Mirror, Mirror On The Wall, Will Liverpool Go Through Tonight?
They are the English Premier League heavyweights. They have been paired together five times in the Champions League in as many seasons. They are the embodiment of Champions League familiarity. They are of course Chelsea and Liverpool.
Before last week, my expectation between these two was nothing but the usual grim tactical stalemate. But instead I witnessed the most riveting match I have ever seen in this competition; it even surpassed the roller-coaster ride that was on the night before at Old Trafford between Man United and Porto.
So, tonight’s match at North London, my expectation is as high as the skies above. I shall expect nothing but the joy-dropping, electrifying performance that I had seen last week at Enfield.
The papers have clearly made up their minds; their headlines say it all: “this quarter-final tie is effectively over.” But, in 2005 Champions League final in Istanbul, was it not Liverpool who memorably retrieved a 3-0 half-time deficit to beat AC Milan on penalties? Yes this is a longer half-time break, but we can never write Liverpool off until the fat lady sings.
Yes Guus Hiddink is great and so far what his done for the club and players’ self-esteem is enormous testimony to both his coaching ability and his power of persuasion. But tonight he will be without his huge influential centre-back and inspirational captain John Terry who last week kept Fernando Torres, Liverpool’s talismantic striker, very quite. And that is a potentially crippling blow to the Blues’ defence.
That is said, the man the Chelsea fans call the Train will be there and he is none-other than Michael Essien. They call him the Train because he never stops running. His display last week proved that Chelsea have been missing his transport. Last week, he had the highest pass completion – 85% – and cut the umbilical-cord between Steven Gerrard and Torres, which had led to the demolition of Man United at Old Trafford.
On the other hand, this week Liverpool club commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster – 96 Liverpool fans, including Gerrard’s 10-year-old cousin, Jon-Paul Gilhooley, who lost their lives in Britain’s worst stadium disaster on 15th April 1989. Therefore, Gerrard and Jamie Carragher is an extra motivation. Likewise, Javier Mascherano’s presence will certainly be a huge motive for the rest of the team, who had missed him last week. Having said that, Gerrard have picked up a groin strain in the first leg and even though he is included in the team he might not be at his best.
So tonight’s game will certainly clarify how much psychological damage has been done to Liverpool’s title push.
What’s more, if Chelsea passes Liverpool tonight the next opponent is hot on its heels; they run straight into Lionel Messi, Samuel Eto’o and Thierry Henry to name but a few. And if Hiddink continues producing results like this the Dutchman may never see Moscow again.