“There’s no hope for Liverpool going into tonight’s match; the team is dead in the water. The only thing left to do is bury Liverpool’s Champions League aspiration for another year and read their epitaph.”
That seems to be the general consensus of most football fans and pundits with regards to Liverpool’s chances against Chelsea. Nobody — with the exception of some Liverpool supporters — are even giving the Merseyside club a fighting chance at Stamford Bridge.
And why not? The odds looked stacked against them. Chelsea somehow managed to escape Anfield with three away goals that sent Liverpool down a European path they’ve rarely been on. With a deficit this big, surely Rafa couldn’t bring them back from the dead?
Whilst it might sound crazy to say it, Liverpool still stand a chance tonight of once again shocking the world of football by adding another chapter to their already massive book of improbable comeback. Istanbul in 2005 and Cardiff in 2006 are just two of the most recent shockers that prove Liverpool can do the unthinkable when the odds are stacked against them on the big stage.
So what do they need to do tonight to nick Chelsea? Here are four reasons why Liverpool will win tonight.
1: Javier Mascherano: I’ve stated it before and I’ll state it again: Javier Mascherano is Liverpool’s most important player.
You needn’t look any farther than his fantastic all-around performance over the weekend against Blackburn to see that he means so much to Rafa Benitez and the rest of his team-mates. Not only was he all over the pitch for the entire match, he also played the holding role perfectly — something Liverpool were lacking in the match last week against Chelsea. It’s no wonder Liverpool played their most complete match of the season with Masch in the squad.
After watching Michael Essien boss the pitch at Anfield and take Steven Gerrard out of the picture, you’ll be absolutely sure that Mashcerano does his part against Chelsea tonight by making sure his skipper has the space and the confidence to go on the offensive and find his team-mates. Liverpool will have to win the match by scoring goals in bunches, but they’ll also need to make sure the back line and Mascherano keep them covered if Chelsea counter-attack.
Don’t be surprised if Liverpool employ Mascherano in his usual holding role and then push him up when Chelsea least expect it. He almost scored a goal over the weekend in the first half, and I’d venture a guess that it was partly due to the fact that nobody expected him to go that far up the pitch. Could Masch score a shock goal? Stranger things have happened!
2. Istanbul: You knew Liverpool would use their magical night in Istanbul as fuel for the match. Stories in every major paper for the past two days have been about Benitez telling his team to remember that night and recreate it at Stamford Bridge.
Whilst it would be easy to see Liverpool make the goal difference up on a neutral site, the history staring back at Liverpool don’t look as good: Liverpool have never won away from home in Europe against an English team and have not scored three goals at Stamford Bridge since 1989 when they won 5-2. History would appear to be on Chelsea’s side; but the same could have been said for AC Milan in Istanbul.
BBC pundits and others from all over the globe have already written Liverpool off. They’ve claimed it’s time for the club to concentrate on the league. Whilst that’s all well and good, Liverpool have been known to pull a rabbit out of the hat on occasion, and this could well be one of those times.
For some reason Rafa’s men play best when everyone writes them off. The team has been nothing short of spectacular all season, scoring four goals at Manchester United and defeating Chelsea in both league games. Who’s to say they can’t do it again? I surely wouldn’t bet against them with Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres in the squad.
The magic of Istanbul has carried this team through some of their darkest moments. I’d expect Gerrard to rally the troops tonight and use that night as proof that it can happen.
3. Bucking the Trend: Like the opening match of this tie, there seems to be an air of uncertainty going into the second leg. In year’s past you could pretty much give each team a goal and have your mate wake you up when they went to penalties to decide a winner. This year doesn’t seem to be that easy to peg.
Liverpool, who were scoring goals in bunches, only found the back of the net once at Anfield. Chelsea on the other hand, hadn’t scored more than two goals since since November of 2008 against West Brom prior to last week. But shockingly, they managed to score three against Liverpool AT Anfield. Now tell me things are status quo between the two clubs?
I have a feeling that this is the year both clubs buck the trend. The home team in this Champions League tie has always managed to win this match — but this is where that trend ends. Chelsea will be playing without their rock in central defense, as John Terry is set to miss the match due to suspension. Like Mascherano missing for Liverpool, I have a feeling Torres is due for a goal or two with Terry missing.
Trends become boring after a while. It’s time for Liverpool to turn this matchup on its head.
4. Rafa’s European Pedigree: It goes without saying that Rafa Benitez is a tactical genius when it comes to the Champions League. Throw the biggest and most prestigious clubs at him and he’ll find a way to knock them down to size. But can he pull off a European coup down 2 goals against one of the best teams in the Premier League?
Like a piece of clay, Benitez has the ability to mold his team to be whatever they need to be in Europe. Until this season Liverpool supporters had been begging Benitez to employ the same style in the league as he did in Europe, but it just didn’t make sense to the Spaniard. The league and Europe are two totally different beasts.
This season he’s still tinkered with his lineups, but his tinkering has produced some fantastic football that has seen the duo of Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard pay significant dividends. You’ll be sure that Benitez builds the squad around his two cornerstones tomorrow. With Alex most likely marking Torres, I’d expect Benitez to have his midfield work along the wings and really get the crosses going into the box. Maybe, just maybe he can find a way to get Torres loose for a header early on that would surely blow the match open.
Benitez is known for giving managers fits in Europe. And while Guus Hiddink is a master tactician himself, he’s no Rafa Benitez. I’m expecting Benitez to pull out all the stops and use the weekend thrashing against Blackburn as fuel for the fire. Anything’s possible with Benitez at the helm.