire at the moment and it would be little surprise to find the Spaniard on the scoresheet at Stamford Bridge.

The Spaniard bagged the opener in the first leg and followed that with a brace at the weekend, the first of which was a truly stunning strike.

Against a Chelsea defence missing its skipper Torres will look to profit and score the goals that will help Liverpool attempt what would be a stunning comeback.

How Liverpool Can Still Beat Chelsea To Reach Champions League Semi-Finals

Five things Liverpool can do to overcome the 3-1 deficit in their Champions League quarter-final second leg against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

1 Employ their midfield generals

At Anfield Chelsea dominated midfield with both work rate and exceptional passing. Frank Lampard and Michael Ballack showcased the modern midfielder’s art in tidying up in front of defence and surging forward to launch attacks at will. Lucas was out of his depth in that environment but Javier Mascherano, who is back for the return leg, is unlikely to be as easily bullied and if he and Xabi Alonso can shut down Ballack and Lampard and use what possession Liverpool have effectively they will be in a better position to dictate play.

2 Free Stevie G

Rafa Benitez needs to be bold. After Fernando Torres, the most reliable source of the three or more goals Liverpool need is Steven Gerrard.

If fit, the Liverpool captain must be pushed forward to support Torres more closely in a 4-4-2 formation, with Gerrard playing the support striker – leaving Mascherno and Alonso to take care of business in the middle – and his goal threat will be increased. Michael Essien, should he be asked to do another man marking job on Gerrard, would also be forced further back and inevitably wander into Chelsea defenders’ territory where responsibility to pick up Gerrard would become confused.

3 Get in the zone

While Liverpool need to score, conceding will make life even more difficult. Losing two goals to simple set pieces at Anfield questioned the wisdom of Benitez’s zonal marking system. Should Liverpool persist with it they need to communicate better when players run across their space to avoid a repeat of Branislav Ivanovic’s almost free headers.

Chelsea are a bigger side than Liverpool – despite the absence through suspension of John Terry – and so Sami Hyypia’s presence in place of Martin Skrtel, who had a shocker in the first leg, might improve things in that department, though with a loss of pace on the ground. Better still, abandon the ploy and revert to man-to-man marking, just this once.

4 Win their personal battles

At Anfield Skrtel was bullied in to submission by Didier Drogba, Essien had Gerrard in his pocket all night while Ashley Cole, Lampard and Ballack reminded us all of their quality and even Florent Malouda justified his starting place.

With Terry absent and his likely replacement, Richard Carvalho, just back from injury to partner the less assured Alex, Torres can make hay with his fleetness of movement and thought. If Liverpool do go 4-4-2 then Albert Riera needs to ask questions defensively of Ivanovic, while Dirk Kuyt is capable of harrying Cole to distraction. Alonso and Mascherano need to claim the midfield off Ballack and Lampard. Simple, eh?

5 Evoke the spirit of Istanbul

As chastening an experience as the first leg was, this Liverpool side is not one that is easily broken and they have already gone to the home of the European and Premier League Champions and won by three goals this season in the sacking of Old Trafford.

They may have only twice scored three goals or more at Stamford Bridge in competitive matches and failed to win any of their Champions League fixtures there but what’s three goals in 90 minutes to a club who pulled off the trick in six minutes in a Champions League final?

Rafa Benitez: Liverpool Have Nothing To Lose Against Chelsea

Rafa Benitez is tipping Liverpool to beat Chelsea in the second leg of their Champions League quarter-final on Tuesday, as he feels they are under no pressure to do so.

With the Blues scoring three away goals in the first leg at Anfield, the Reds must score at least three goals at Stamford Bridge to ensure they overcome a 3-1 deficit and progress to the semi-final.

The Spaniard has suggested that such is the difficulty of their task that they might just pull it off.

"Of course we know that we are now in a very bad position but we have nothing to lose," Benitez is quoted as saying by The Sun.

"We can approach the game without pressure and anything can happen - that’s football. If we play without anxiety and nervousness, we can play better.

"Clearly, we will have a lot of fans behind us at Stamford Bridge and we will try and do our best for them and for us because we are professionals."

Benitez is confident that as long as his Liverpool side approach the Chelsea game in a positive mind-set and attack their opponents, scoring the goals needed to win will be far from impossible.

