The pre-match psychological banter has taken place, the pundits have had their say and tonight at 7.45pm the battle takes place ‘“ Chelsea vs Liverpool in the first leg of the Champions League semi-final at Stamford Bridge.
In the build-up to the game, Chelsea boss Joe Mourinho has branded Liverpool ‘œnot a big club’ but a ‘œmonster’, also bizarrely claiming that whilst his Blues have played 27 games in 2007, Liverpool have played ‘œonly 3 or 4’.
In response to Mourinho’s claim that Liverpool will ‘œchase Drogba for 90 minutes’ to get him booked and therefore suspended for the return leg at Anfield next Tuesday night. Reds boss Rafa Benitez said, “It hadn’t crossed my mind, but maybe it has Mourinho’s because that is what Chelsea did two seasons ago to Xabi Alonso.”
Tonight’s clash will be the third time in as many seasons the two teams have met in the Champions League and third semi-final between two teams in three years too, with Liverpool coming out top in both previous semis.
A 1-0 aggregate victory thanks to an early Luis Garcia goal in the second leg of the 2005 meeting was enough to send Liverpool through to the Champions League Final in Istanbul.
A year later, the Reds defeated Mourinho’s men 2-0 at Old Trafford to reach the last FA Cup Final to be played at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium.
Liverpool striker Peter Crouch is one of the players relishing tonight’s mouth-watering European clash. He says, “We may have beaten them a few times recently as well as the semi-final before I joined the club,” said Crouch. “But Chelsea are a great side, particularly on their own ground, and they must be favourites.
“But we have done well in Europe this season and won some important away matches. And we know we have the ability to beat them, we just have to do it now on the pitch.
“We are certainly up for it, and this seems to be our competition these days.’
But Crouch is not letting the club’s good recent Cup record against Chelsea make the side complacent. “I don’t think we’re too concerned with what happened in 2005. It’s been put to bed. At the end of the day, it was two years ago. It’s a totally fresh tie now, two new games and I’m sure there’ll be a lot to talk about.”
Skipper Steven Gerrard says now is the time for this Liverpool side to prove their quality and go down in history as some of the greats.
‘œIf we can win it again this year, then we will go down in history as another great Liverpool side – not just a good one,’ said Gerrard. ‘œThat is what drives me on, and the rest of the players.
“I want to be remembered as a captain who lifted the trophy twice, or even more. I want to be remembered along with those Liverpool greats like Hughes and Thompson, Souness, Neal and Dalglish.’
“I have been low and frustrated sitting on the sidelines and missing so many big games.
“The Champions League is a competition that everybody likes to play in. It has a special atmosphere that brings back great memories. It’s hard for me not playing, but I encourage the lads like a Liverpool supporter when I watch the side.’
Kick-off is at 7.45pm and the match is live on Sky Sports.