Didi back, Duff out – Liverpool v Chelsea

Rafa Benitez has brough Didi Hamman into the starting line-up for tonight’s Champions League Semi-Final Second Leg. Hamman joins captain Steven Gerrard and Igor Biscan in the centre of midfield. Baros is set to play up front on his own, but Benitez has Cisse and Kewell on the bench if needed.

After all the speculation, Duff doesn’t play, but Robben is on the bench.

Liverpool:
1 Dudek
3 Finnan
4 Hyypiä
5 Baroš
6 Riise
8 Gerrard
10 Luis García
16 Hamann
21 Traoré
23 Carragher
25 Bišcan Subs:
20 Carson
7 Kewell
9 Cissé
11 Šmicer
18 Núñez
28 Warnock
32 Welsh

Chelsea:
1 Cech
4 Makelele
6 Carvalho
8 Lampard
10 Joe Cole
13 Gallas
14 Geremi
15 Drogba
22 Gudjohnsen
26 Terry
30 Tiago Subs:
23 Cudicini
2 Johnson
9 Kezman
16 Robben
24 Forssell
29 Huth
33 Morais

Kick-off is at 7:45 UK Time.

Continue reading Didi back, Duff out – Liverpool v Chelsea

Final Score: Liverpool 1 Chelsea 0 (Agg 1-0). Liverpool are through.

FINAL SCORE: Liverpool 1 (Garcia 4) Chelsea 0 LIVERPOOL ARE THROUGH ON AGGREGATE 1-0.
Liverpool:
1 Dudek
3 Finnan
4 Hyypiä
5 Baroš (Booked,  Cisse 59)
6 Riise
8 Gerrard
10 Luis García
(Nunez 83) 16 Hamann
(Kewell 72) 21 Traoré
23 Carragher
25 Bišcan Subs:
20 Carson
7 Kewell
9 Cissé
11 Šmicer
18 Núñez
28 Warnock
32 Welsh

Chelsea:
1 Cech
4 Makelele
6 Carvalho
8 Lampard
10 Joe Cole (Robben 67)
13 Gallas
14 Geremi (Huth 75)
15 Drogba
22 Gudjohnsen
26 Terry
30 Tiago (Kezman 67) Subs:
23 Cudicini
2 Johnson
9 Kezman
16 Robben
24 Forssell
29 Huth
33 Morais

Continue reading Final Score: Liverpool 1 Chelsea 0 (Agg 1-0). Liverpool are through.

Tonight’s teams.

Teams: Liverpool v Chelsea KO 7:45 BST
Liverpool:
1 Dudek
3 Finnan
4 Hyypiä
5 Baroš
6 Riise
8 Gerrard
10 Luis García
16 Hamann
21 Traoré
23 Carragher
25 Bišcan Subs:
20 Carson
7 Kewell
9 Cissé
11 Šmicer
18 Núñez
28 Warnock
32 Welsh

Chelsea:
1 Cech
4 Makelele
6 Carvalho
8 Lampard
10 Joe Cole
13 Gallas
14 Geremi
15 Drogba
22 Gudjohnsen
26 Terry
30 Tiago Subs:
23 Cudicini
2 Johnson
9 Kezman
16 Robben
24 Forssell
29 Huth
33 Morais
Continue reading Tonight’s teams.

Mourinho: Doesn’t matter if we lose

"Whatever happens, we will go back to London as heroes, so the pressure is all on them, not us." So says Jose Mourinho, as once again the argument over who’ll be under the most pressure raises its head. Mourinho contradicts himself in his interview – he says it won’t really matter if they don’t win tonight (that’s why they’ll be under less pressure than the Reds). They’ve won the league, so Chelsea fans won’t be bother if they go back knocked out of Europe: "When we play against Charlton on Saturday the players will have a big celebration and will be received as heroes because they gave them a championship."

That celebration will be good for Chelsea, whatever happens tonight, but without a place in the final there’ll be frustration for Chelsea – even if they do try to deny it. Mourinho thinks that Liverpool will be more upset to lose tonight: "I can imagine Anfield if Liverpool lose. I can imagine the meaning for their supporters so I think the pressure is on them."

The former Porto manager continued: "But even if we do lose, it will be a better feeling than the Chelsea players and managers have had for the last 49 years. It’s better to go back with the Premiership than to go back with nothing in your hands. When we left London to come to the north we had two objectives – to go back home as champions and know that we were playing in the Champions League final. The first we’ve done. The other we will see."

Mourinho continued to ramble on: "While Liverpool were able to rest players and maybe have more power in their legs, we have more power in our minds from winning the championship."  