He said, "[At Anfield] Chelsea played well and had chances, while we made mistakes. But we still could have scored again, so why not at Stamford Bridge?

"Chelsea will think it’s nearly done but we have to approach it thinking we can still get through."

Liverpool's Fabio Aurelio Warns Chelsea: We Are The Comeback Kings

Liverpool stopper Fabio Aurelio is adamant that his side can overcome the 3-1 home loss to Chelsea that sees them travel to Stamford Bridge with a massive Champions League disadvantage.

The 29-year-old told UEFA.com that, although it would be a tough mission for Rafa Benitez's side, the Reds have the ability to make historic comebacks.

"Nobody is giving up on the Champions League, for this team have defied the odds before. We have scored four against United and Real Madrid and need to remember that," he said.

"The first leg? The game started quite well for us. We set the pace and it seemed to be our night. But that first goal kind of stunned us. Congratulations to Chelsea, though, as they played well.

"As for the set-piece goals, the zonal marking has worked for us before so I don't think we should be blaming it for the result. Goals also happen as a result of strong performances and Chelsea managed to put us in situations where they beat the system. If there were perfect schemes, matches would always end in draws."

The Premier League, too, remains very much on the agenda.

"We need to separate the tournaments," he explained. "We are doing quite well in the Premier League and cannot afford to lose momentum. Winning will put more pressure on Manchester United. Chelsea are not a matter until next week.

"Having the four English clubs in the quarter-finals attests that the Premier League is the best in the world. It reflects both the quality of the game but also the structure of the clubs. It can't be mere coincidence because it's been happening for a long time."

Liverpool Goalkeeper Pepe Reina Positive Ahead Of Chelsea Clash

Pepe Reina insists that, even in the wake of the 3-1 defeat to Chelsea, his side have it in them to reach the semi-finals of the Champions League.

Liverpool suffered a heavy 3-1 defeat to Chelsea in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final clash at Anfield last week.

In light of this, Rafa's men must score at least three times to progress into the semis, and after 'Pool's recent 4-1 demolition of Manchester United, it is a feat that Spanish goalkeeper Pepe Reina believes to be entirely possible.

"Istanbul should be the inspiration for us," said the Spanish keeper, referring to the 2005 Champions League win over AC Milan.

"We know that the tie is really difficult, but still we have hope.

"We know already that if anyone can turn this around, it's Liverpool.

"There is always something to exploit. Everybody, every team, has weak points," the stopper added, as reported by Sky Sports.

Considering the uphill climb that his team faces, Reina has a distinct positive aura around him.

"We have to attack and score three goals. Even if we concede one, we'll have the chance to go to extra-time. We have to attack, that's clear. And we'll go for that.

"We have the game at Old Trafford as a big example. We won 4-1 and no-one expected us to do that. We know already it's going to be almost impossible, but if there's someone who can do it, it's going to be Liverpool."

Torres Wants Winning Tribute

Fernando Torres is determined to inspire Liverpool to victory over Chelsea as a tribute to the 96 fans who died at Hillsborough.

The Spanish striker is confident Liverpool can overcome the 3-1 first-leg deficit at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday, feeling it would be a fitting tribute to the victims of the Hillsborough disaster which marks its 20th anniversary on Wednesday.

Torres dedicated his goals against Blackburn on Saturday to the memory of the fans and he is determined to pay tribute to the 96 supporters and their families by helping Liverpool to an improbable comeback victory against Chelsea.

"Those goals on Saturday were for the 96 and their families because I know that Saturday was a special day for them with it being the home game closest to the anniversary," said Torres.

"The goals were more special because of the service on Wednesday, when we will see the families on an important day for them and for all Liverpool supporters.

"It makes tomorrow's game all the more important. We have to try to do it for the families and the 96 who died."

Torres remains hopeful that Liverpool can overcome all the odds to reach the semi-finals of the Champions League with a three-goal victory at Chelsea.

"I believe the team can score three goals at Chelsea although it is very difficult because they are a strong team," added Torres.

"We can do it, we have confidence, we know we can win the game. And we will not panic if we do concede one there, if we score three then it goes to extra-time.

