Wednesday’s Back Pages: Pre-Chelsea

Paul Scholes’ first half strike was enough to send Manchester United through to the Champions League final last night, defeating Barcelona 1-0 in the semi-final second leg fat Old Trafford. Therefore tonight’s crunch game between Liverpool and Chelsea at Stamford Bridge sets up an all-English final in Moscow on May 21st. But can Rafael Benitez’s men defeat Chelsea in a Champions League semi-final tie for the third time in four years?

Tim Rich, in this morning’s Telegraph tells of how Benitez began about his tactics for tonight’s game as soon as the final whistle went at Anfield last Tuesday night.

Most managers would have retreated to their office, accompanied by acolytes and alcohol, and launched into a discourse about football’s patent unfairness. Benitez has never liked the taste of wine and revels in his own company.

He drove home to the Wirral and at around midnight, slipped the tape into the machine. He fast-forwarded and rewound, satisfying himself that despite a 1-1 scoreline that gives Chelsea a decisive advantage in tonight’s second leg at Stamford Bridge, Liverpool performed better at Anfield than they had in the previous two semi-finals that saw them through to their sixth and seventh European Cup finals.

It’s bound to be a tense match, but John Arne Riise’s last gasp own goal a week ago leaving the tie at 1-1 at the half-way stage, means the Reds must score at Stamford Bridge, something they have failed to do since January 2004.

But Bentiez is confident his team can go to London and deliver the task in hand. Writes Andy Hunter of The Guardian:

So confident is the manager before facing Chelsea that he boasted of José Reina’s penalty prowess should their Champions League semi-final second leg rest on another shoot-out lottery. Benítez had been similarly upbeat before the first leg and, despite John Arne Riise’s own-goal, it did not take him long to rediscover faith on the path to Moscow.

Meanwhile Jason Burt of The Independent writes of how Chelsea boss Avram Grant looks set to lose his job whatever happens to the Blues this season. But the Israeli wants to go out on a high.

Grant, according to those close to him, is growing in confidence as his team charge towards the end of the season. “Saturday we wanted to show that we can play like champions,” he said of the Premier League victory against Manchester United in which he showed a little emotion and was showered in a lot of praise. “We wanted to do that. But this is another game, a Champions League semi-final. We want to do it in this game.”

The Independent also predicts the starting line-ups by the two managers.

Chelsea (4-3-3): Cech, Ferreira, Terry, Carvalho, A Cole, Essien, Makelele, Ballack, Kalou, Drogba, J Cole.

Liverpool (4-2-3-1): Reina, Carragher, Hyypia, Skrtel, Arbeloa, Mascherano, Alonso, Pennant, Gerrard, Kuyt, Torres.

Chelsea have John Terry on a yellow card whilst Liverpool have Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher both on yellows. Should any booked players pick up another booking, they will miss the final.

Tonight’s game kicks off at 7.45pm and is live on Sky Sports 2. The game will be refereed by Roberto Rosetti of Italy.