Chelsea v Liverpool

There’s been less hubris emanating from Anfield during the build-up to this match. Whether that’s because, in the grand scheme of things, this match doesn’t mean a great deal, or Rafael Benitez and his players have realised, following their 4-1 defeat at Anfield back in October, that professing to any journalist who will listen that they “know how to beat Chelsea” can result in being made to look a tad silly.

The two managers have, unsurprisingly, played down the significance of this match. Both teams have already qualified for the knockout stages and tonight’s result decides only which team finishes top of Group G. A Chelsea win and we finish top; a draw or worse and Liverpool hold on to first place. Either way, Jose Mourinho said he is more concerned with beating Wigan on Saturday than the identity of the team Chelsea meet in the next round (a win tonight would usually secure a tie against one of Europe’s ‘lesser’ teams).

“I would prefer to beat Wigan than Liverpool because finishing first in the group has no particular consequences,” he said. “To beat Wigan is three more points in the direction of the Premiership. In the Premiership the best team wins and if you don’t win you have to accept that somebody was better than you over 38 matches. In the Champions League you need a little bit of luck at the crucial moment. Liverpool had luck against Chelsea by scoring that goal in the semi-final last year.”

He went on to explain why he is not overly concerned about finishing top: “We cannot play against an English team in the next stage, so Arsenal is out of our future until the quarter-final. Juventus or Bayern Munich, I don’t feel a big difference, and we don’t know who will be first or second in that group.

“Lyon first, Real Madrid second. Would you prefer to play against Real Madrid or Lyon? If you are first the first game will be away from home, and if you are second the first game will be at home. I don’t see anything big in that either.”

The team news is that Mourinho has a squad of eighteen fit players from which to choose the starting eleven; Claude Makelele (knee), Joe Cole, Hernan Crespo (ribs) and Glen Johnson are missing through injury. Didier Drogba and Arjen Robben both proved their fitness in the weekend win over Middlesbrough and are likely to keep their starting places. Robert Huth maybe called upon to mark the prolific Peter Crouch who finally scored his first goal for Liverpool at the weekend.

Prediction: Under Mourinho, we have played Liverpool seven times, recording three Premiership wins out of three, three… sorry, two Champions League 0-0 draws and a 3-2 victory in last season’s League Cup final. The only blip was the controversial Champions League semi-final defeat at Anfield in May of this year… but both sets of fans won’t need any reminding of what happened in that particular match. The telling stat in all that is our failure to score a single goal against Liverpool in this competition. Add to that their eight consecutive clean sheets since suffering a humiliating defeat to Crystal Palace in the League Cup, our four consecutive clean sheets since an unlucky defeat at Old Trafford, and you have all the evidence you need to take the 11/2 on offer for a 0-0 draw.

However, Benitez looks likely to rest a couple of key players, including Xabi Alonso, one of the better midfielders in the Premiership. There’s also talk of replacing goalkeeper Pepe Reina with Scott Carson. And then there’s their trip to Japan for the meaningless World Club Championship to consider. Taking all that into account, together with our ruthless recent form, a thirteen match unbeaten run at the Bridge in the Champions League, and Mourinho’s desire to win and you have all the ingredients for a 1-0 or 2-0 Chelsea victory.

Related links:

Chelsea 0 – 0 Liverpool · Update

Third stalemate in the Champions League. Typical backs-to-the-wall Liverpool. One-sided Chelsea possession (63%). A few bad tackles. 11/2. Qualified in second place. Enough said.

Match reports: BBC Sport; Sky Sports; ESPNSoccernet; Sporting Life; Official Chelsea FC Website; The Times; The Independent; The Guardian; Daily Telegraph.

After Wednesday’s results, we will play one of six teams (the seventh group winner was Arsenal; and we cannot be drawn against a team from our own country) in the first knockout stage: Barcelona, Inter Milan, Juventus, Lyon, Milan and Villareal.

Related links:

UEFA charge Essien · Update

UEFA, bastion of fairness, integrity and consistency, have charged Michael Essien with gross unsporting conduct.

Essien apologises · Update

Michael Essien has spoken to Dietmar Hamann today (Friday) and apologised following his tackle on the Liverpool player on Tuesday night.

A Chelsea spokesman said: “Michael has spoken to Dietmar by telephone this evening. He apologised to Dietmar, assured him the tackle was accidental and that there was no malicious intent.”

Related links:

Essien handed two-match ban · Update

Michael Essien has been given a two-match ban by UEFA for his tackle on Liverpool’s Dietmar Hamann during the Champions League match at the Bridge nine days ago.

Related links: