Today’s Carling Cup final between Chelsea and Liverpool has put so many comparisons up for scrutiny between the two teams.
Mourinho v Benitez – perhaps the two most successful continental
coaches of the last few years face each other in a tactical battle.
Abramovich v Moores – the Russian with the cash to buy most of the
Premiership if rules would allow him to, against David Moores, part of
the family that used to own the Littlewoods empire, but no longer, and
now certainly has less cash to throw around than his opposite number.
Lampard v Gerrard – two English midfielders face each other in the
centre of the park, probably the best two English midfielders, and
their partnership for England is going to be repeated at club level if
you believe all the hype. Which we’d advise you not to. Lampard is at
least spared having to face another of Liverpool’s players – Alonso
won’t be playing due to the broken bones he got from a tackle by
Lampard earlier in the season.
Terry v Carragher – two English centre-backs, who aren’t first choice
for their country. It seems that the England manager will pick Campbell
and Ferdinand first whenever they’re available, with John Terry there
for cover should one be unavailable. Carragher meanwhile has been
transformed from a good defensive full-back, perhaps lacking a little
in the attacking aspects of his game, into Liverpool’s most reliable
player. Due to the quality of defenders he may never be established as
more than a fringe player at international level.
Kewell v Duff – two left-sided midfielders that were strongly linked
with moves to Liverpool from their clubs a few years back. Duff has
been perhaps more effective than Kewell after his move, but neither
have matched the expectations built up for them.
Then we have the Czech v Czech. Or Cech v Baros to be more precise.
Liverpool’s Baros has become a first-choice striker at Anfield after
the departure of Michael Owen, but his excellent performance in Euro
2004 maybe would have done that anyway. His goalkeeper in that
competition faces him today, and hopes to continue his successful run
of conceding very few goals in English football.
Peter Cech wouldn’t have played today had it not been for the sending
off Chelsea number two keeper Cudiccini in the FA Cup defeat last
weekend. Chelsea complained bitterly about that sending off, the first
of two in the space of a few days, but decided to withdraw their
complaint for unspecified reasons. So Cech plays.
Baros and Cech have known each other for years now. As Peter Cech says:
".We first played against each other for junior sides. I was then with
Pilsen and Milan played for Banik Ostrava. And he always scored goals.
I didn’t know much about him back then. I remember our coach warning us
about him before we played Ostrava, saying he was really good. Sure
enough he turned up and scored twice, and Banik beat us 4-0."
Cech continues the compliments: "Milan is a good friend off the pitch,
but on it he has the instinct of a killer. He’s a menace to any
goalkeeper. He was born to score goals. When he doesn’t score, he’s
annoyed, even in training. But that doesn’t mean he shoots from any
position. He always waits until the moment is right."
Baros is full of admiration and respect for his international team-mate
and friend: "Petr was always quite tall and there was not too much
space left in the goalmouth! But I did score some goals against him.
The frightening thing with Petr is that he is still improving. And
already he’s world class."
Despite the compliments, Cech thinks there’s nothing to worry about
against Liverpool today: "I’m not scared of him, we’ve got a very solid
defence at Chelsea, so he’ll find it difficult against us. Milan loves
playing quick counter-attacks when the opposition’s defence has been
opened up. That shouldn’t happen to Chelsea."
Full of confidence, Cech said: "This is our first final this season, so
we’ll be doing our best to make it a successful one. It’s been a bad
week for us with those defeats against Newcastle and Barcelona. This is
a good chance to bring it to an end." However, as if to give them a
ready-made excuse should they fail to do the expected and win he
pointed out: "We are tired, and we’ve got a few injuries, but we are
still ready to win this game."
Meanwhile, Baros continues with the admiration: "I was well aware of
his qualities for a long time. He was the key factor in the Czech
Under-21 team’s victory at the European Championship. Then he starred
in the French league. It was quite logical that he should move to the
Premiership, and logical that he should establish himself so quickly,
because he was entering the competition with solid international
experience behind him already." And Baros respects the Chelsea defence
as a whole: "It really looks rock solid. It’s definitely the best in
the Premiership at the moment, but that doesn’t mean we can’t score
against them. We need to make them open up a little bit and then just
make the most of any chances that we get."
Baros has been given his chance in part thanks to the departure of
Michael Owen, and says: "I was really glad I had the chance to play
with a great player like Michael Owen. The truth is that we’re similar
types of strikers. Morientes has got unbelievable experience and I
think we can work well quite well together. I don’t think there is such
a thing as the ideal partnership. Basically, a good partnership can be
achieved only when the strikers in question are willing to cooperate. I
think we don’t have a problem with that at Liverpool."
Baros points out the reds want to win this trophy, even if the squad is
different from the one that won the trophy against Manchester United so
recently. "It’s true that there have been a lot of changes to our squad
this season. But Benitez has managed to bring in a system that should
work. The final will be important for us. It’s a game we definitely
want to win, regardless of how other teams have approached the
Baros won’t allow Chelsea’s two recent defeats to lull him into a false
sense of security: "The games against Newcastle and Barcelona will only
fire up Chelsea for the final. Chelsea weren’t at full strength against
Newcastle, and they only lost the game against Barcelona after Didier
Drogba was sent off. The game on Sunday will be completely different."
At 5pm GMT today, there’ll only be one comparison that really matters –
and that’s the colour of the medal in the hands of any of the names
mentioned in this article.