The Community Shield: Chelsea v. Liverpool

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The traditional curtain-raiser to the new Premiership campaign will be the eleventh meeting between Chelsea and Liverpool since the start of the 2004/05 season. Of the previous ten fixtures three have finished 0-0 (all in the Champions League), while Chelsea have won five (including all four Premiership games) and Liverpool two; combined scoreline: 12-6.

A telling statistic is Liverpool’s record against Chelsea in Cup competitions during that time. Nobody can forget the Reds’ 1-0 Champions League semi-final second leg win on their way to lifting the trophy in 2005, or last season’s 2-1 win in the FA Cup semi-final. Chelsea’s only Cup victory in the same period was a 3-2 win in extra-time of the 2004/05 League Cup final, Jose Mourinho’s first trophy as Chelsea manager.

Not that previous results will have much bearing on tomorrow’s meeting. Chelsea have played just three pre-season games, all in the last seven days, and Mourinho has made it clear the Community Shield is more of a preparation match than a year ago against Arsenal – although he says it will be taken seriously.

“We have to try to win. I am not going to play against Liverpool in the Community Shield like I played against Feyenoord or Celtic, changing five or six players at half-time, leaving Ballack or Shevchenko on the bench, or leaving John Terry on the bench like in Holland,” Mourinho said during the pre-match press conference on Friday.

“I will try to play the best team. What people have to understand is a lot of our players are not ready to play for 90 minutes. I will face the game in a way that I will try to win but I have a season with major competitions and I am preparing a team for that.”

With Joe Cole, Petr Cech and Robert Huth recovering from injuries, and Claude Makelele and William Gallas lacking match fitness because of their late return to training, Mourinho will have the same squad available to him as against Celtic in midweek – only this time he will field a stronger starting eleven, including Andriy Shevchenko and Michael Ballack.

Liverpool’s pre-season hasn’t gone exactly to plan. Thrashed 5-0 by unheralded Bundesliga side FSV Mainz in Germany last weekend (all five goals scored in the second half), they then struggled to beat Maccabi Haifa in the first leg of their Champions League qualifier on Wednesday, relying on a last-minute winner from new signing Mark Gonzalez after going a goal down.

Rafael Benitez has spent £20m over the summer in an effort to strengthen his squad, spending £13m of that on two of the Premiership’s ‘bad boys’ – Craig Bellamy from Blackburn Rovers and Jermaine Pennant from relegated Birmingham City. Both have had disciplinary problems in the past and it will be interesting to see if Benitez can keep them in check. Pennant in particular has the potential to become a very good player.

As for the result, both managers will be looking to get in the first meaningful blow before the Premiership kicks off next weekend. Liverpool are the better prepared in terms of match practise (they have been training for more than a month), but Chelsea have the quality to trouble the world’s best teams even with players that are yet to reach full match fitness. Hopefully Benitez’s negative tactics won’t kill the game as a spectacle.

There’s no such thing as a meaningless or ‘friendly’ game between Chelsea and Liverpool these days, and there’s definitely bad blood between the two sets of fans (not to mention the managers) – both would love first bragging rights.

Let us hope it’s a Blue day.

Want to get in the mood early? Watch a short highlights video of Chelsea’s 4-2 win over Liverpool in the Fourth Round of 1997’s FA Cup. We were 2-0 down at half-time. It’s still one of my all-time favourite games.