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Liverpool v Chelsea: The story of a very modern football rivalry
BTSport.com examines the origins of the animosity between two modern English powerhouses and how it has developed during the Premier League era.
Liverpool v Chelsea has developed over the past decade-and-a-half into one of the most vicious rivalries of the Premier League era
Football rivalries are typically rooted in either geography or history. Yet 220 miles separate Stamford Bridge and Anfield, and before 2003, there was little to no animosity between the clubs.
Here Rob Cottingham examines how the animosity between the two clubs has grown and grown through recent years.
A new superpower emerges
The stakes could hardly have been higher when the two sides met on the very final day of the 2002/03 season at Stamford Bridge but neither team was to know at the time.
Liverpool and Chelsea were level on points and the match was a straight knockout to decide who would finish in the third and final Champions League qualification spot and it went in the Blues' favour.
After Sami Hyypia’s header was cancelled out by Marcel Desailly, Jesper Gronkjaer stepped up to curl home what would prove the decisive goal midway through the first half.
Chelsea were back at Europe’s top table for the first time since the 1999/2000 season and Roman Abramovich was convinced to splash out £140 million to buy up the Champions League side just two months later. Liverpool were condemned to the Europa League, then called the UEFA Cup.
In the first summer transfer window of the Abramovich era, Chelsea spent an unprecedented £103 million on new players.
Without realising, Gronkjaer had set about the biggest sea change in modern English football.
Suddenly there was a serious threat to the traditional hierarchy. Ten of the first 11 Premier League titles had been shared between Manchester United and Arsenal, but Abramovich’s purchase of Chelsea meant a new superpower was emerging in the capital.
And even more than United and Arsenal, Chelsea, with their new billionaire owner, offended Liverpool.
The Reds were still England's most decorated club at the time in terms of league titles and believed they carried themselves with a dignity and grace acquired from their long reign of success.
Chelsea were the nouveau riche upstarts ready to splash hundreds of millions to upset the established aristocracy. It flew in the face of everything that Liverpool, traditionally a working-class football club, stood for.
As Chelsea legend and current boss Frank Lampard saw it: “We were the new kids on the block who had a few quid and signed a load of players. Jose Mourinho puffed his chest out and then we kept playing each other. It was a clash of two ideals.”
Mourinho v Benitez
Mourinho had been appointed in the same summer as Rafa Benitez at Liverpool and the two managers soon began a vicious war of words that would last well beyond their time at the clubs.
In their first season in English football, the two managers locked horns five times. Chelsea came out on top twice in the league but it was a League Cup final clash in February 2005 that really stoked the fire between the two managers.
Steven Gerrard, who would become one of the defining figures in the Liverpool-Chelsea rivalry, headed into his own net to send the match to extra-time and Mourinho’s men would go on to win the contest 3-2 and claim their first silverware of the Abramovich era.
But more than the result, it was Mourinho’s shushing of the Liverpool supporters in attendance at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff that lit the touchpaper between the two teams.
And with that gesture fresh in the memory, the sides met just two months later in the Champions League semi-final.
It was a contest decided by just one goal over two legs, or as it would become known – the ‘ghost goal’. Luis Garcia’s strike was awarded despite not appearing to cross the line and Liverpool were through to the Champions League final at Chelsea’s expense.
“You can say the linesman’s scored. It was a goal coming from the moon or from the Anfield Road stands,” Mourinho said after the match.
Familiarity breeds contempt
In the build-up to the 2005 Champions League final, Chelsea aggressively pursued Liverpool captain Gerrard and after winning the dramatic Istanbul clash against AC Milan, the midfielder’s head was turned.
In response to Liverpool rejecting Chelsea’s £32 million bid, Gerrard turned down a £100,000-a-week contract offer and handed in a transfer request to stun his boyhood team just six weeks after hoisting club football's most coveted trophy aloft.