Over the weekend, Chelsea’s failed striker Kezman tried to make out that the atmosphere at Anfield was poor. He didn’t know what all the fuss was about. Mourinho tells a different story. He says he knows the atmosphere will be charged, but thinks it will actually help his players: "They will be affected in a positive way by the atmosphere." Kezman must be on the bench again then.

Mourinho was certainly affected by the noise from Liverpool fans at Cardiff – he was sent from the technical area for mouthing "shush" at the Liverpool fans. He denied it (of course) but clearly he’d been getting riled. It took a lucky own goal (scored ironically by Gerrard) to get Chelsea back into that game. Mourinho decided against mentioning Cardiff as he compared some British stadiums for atmosphere: "In my first year in England I’ve seen some fantastic atmospheres. It depends on the dimension of the stadiums but for me Portsmouth, Anfield and Old Trafford are special places to play football. One is much smaller but also special so I think it is good to come here and play, just play and enjoy the atmosphere. Of course the atmosphere is in favour of the home team but you have to play football."

Jose continued to protest a little too much about the fans not bothering his team. He said, "I relish the hostility from the fans. But they don’t play. There are 11 playersand a referee – I think a very good referee." Mourinho would say he’s a good referee – he was the ref that let Porto waste time and feign injury to the disgust of Celtic two years ago in the UEFA Cup Final. That match went to extra time and only turned Porto’s way when the referee sent a Celtic player off. The same referee sent Harry Kewell off for Leeds under controversial circumstances. Mourinho complained so much about Anders Frisk against Barcelona that the referee retired.

"As to what sort of game it will be, I have no idea. They are playing at home and will try to win." The tactical minds of the two managers will be tested to their limits. Mourinho says of his opposite number: "Rafa is a great manager who thinks and prepares the game. He knows that if they are too offensive it will be a problem. They will try to have a good balance."

Jose has told his players they can celebrate their league success as soon as they’ve played Liverpool. He said, "We deserved to celebrate the Premiership in a different way to the way we did. It was just one hour of celebrations and after that it was finished. In the dressing room I think they didn’t drink too much. It was more about shaking it out of the bottles and on to the floor and not drinking so much."

Again, as if to play down the importance of tonight’s match, Mourinho said, "It is more difficult to win the Premiership than the Champions League. You have to go all over the country in all conditions, in wind and rain, sleet and hail, on good pitches and bad. But we couldn’t celebrate. No families, no wives, no kids, no dinners, no champagne – nothing to enjoy. We just stayed in the hotel for the next three days and prepared for this game. We have to concentrate on this game. And I don’t need to motivate them."

So it’s not an important game to Chelsea. Does anyone believe that? His players won’t, Liverpool’s players won’t – but Mourinho isn’t really an honest manager is he. Not an important game, but his players don’t need motivating. His players couldn’t celebrate so they could save themselves for tonight.

The sooner the game kicks off the better, as the talk is getting out of hand.
Continue reading Mourinho: Doesn’t matter if we lose

Rafa: Stevie holds the key to Istanbul

The match between Liverpool and Chelsea taking place at Anfield tonight seems to be more and more a chance for Steven Gerrard to prove to Liverpool how much he loves them – and how much he dislikes Chelsea. Rafa Benitez thinks Gerrard will show his pride in the Red shirt tonight: Stevie will be the key player in this game. He has the passion that we need, the quality that we want and he knows how important this game is to the club. With all of those things he can be the key player against Chelsea. Maybe he will have a lot of good players around him but he can score goals like the one against Middlesbrough and he is someone who can change the game."

Gerrard endured a sleepless night before the first leg. Not with worry, with an abscess in his mouth. Rafa says this had animpact on his captain’s game: "In the first game he was distracted by a trip to the dentist and it was difficult for him to play after two or three days in pain with his teeth. But he is fit now and it will be different at Anfield. It will be difficult for him to play against a team like Chelsea because they are so compact and they have good players like Frank Lampard and Claude Makelele, Eidur Gudjohnsen and Tiago. But Stevie is a good player and he can beat them because, for me, he is better than them."
 
Rafa’s been doing his homework: "Chelsea have two or three weak points and our players need to find them. We have been working on them but just one player can change all of your plans. Stevie did that the other day. A manager can prepare almost everything but he can do nothing about a goal like that."

There’s been a lot of questions about who’s going to be under the most pressure, and both sides claim it won’t be them. Rafa said: "It is a massive game for us but it is exactly the same for them. They have won two trophies and when you spend so much money you need to win. But we are in the first season with a different manager and we have a different idea. It might be difficult to play in another semi-final or final again, you never know what might happen in the future, so we must give 100%."

