By Christopher Boulay
The 131st edition of the FA Cup will take place at Wembley Stadium this Saturday, and it pits two clubs against one another with very different backgrounds. However, both sides have become so familiar, it seems as if the match is expected. There is a certain something about this newer rivalry that makes it so heated, exciting and frustrating all at the same time. This match actually may be one of the most important contests for either side in recent memory. It is Liverpool and Chelsea in the latest of a long string of heated battles in cup competitions.
The Abramovich Rivalry
There may not be a name for the Chelsea-Liverpool rivalry, and this is likely because it’s difficult to call it a derby with two clubs that are approximately 216 miles apart traveling down the M6 and M1. If there could be a name, it would be the Roman Abramovich Derby. This may seem too easy, but facts are facts: Liverpool is a club with a large and storied history that goes back decades, while Chelsea was a club with sporadic successes and more struggles throughout much of its history. The North West didn’t have much of a care or worry about Chelsea until it had no choice but to pay attention. That occurred in 2003 when the Russian tycoon purchased the West London outfit.
Since then, Chelsea has shot up the table, and Liverpool has struggled. Chelsea’s seemingly crazy transfer policies allowed the club to get pretty much whoever it wanted, and these moves have changed transfers around the world forever. The reason the current experiment at Manchester City has occurred may have quite a lot to do with Chelsea’s recent successes.
Due to this, Liverpool and Chelsea have grown to know one another quite well. It is impossible to ignore the Blues, and this has played out in many, many important matches over the past several years. The clubs have clashed 31 times in the past eight seasons. One may argue that it officially started when Liverpool lost to Chelsea 3-2 in the League Cup final in 2005. It was former manager Jose Mourinho’s first trophy with the club. However, Liverpool did quite a lot to wipe away that bitter feeling when the Reds triumphed in the semifinals of Champions League later that season, giving the club a chance to not only see John Terry cry on the pitch – but much more importantly – it gave Liverpool the opportunity to play AC Milan in the 2005 Champions League final. Every Reds supporter knows the outcome of that match.
The two clubs played again during the 2006-07 Champions League semifinals, with the Reds triumphant 4-1 on penalty kicks, as the two clubs had a 1-1 draw on two legs. One year later, the two clubs met for the third Champions League semifinal in four years, with the London side advancing 4-3 after extra time was needed yet again. Yet again, the clubs met in the knockouts the following year in the quarterfinals, where Chelsea was able to once again advance by a score of 7-5. This would be the final time Liverpool made the knockouts in the tournament.
The two clubs also faced one another during the 2006 Community Shield match. Liverpool was lifted to a 2-1 victory by Peter Crouch goal. If you haven’t yet caught on, there’s a bit of a theme here. While not all of Liverpool’s or Chelsea’s successes in recent years have been at the expense of the other, many have. The constant “looking over your shoulder” to see the other there has been commonplace.
Transfers and Trophies
The rivalry has continued in the transfer market, as well. Not only has the successes of the two clubs forced the clubs to be in constant competition for top talent, there have been multiple tangles that have seen the clubs try – and sometimes succeed – to take each other’s players.
After the win in Istanbul, Steven Gerrard was nearly poached by Abramovich and Mourinho, stalling at the last second and deciding to stay with his boyhood club. Yossi Benayoun left to go to London in the summer of 2010. Fernando Torres was sold to Chelsea on deadline day during January 2011. Joe Cole made the switch to Liverpool six months earlier. Raul Meireles was sent to Chelsea after handing in a transfer request at the deadline to start this season.
The clubs are intertwined when it comes to recent history, and it haunts supporters on both sides. However, the game is about trophies. Chelsea may hate the song, and some may even think it lacks tact. But facts are facts: Liverpool has 18 league titles, five European cups, as well as seven FA Cups, eight League Cups, 15 Community Shield trophies, three UEFA cups and three Super Cups. There’s more, but this should suffice.
