Chelsea v. Liverpool: Not Over Yet…
Torres was visibly irritated when subbed off in the 74th minute with the scoreline still two-nil. He wanted his hat trick against Blackburn, but Rafa Benitez’s message was clear: save it for Chelsea.
As Liverpool visit Stamford Bridge needing to score at least three goals to survive in the Champions League (0-3 would mean a Liverpool win, 1-3 would push the match to extra time), they’ll have some fuel for the fires of confidence despite Chelsea’s first-leg 1-3 thrashing…
1. Beating United: Most important is Liverpool’s result from their visit to Old Trafford. Even the most optimistic Liverpool diehard must have been surprised when Liverpool scored four goals to Manchester United’s one. Liverpool’s second come-from-behind win against their arch-rivals was one of their greatest victories in recent times, more so since the Reds never beat United under Benitez until this season. If Liverpool can score four at Old Trafford, they’ll believe they can score enough goals to do the job at Stamford Bridge.
2. Goals, Goals, Goals: Liverpool’s impressive scorelines against Real Madrid, Aston Villa and Blackburn will also aid them in their belief. Five unanswered goals against Madrid over the course of two legs, five against Villa and four against Blackburn. While Blackburn’s performance was one of the worst I’ve seen this season, the momentum of finding the back of the net four times will be carried over for Liverpool as they strive to put the ball past Petr Cech.
3. John Terry’s Suspension: Terry’s collision Pepe Reina in the first leg led to the Chelsea captain’s fifth yellow and so he misses today’s match. While Chelsea have plenty of cover in the back, Terry is a leader and a lynchpin. In the last couple years when Terry has been out with injury, Chelsea have suffered for it, at times struggling with form and results. No Terry means a better chance for Liverpool attackers to break through and score.
4. Javier Mascherano’s Return: Mascherano was the missing link in the first leg. Lucas Leiva was not strong enough to hold down the midfield fort as well as Mascherano can. As a result Xabi Alonso and Steven Gerrard were not able to press forward as much as they like, as they had to hang back and help Lucas with defensive duties. Many say it was Essien who contained Gerrard, but Gerrard couldn’t enjoy his full role without a strong defensive midfielder behind him. With Mascherano back, not only will Gerrard and Alonso have a bit more freedom, but the Argentinian will be a great help in shutting down Drogba’s runs. Drogba was able to get through the Liverpool defense far to frequently in the first leg, largely because the back four were without the defensive insurance policy that is Javier Mascherano.
5. Bolton’s Three Goals: Bolton Wanderers nearly rescued a point after being 4-0 down at Stamford Bridge on Saturday, scoring three for a final scoreline of 4-3. If Bolton can score three away to Chelsea, Liverpool have as much of a chance as anyone. The Reds just have to make sure Chelsea don’t score four first! While the Bolton result may cause Chelsea to tighten up, it may just as easily have been enough to rattle the Blues the way Liverpool rattled United a week before Fulham beat them.
6. Fernando Torres: Torres is the king of creating a chance out nowhere. Give him a bit of space and an extra second on the ball and he can produce a wondergoal. Look at the first goal against Blackburn, he chested down Carragher’s long ball between two defenders, let it bounce once, and shot it into the far corner of the net. With Terry out, Torres may have more space than Chelsea normally allow. This may be enough to make all the difference. And he’s still hungry having been denied the third goal on Blackburn.
7. Liverpool Always Play Until The End: It may be a cliché: play until the final whistle. But no side has epitomized this like Liverpool this season. The equalizers and winners that have been scored in the dying minutes show that Liverpool will not give up until there is no more match to play. Right now it is halftime and Liverpool have ninety minutes to make something happen. That’s twice as much time as they had after going three down against AC Milan.
This is a mountain to climb. No doubt. And Chelsea may already be through to the semi-finals. But if Liverpool can score first and score early, it may just be enough to put the Blues off balance in their own stadium. If Liverpool can score two, it’s game on.
Three is a lot to ask, but stranger things have happened for Liverpool this season alone. Are we about to see a routine match for Chelsea? Or a legendary one for Liverpool?
We’ll know in a couple of hours.