It's not a derby, but there's a huge rivalry between Chelsea and Liverpool. Paul Higham looks at how these two teams became the best of enemies.
Chelsea v Liverpool
- Stamford Bridge
- Sunday 4.30pm - Sky Sports Premier League
It’s not a traditional rivalry in terms of age, or proximity, they don’t share a city, they’ve not been going head-to-head for league titles for decades, and there’s no real shared history of any note between them, but Chelsea v Liverpool is a fierce contest between two clubs with a borderline contempt for each other.
Ever since Jose Mourinho raised his finger to shush the massed red ranks during the 2005 League Cup final in Cardiff, a marker was laid down as the new young, brash Portuguese set about becoming a horn in the sides of the scousers.
It worked both ways of course, and Liverpool Rafa Benitez did not back down when the two went toe-to-toe, but ever since Roman Abramovich’s millions saved Chelsea the west Londoners have become hate figures on Merseyside – and the feeling is very much mutual.
Familiarity breeds contempt and these two became all-too familiar with each other in a series of high-profile cup finals and European ties, spawning ghost goals, penalty shootouts and a fierce rivalry that continues to this day.
The tables have turned somewhat these days, and everyone can find the irony in Liverpool lauding it at the top of the Premier League fielding their expensively-assembled outfit while Chelsea, thanks to a transfer embargo, have a team filled with young inexperienced players.
The gap between the two sides was big last season, it could be wider this season, but the tension and ferocity between the two sides will remain for the foreseeable future, and there’s more than one reason why…
Chelsea ‘bought’ the title – Reds still waiting
Abramovich rescued the sinking ship that was Chelsea in 2003, and since then the boys from Stamford Bridge have amassed five Premier League titles as their owner continued to splash the cash on big-name signings of players and managers.
Some worked, some didn’t but the club managed to keep rolling out success regardless of who was in charge or for how long – Antonio Conte, for instance, won the league in his first season and was gone after the next.
The accusations of ‘buying the title’ came thick and fast and especially from Anfield, where the fans continue to suffer from the gaping wound almost thirty years in the making that is their quest for a 19th league title.
The fact that these swaggering Londoners could come out of nowhere to become a dominant force in the Premier League did not go down too well on Merseyside, the fact that Liverpool could not get near enough often enough to get over the line and become champions of England again is a sore point that will just not go away.
Even with the current crop of Jurgen Klopp’s superstars are still waiting to win the league – they even managed a record season last year but found a historically good Manchester City side just a point better. That hurt them but caused a chuckle down the King’s Road.
European clashes & the ghost goal
The ‘shush’ from Mourinho may have laid the gunpowder, but their Champions League semi-final meeting later on in the 2005/06 season lit the touch paper. Luis Garcia’s stab goalwards was ruled over the line by officials at Anfield – Mourinho to this day insists it was not. The ghost goal would haunt him for years.
Even more galling for Mouorinho’s men was that Benitez’s bench managed the greatest Champions League final comeback of all time to stun AC Milan on penalties – all thanks to the ghost goal.
And it was just the start of what became a regular gathering in the Champions League as they two teams faced each other in a remarkable five straight seasons – that’s ten European clashes between them in almost exactly four years.
That familiarity breeding contempt line now becomes even more appropriate.
Honours were relatively even with both sides prevailing twice in four knockout ties – Liverpool emerged on penalties next time out en route to the 2007 final defeat to Milan, while Chelsea won by manner of two crazy second legs in back-to-back seasons.
We all know the story by now, Steven Gerrard's untimely slip allowed Demba Ba to score at the Kop end, enabled Chelsea to win the game and saw Liverpool's surprise and spell-binding title challenge come crashing down around them in heartbreaking fashion.
It was a Jose Mourinho masterclass, as he thwarted Brendan Rodgers' side's flair and attacking ability to pinch the win that effectively ended their title hopes - and the site of the 'Special One' swaggering down to the away end to celebrate with the Chelsea fans would've made those home fans sick to the stomach.
Anybody but Mourinho, almost anyone other than Chelsea. The slip was bad, the title disappointment stung them deeply, but having it come against Chelsea, at Anfield, was almost too much. The songs are still sung today about it, and Chelsea fans take great delight in reminding the Reds about what happened at every opportunity.
The rivalry was already well set, but this added yet even more flames to the burning fire between the two clubs.
Tables have turned
Chelsea have finished above Liverpool in the Premier League in 12 of the 16 seasons under the reign of Roman Abramovich, winning five league titles and becoming a dominant force and trophy-winning machine.
Liverpool have had some cup success during that time, and have twice been crowned Kings of Europe of course, but they've not been able to sustain league challenge after league challenge, despite coming close on a few occasions.
The wait has lasted three decades but Jurgen Klopp looks to have finally built a side that will be a constant threat in Premier League title races, and one that, at least right now, is in a two-team league of their own alongside Manchester City.
Chelsea, meanwhile, have become more of an underdog outfit as a result of their transfer ban, with young players coming from within their own youth set-up being allowed to flourish on the big stage. These players are still packed wit quality and maybe under Frank Lampard this will become a new way of working at Stamford Bridge - but you'd expect Abramovich to get the chequebook out again once the ban is over.
It's the Reds who arrive in west London on Sunday as the dominant force right now, but when Chelsea host Liverpool the players, the club and the fans all lift their levels to new heights. This game is not a derby, it's a rivalry, and one which will continue to be as hard-fought as they come in the Premier League.
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