Benitez echoed the comments of Carragher when he said that this might be a one-off opportunity: "You don’t know what is going to happen over the next 10 years. How many great players who have stayed at the highest level have never won the Champions League? A lot. If you are clever enough you should realise that this is your great opportunity."

Benitez was asked whether his team were ready for penalties if needed. The game could only go to penalties if both teams fail to score – any goal would end the chance of extra time. Rafa said there’s not a lot of point preparing for shoot-outs: "I don’t have a lot of confidence in preparing penalty takers before a game. It can all change. Players might be afraid, it might depend on which goal, anything. We haven’t practised penalties."

Continue reading Rafa: Stevie holds the key to Istanbul

Alonso: Watch the cards

We’ve already told you a little bit about tonight’s referee* and how he booked eight players in the Real Madrid v Juventus clash earlier this season. And how he sent Harry Kewell off for Leeds a few years back. Now Xabi Alonso has sent out a warning to his team-mates to be careful tonight.

Xabi was booked in the first leg and was suspended as a result. Gudjohnsen was the player he "fouled" – and who then decided to taunt the Spaniard. All Xabi’s team-mates rallied round and part of their desire to win tonight is to give Xabi a chance to play in the final.

Unfortunately though Liverpool have still got a few players walking the fabled "disciplinary tightrope". A yellow card for Jamie Carragher, Steve Finnan, Igor Biscan, Dietmar Hamann or Stephen Warnock would mean that players missing the final if Liverpool made it.

Xabi doesn’t want these players to miss out: "It is important they take care. It will be a disaster if one of my team-mates is forced to miss the final." At the same time he hopes they don’t let it stop them playing: 

"They must block it out of their mind and not think about it. They must try and play their natural game. They must take some risks because if they are too cautious it will be difficult for the team to win, but they must also be careful at the same time."

* Some things about tonight’s referee.

Continue reading Alonso: Watch the cards

Reports: Liverpool line up new keeper

Reports in Spain, repeated in the British press, claim that Liverpool have now agreed a deal with Villarreal for their keeper Jose Reina.

The reports suggest that a fee of  £8million will be paid. The reports go on to say that this amount was what was required to trigger a release clause in his contract.

The keeper is 22 years old and the contract Liverpool are said to be offering is for three years, with an option for a further year. Manchester United have also been linked with him.

He has the same agent as Reds boss Rafael Benitez and midfielder Luis Garcia. He was asked recently about a possible move to Anfield and said, "Everyone would be excited at the chance of playing for a big club. Liverpool are building an important project looking to the long term rather than the short term."

Liverpool have struggled to keep clean sheets this season, and have already used three goalkeepers. Scott Carson is considered one for the future. Chris Kirkland has been injured throughout his time at Anfield and it’s possible that Liverpool are running out of patience. Jerzy Dudek is a good keeper but prone to mistakes, and again the boss’s patience may now be wearing thin –  he has got a few more matches to prove his worth to the club though, starting tonight against Chelsea.

Rafa looks set to be busy this summer – other reports are linking the Reds with Real Madrid’s Figo.

Continue reading Reports: Liverpool line up new keeper

Some things about tonight’s referee

Lubos Michel refereeing a Spanish international match

UEFA announced yesterday that the referee for the second-leg Champions League semi at Anfield would be Lubos Michel (above) from Slovakia. He’s never before refereed a match involving Liverpool. He was the referee in the Chelsea win over Roman Abramovich’s other team (CSKA Moscow) in October last year. Chelsea won 2-0.

That wasn’t his first involvement with Jose Mourinho though. Mourinho, who earlier this season contributed to the retirement of referee Anders Frisk, came across this referee two years ago as manager of Porto.  Celtic fans will never forget this referee.

The occasion was the UEFA Cup Final at the Estadio Olimpico, in 2003. Celtic had knocked Liverpool out on the way to the final, and they met FC Porto, managed by the current Chelsea boss Mourinho.

The game ended 3-2 in Porto’s favour – Porto winning in extra time.

It was an extremeley controversial game. Afterwards former Liverpool defender Alan Hansen said, "Unfortunately the game wasn’t played in the best of spirits. The Porto players were rolling all over the pitch and there’s no excuse for it."

Both sides had a player sent off – Celtic lost Balde after 95 minutes, Porto lost their player at a time when it was too late for Celtic to do anything about it.

Celtic’s boss Martin O’Neill was extremely unhappy. He said, "I will probably get into trouble for this, but it was poor sportsmanship. The rolling over, the time wasting. But they have beaten us, well done to them and it’s up to us to learn from this. It is a steep learning curve, but this was a wonderful, wonderful experience."