For the Blues? Four league titles, six FA Cups, four League Cups, four Community Shield trophies, one Super Cup and two Cup Winners’ Cups. Not a bad trophy case when considering how many clubs lack silverware, but a large portion of the success has occurred since the turn of the century.
To add, there has been some classless behavior from Chelsea fans aimed at Liverpool in recent times, but it will only be more fuel for the players on the pitch. Whatever happens on Saturday between the 22 players on the field should be the focus, not what is said in the stands.
Liverpool and Chelsea will be playing for the 10th time in the FA Cup. Currently, Chelsea has a slight lead, with five wins. No draws have occurred. This match may be as tight as the lifetime series has been, as both clubs have played quite well in this competition. The Reds won the first meeting of the season by a score of 2-1. The second was a Liverpool win in the quarterfinals of the League Cup. The fourth meeting of the season will occur on Tuesday.
For Liverpool, the attack may have both Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll looking to poach goals. Carroll specifically has an opportunity to be remembered as not only the player whose goal helped the club reach the final, but he could also be the player that gives the trophy to the Reds. Much maligned by many fans this season, Carroll seems to have come alive in the latter stages of the campaign. If he and Suarez can build a strong partnership early on, Chelsea’s defense may struggle to keep up. Liverpool hasn’t lost to Chelsea in the past four meetings, and Kenny Dalglish will try to keep it that way.
The Blues’ defense will have a bit of an extra incentive to shut down the Liverpool attack and win this final. Both Branislav Ivanovic and John Terry will miss the Champions League final due to cards. Ivanovic was banned for too many yellows, while Terry received the same fate for a stupidity-driven red card. In addition, Ramires and Meireles will also miss out on the match in two weeks time.
Chelsea will have a decision to make up front – should they start Torres or Didier Drogba? Drogba is still playing exceptional football, but Torres has seemed to finally regain his form. No matter who starts, it is likely that both will see time at some point during this final.
This match may be the last chance a series of Liverpool players will have to win a trophy with the club. Jamie Carragher is in the twilight of his career and Dirk Kuyt, Maxi Rodriguez and Fabio Aurelio are all expected to part at the end of the season.
With all of the disappointment around this season, the continued pressure on Dalglish and the overall unhappiness from so many supporters, there is still hope for success. The important thing is, that for at least a couple of hours this Saturday, the problems of this season – as well as the lingering issues around the club for the past couple of years – will be forgotten. The FA Cup is an incredibly special event, and it is one of the most important trophies in football. Being there is a privilege – not a right. Winning the FA Cup is within reach, and if Liverpool can pull this off, the win could prove to be the most cherished trophy in a very long time.
Well, at least since this one:
Chelsea v Liverpool
When: Tuesday, May 4th 1215 EST/ 1715 GMT
Where: Wembley, London
Premier League Table: Liverpool 8th (49 points), Chelsea 6th (61 points)
Chelsea’s Road to Wembley: 4-0 v Portsmouth, 1-0 v Queens Park Rangers, 1-1 v Birmingham City, 2-0 v Birmingham City, 5-2 v Leicester City, 5-1 v Tottenham Hotspur
Liverpool’s Road to Wembley: 5-1 v Oldham, 2-1 v Manchester United, 6-1 v Brighton & Hove Albion, 2-1 v Stoke City, 2-1 v Everton
Projected Chelsea Starting 11:
DEF: Ivanovic, Bosingwa, Terry, Bertrand
MF: Essien, Mikel, Malouda, Meireles, Sturridge
Subs from: Turnbull, Cole, Feirerra, Romeu, Mata, Kalou, Drogba, Lukaku, Piazon
Projected Liverpool Starting 11:
DEF: Johnson, Carragher, Skrtel, Enrique
MF: Kuyt, Gerrard, Henderson, Downing
FW: Suarez, Carroll
Subs from: Doni, Aurelio, Kelly, Agger, Coates, Wilson, Coady, Spearing, Wisdom, Shelvey, Maxi, Eccleston, Sterling, Bellamy
Interact: What’s your final score prediction? What’s your predicted starting eleven? Comment below.