Well, the hopes of a miracle turnaround looked sure for a while but now have past and the memories of one of the greatest games in European footballing history are just that, memories.
The players on the pitch did well to beat the electric atmosphere in the stadium and delivered a truly outstanding spectacle. Chelsea came away winners but would the result have been different had Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard been fit to play?
The club talisman travelled down to the capital with his teammates and was able to rest over the weekend having not been needed for his side’s annihilation of a poor Blackburn. Yet despite the extra rest and the fact that he had trained on Monday and Tuesday his name was conspicuous only by its absence from the teamsheet.
Scouse eyes quickly scanned the list believing to have been deceived on first glance, but they were not, there hero, Mr Liverpool himself, was not there. Instead, replaced by Lucas Leiva, one player that has not had the support of the entire Reds crowd to say the least this season.
Journalists’ rang contacts each asking “what’s up with Stevie G? Why isn’t he playing?” Rafa Benitez simply responded by saying he had felt something pull in the last warm up and thus would not be risked. This is plausible enough; no one quite knows the extent of the skipper’s injury but is it possible that the Spaniard was once more playing at the mind games he has so vehemently slated Sir Alex Ferguson for using?
Guus Hiddink must surely have been assuming the inclusion of Liverpool’s most influential player, even if it would have been a calculated gamble. He would have been dishing out tips to Essien about how to reproduce the sterling job he did silencing Gerrard in the first leg. Imagine if you will, the look on his face when he was passed word of the missing maestro.
If it is the case that Benitez had planned to withdraw Gerrard at the last minute regardless of whether or not he really did twinge something then he was almost rubbing his hands with glee. The chaos that was the Chelsea midfield in the first half may have been more organised if they were facing him, they would at least have known whom all of Liverpool’s play was going to run through.
We shall never know the truth, perhaps I am just a cynic but the similarities between Benitez and Ferguson have been on the increase this season, we have already had one outburst from the Spaniard, the now infamous ’Rafa’s Rant.’ I hope that he is aware that if he plans to delve into the world of smoke screens and media wars, that in Sir Alex Ferguson he is tangling with the master.
Saving Gerrard (and withdrawing Torres and Mascherano) for the Arsenal game and thus giving Liverpool the maximum chance to do well in the league is a calculated and perhaps acceptable risk, but do Rafa’s mind games include throwing the Champions League?