The loss of Balde was the biggest factor in Celtic’s defeat as far as O’Neill was concerned at the time: "The players put everything into it and the fans have been fantastic. We came roaring back every time they scored a goal and, if when we had 11 against 11 in extra time, I think we were the more mentally strong. But it was not to be with Bobo getting sent off. It was a massive blow."

Jose Mourinho’s comments were what you’d expect from him. At least what you’d expect from him now that you know a little bit more about him. He didn’t think there was anything wrong with his players’ time wasting and diving, saying when asked, "I’d prefer to ask whether the behaviour of the Celtic players was normal in your country. What Balde did to Deco in front of me could have ended his career."

So does Mourinho like this referee? It seems so, as Mourinho said back then, "The referee didn’t affect the result, in that there were no doubtful decisions, but I think Balde could have had a direct red for his foul and Thompson could also have seen a second yellow card on two occasions. The referee wanted to end the game with 11 against 11 and I think maybe he was a bit afraid to send anyone off."

He then said, "There was a lot of commitment in Celtic’s game, commitment, toughness and aggression. I’m tempted to use another word – but I won’t."

The referee is also well-known to Harry Kewell. The Reds winger could be back in action from the start tomorrow night, and was a Leeds player when he came across Lubos Michel in another UEFA semi-final. It was back in 2000, in the second-leg of the UEFA Cup semi-final, when Leeds went out on aggregate to Galatasary. Michel sent Kewell off for "stamping" on an opponent, but replays clearly showed that Kewell had been trying to avoid contact with his opponent.

Rafa Benitez came across the referee as coach of Valencia in 2003 during a Champions League Group game against Ajax. The game ended in a 1-1 draw, but a booking for Baraja meant he would be suspended for the next game against Arsenal.

This referee booked eight players back in February when he took charge of the game between Real Madrid and Juventus in the Champions League. Liverpool have a more than one player that have a suspension waiting for them if they get a booking tonight – and Carragher is one of those.
Continue reading Some things about tonight’s referee

Carra looking forward to a very special night

Jamie Carragher was Liverpool’s player representative at the official UEFA pre-match press conference today.

Tomorrow night is set to be a match talked about for some time amongst the fans of both clubs, regardless of the result. This sort of game means pressure for both teams. Carra says the pressure for him has been dealing with ticket request from friends and family. How does he prepare for a game like this? "Well I just try and relax as much as possible but the demand for tickets for this game has probably been more than if we had a cup final. We know how big a game this is but you just try and take it in your stride and try and perform to the best of your ability. All the pressure is on Chelsea because their manager got sacked last year for reaching the Champions League semi-final. We want to get to the final and we are very close."

Jamie knows it could be a once-in-a-career opportunity to get into the final of Europe’s premier club competition: "You don’t know when you will get to this stage of the competition again and we want to get to the final. It’s a chance that we may never get again. Hopefully we will but we realise how big a game this is. The chance to play in a Champions League Final doesn’t come around very often so we’re all looking forward to a very special night."

Chelsea clinched the title on Saturday and will be on a high going into the game. They’ll feel they are on a roll and Liverpool are a minor stopping point on their way to European domination. Certainly judging by the comments of Jose Mourinho last week, who more-or-less wrote Liverpool off after the first leg, Chelsea feel the win is already in the bag. Carra puts it into perspective: "We have respect for what they have achieved. They have won the Premiership and that’s a difficult thing to do but we can stop them in their tracks. Chelsea were very strong favorites before the first leg but we got a good result and now they are only slight favourites. We have bridged the gap. We’re fifth in the league and they spend a lot of money so maybe they should be slight favourites. We were delighted with the result we got at Chelsea, but with the crowd on our side it might make things more even. We realise Chelsea are a top team and it’s going to be difficult for us, but as I said I think the crowd are going to have a big part to play."

Liverpool have no doubt been better in the Champions League than other competitions this season. They went out of the FA Cup at the first step when a young team were beaten away to Burnley. The same youngsters brought Liverpool a good run in the Carling Cup – Liverpool losing after extra time in the final (against Chelsea). In the league Liverpool have had a poor season – losing ten away games and in doing so are now 33 points behind Chelsea. The Champions League has seen some brilliant performances from the Reds – doing what had to be done. Carragher says, "We’ve proved a lot of people wrong in the Champions League. At the moment you’d probably say Chelsea are slight favourites, so it’s up to us to prove everyone wrong again. We’ve done it before and I’m sure we can do it again. And with the help of the crowd that will give us a lift as it did in the earlier rounds."