"We won away to Manchester United, they scored but we still won 4-1. Chelsea could just defend, but I doubt that, they will want to score themselves and that will give us a chance ourselves.

"Chelsea will play for the win, if they score one or two it will be over. They will not just defend, they will try to attack."

Reds defender Jamie Carragher also insists confidence is high in the camp that they can upset Chelsea.

"Chelsea played very well at Anfield, we have to give them credit for that," said Carragher.

"But over the last couple of months we have been the form team in the country, and we know we can do it."

Rafael Benitez Puts His Faith In Steven Gerrard

Rafael Benitez is ready to turn to Steven Gerrard to help keep alive Liverpool’s Champions League dream this evening.

The Anfield skipper is poised to start for Benitez’s side as they attempt another unlikely European comeback against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

Liverpool need to score at least three goals after they were stunned by the Londoners 3-1 in last Wednesday’s quarter-final first leg.

Gerrard remained on the bench for Saturday’s 4-0 thrashing of Blackburn Rovers after suffering an adductor injury that hampered his performance against Chelsea.

But Benitez has revealed the 28-year-old’s fitness is improving and is prepared to take a “calculated risk” by naming him in the starting line-up tonight. The Liverpool manager said: “I think that Gerrard wants to play.

“We have to train and talk with him. He’s had the problem before and was playing. Now we need people who are 100% fit, so it would be a calculated risk.

“On Saturday, if we needed him from the bench, then we knew we could use him. But coming on as a substitute, the warm-up is different so it’s maybe more difficult doing that.

“If he’s available, I’d like to play him from the beginning. Steven is getting better, he has been working with the physios and we will discuss the situation with the doctors.

“Steven will travel with the party to London and I will make a decision before the game.

“We are 3-1 down and we know that everything can change if we have Steven in the side and he plays well.

“We are professionals, and we have our pride and we want to do something. We will try to do our best to do something. We don’t play for another week so we have enough time to recuperate the players.”

That Benitez is not tempted to wrap Gerrard in cotton wool for Liverpool’s Premier League title challenge underlines the belief the tie is not yet over.

Fabio Aurelio is poised to return at left-back for the ineligible Emiliano Insua, with the manager having to decide whether to recall Martin Skrtel in place of Daniel Agger at centre-back.

Liverpool’s pressing need for goals means Benitez accepts his team must strike early to have any chance of reaching a 10th European Cup semi-final.

However, the Spaniard has taken heart from the way in which Bolton Wanderers scored three goals in their 4-3 defeat at Stamford Bridge on Saturday to expose frailties in

a back-line that will be without the suspended John Terry.

“When you concede three goals in a few minutes like Chelsea did against Bolton, then clearly you are a little bit nervous,” said Benitez. “It’s a good example that if we can score, then it can put Chelsea under a little bit of pressure.

“To score an early goal would help us play with more confidence and it would make Chelsea think they have to be careful and not make any mistakes.

“If we score an early goal, there might be extra motivation for the players. The first goal will be vital, and for us it can be a massive difference.

“We know we can do it. We have the experience of Old Trafford. We can score goals away against the top sides. We have to approach this game believing we can do well.

“The players have a lot of confidence.

“Training yesterday was good, we know it will be difficult but we have confidence and we will go there in the knowledge we are a top side and believe that we can do it.”

Daniel Agger's New Liverpool Deal Hinges On Rafael Benitez’s Faith In Him

The protracted contract saga involving Daniel Agger's extension rages on. The Dane insists that he will ink a new deal if he receives private assurances from Rafael Benitez that he is a part of the Spaniard's first-team plans.

Agger, despite a set of minor injuries and suspensions at the back this season, has featured only intermittently this campaign and feels his capacity to rule the rearguard - as well as being able to seal a win with a thunderous shot - justifies a place next to Liverpool stalwart Jamie Carragher at the back.

Benitez remains a public admirer of Agger, however, the player insists it is what his manager says and does "behind closed doors" that will decide whether he signs.

He told The Mirror, "It is nice to hear that the manager wants to keep me, but the most important thing is what he tells me when I look him in the eyes.

"It's not what he says in the papers, it is what he says behind closed doors that matters.

"I keep talks with the club confidential so I cannot tell you what has been said."