In his autobiography, Gerrard describes that day as the "most emotional" of his life and reveals he was holed up at home "eating paracetamol like Smarties" while watching news coverage of fans protesting outside Anfield and at the club's Melwood training complex.
Chelsea had demonstrated the ambition that Gerrard felt Liverpool lacked and he was tempted by the promise of elusive league title glory in west London. Liverpool shirts bearing Gerrard’s name were burned but the club held firm and his move to Chelsea never materialised.
But Chelsea’s failed pursuit of Liverpool’s poster boy resulted in yet more bad blood developing between the two sets of supporters.
Familiarity breeds contempt and the two sides would meet on ten further occasions in the two seasons that followed.
Between 2005/06 and 2007/08 Liverpool and Chelsea met an average of five times per season. They were drawn together in the Champions League in every season between 2004/05 and 2008/09. In total, Gerrard would play 40 times against Chelsea throughout his Liverpool career.
In 2005/06, Chelsea came out on top in the Premier League, winning by an aggregate score of 6-1, but Benitez’s Liverpool were victorious in an FA Cup semi-final encounter.
After the match, Mourinho refused to shake Benitez’s hand and claimed that the best team had lost, pointing to his side’s superior league position.
“Did the best team win? I don’t think so," he said. “In a one-off game maybe they will surprise me and they can do it. In the Premiership the distance between the teams is 45 points over two seasons.”
The pair clashed once again at the Champions League semi-final stage in 2006/07 as Liverpool came out on top in a dramatic penalty shootout.
The following season they faced off yet again at the same stage. Liverpool’s John Arne Riise’s inexplicable 90th-minute own goal in the first leg at Anfield gifted Chelsea a 1-1 draw.
In the build-up to the return leg, Benitez labelled Didier Drogba a diver and the Chelsea striker responded by telling the Liverpool boss he lacked class.
Drogba would score twice in a 3-2 extra-time win as Chelsea advanced to Moscow at Liverpool’s expense. The other goal was scored by a grief-stricken Lampard, who put aside the recent death of his mother to net from the spot.
The fifth Champions League tie in a row between the two teams was a 2008/09 quarter-final clash that saw Chelsea win 7-5 on aggregate after a thrilling 4-4 draw at Stamford Bridge in the second leg.
Back in domestic matters, Liverpool were the side to end Chelsea’s 86-game unbeaten streak at Stamford Bridge thanks to Xabi Alonso’s winner in October 2008.
Torres turns Blue
Chelsea did eventually manage to sign Liverpool’s star player six-and-a-half seasons after failing to land Gerrard as Fernando Torres joining the Blues for £50 million in January 2011.
Torres jerseys were burned in the streets of Merseyside and the forward received a series of death threats following his controversial transfer.
When he faced his former side just a month later he was greeted with flags labelling him a traitor for swapping red for blue.
One of the Premier League’s most deadly strikers ultimately flopped spectacularly in west London as he struggled to recapture his best form after a serious knee injury - but the move only served to cause further hatred between both sets of fans.
Chelsea would beat Liverpool 2-1 in the 2012 FA Cup final later that season, with Torres an unused substitute against his former club.
At this point Benitez had long gone but the Spaniard would later return to England as Chelsea’s interim manager in 2012.
He was an unpopular appointment and the vitriol he received from Chelsea supporters, who labelled him a “fat Spanish waiter”, left a bitter taste in the mouth.
Chelsea extinguish Liverpool hopes
Fast forward two seasons and the two teams met with Liverpool in pole position to claim the Premier League title with three matches left in 2013/14.
In first-half injury-time Gerrard failed to control a pass from Mamadou Sakho and slipped trying to rectify his mistake. Demba Ba snuck in and scored to send Chelsea on their way to a 2-0 win.
Liverpool would throw away a three-goal lead against Crystal Palace in the penultimate match of the season, Manchester City snuck in and the Reds’ hopes of a first league title since 1986 went up in smoke.
Since then, there has been a relative period of détente.
But with such a significant trophy on the line on Wednesday night, don’t expect that to last for much longer.