Liverpool’s early poor form in the league (which of course has followed them throughout) was blamed by many on the new (to Liverpool) system of zonal marking. Apart from a 2-0 defeat by Birmingham though, all of Liverpool’s league defeats have been by the margin of just one goal. Liverpool haven’t had a consistent goalscorer in the squad this season otherwise there might have been more points gained. Carragher says that Liverpool’s defence has improved in all this season: "We have done a lot of work on the training ground and that has helped us. We know Chelsea have got an excellent defence but it’s up to us to perform as we have done in the Champions League. It’s very important we keep it tight and stop them getting an away goal. It’s only half-time now and we didn’t want to go too gung-ho. Chelsea have said they were quite pleased to get a 0-0 and I think we were quite pleased. We all realised that the tie was going to be decided at Anfield."

Carragher is proud to wear the Red shirt of Liverpool – a rarity in recent years – and part of that proudness comes from playing in front of such great fans: "The crowd have been great. The atmosphere at the Olympiacos game has gone down as one of the best ever and the Juventus game maybe surpassed even that. Hopefully the fans will help us again tomorrow. The players got a lot of credit after the Juventus game, but I think a lot of credit should go to the supporters. They lifted us to a great performance in the first half against one of the top teams in Europe. And now we’re playing another top team, but if the crowd can do their part and we can do ours than hopefully we can get the same result."

There’s certainly been a lot of ill-feeling building up between the two teams this season – going back to Chelsea’s failed attempts to sign Gerrard in the summer (and then throughout the season), Frank Lampard breaking Xabi Alonso’s leg in January and Mourinho "shushing" Liverpool fans at Cardiff. Carragher is looking forward to the chance of getting back at the Londoners: "Every player is different, but speaking for myself, I am very excited. It is a game we have been looking forward to. We were very disappointed to get beat in the Carling Cup Final and we’ve got a chance to overturn them now in a bigger competition. It’s still at the back of our minds that we were disappointed to lose a cup final to Chelsea, but we’ve got a chance now to beat them and get through to the Champions League Final and that gives it an extra edge."

Xabi Alonso had hardly been back in the team from having his ankle broken by Frank Lampard, before finding himself suspended from the second-leg after Eidur Gudjohnsen took a dive to ensure Alonso picked up a booking. The Icelandic cheat then rubbed salt into the wounds of the Liverpool start by taunting him that he knew he’d miss the next leg now. Carragher praised Alonso: "He’s a fantastic player. He’s a great passer of the ball, as good a passer as anyone in Europe. It would have been great if he could have played because no doubt his passing would have helped, but we put in a good performance without Xabi in the first Leg against Juventus and we will be looking for a similar performance again. Whoever comes in for him will be sure to do a good job." It means another game where Liverpool have not been able to play Alonso and Gerrard together. Gerrard is shaping up to show Chelsea what he thinks of them right now though – he was under the weather last week after a sleepless night and a dental operation on an abscess. He scored a wonder goal on Saturday and will be raring to go. Carra said: "It’s as an important game for Steven Gerrard as it is for all of us. Who knows when we’ll get the chance to play in a Champions League semi-final again. He’s one of our big players of course and normally if he plays well we play well so I’m sure if he puts in a top performance it will certainly help us."

Jamie was asked whether he thought it would be an exciting game: "Who knows? We’ll see how the start of the game goes but we’ll be looking to make a good start in front of our supporters and get the crowd behind us. They will be our 12th man but it’s important that we use our brains as well as our heart. The fans will want us to be attacking non-stop but it’s a European game and we have to got to be very aware of the away goal, so it’s important that we use our brains. European nights at Anfield are always special and I’ve played in a few of them games myself now and I’m sure tomorrow will top everything. If we get the right result on Tuesday I think this would eclipse everything, maybe even St Etienne." The night Liverpool went through against the odds against St Etienne is a night any Liverpool fan will tell you about and is part of a European history that Chelsea can only dream about at the moment. It’s up to the Reds to ensure that tomorrow night’s game stays as piece of history for Liverpool to look back on fondly. For this to happen, does Carra think the first goal’s going to be vital? "Yeah, of course it will be – especially in a European game. We want to make a good start and score more goals than they do."

Carragher had talked about how the game would be different to a Premiership game because of the presence of a European referee, who’ll have a different interpretation of how bad a tackle would be considered. The Premiership is a physical league compared to those in Europe, but there will be one similarity – coming up against Didier Drogba. Carra says of him: "You come up against top players at this level and he has done a good job for Chelsea. He is a physical presence so it will be a physical battle, more like a Premiership game."

Continue reading Carra looking forward to a very special night