Chelsea play Liverpool for the fourth time this season tonight. Liverpool have been beaten on all three occasions. In Cardiff the game looked to be going Liverpool’s way, until ten minutes from the end Steven Gerrard had the worst piece of bad luck he’s had in some time. He scored the equaliser with an own goal. The game went into extra time and a worn-out Liverpool just couldn’t find the energy to stay in the game – although the deficit was only goal in the end.
In fact over 90 minutes, Liverpool have lost two and drawn one. Tonight’s match won’t go to extra time, so the tiredness that ultimately saw Liverpool lose in Cardiff won’t neccessarily be there. Liverpool’s boss Rafael Benitez thinks that tonight’s match will be different to the previous encounters for other reasons: "I am sure we will see different things," he said. "We have a good team with good players and maybe we will see Steven Gerrard and Xabi Alonso playing 90 minutes together for the first time in a long while. That is good news for us and means it will be more difficult for them. If Xabi and Steven play well then I am sure the team will play well and if we play well we can win the game."
Xabi Alonso’s return to the Liverpool side has brought him a lot of praise. It has been rare for him to play alongside Gerrard for even close to 90 minutes, and if Benitez decides to play with both tonight it should help Liverpool’s cause no end – as long as both are on form. Alonso’s absence for a large part of this year was thanks to Lampard’s tackle breaking his ankle on New Year’s Day. As Alonso was sitting in the stands to watch games, Lampard was getting tons of praise from a hypnotised media. Alonso now wants to try and make sure Lampard gets little chance to be praised in tonight’s game: "Frank Lampard is having a great season for Chelsea so it’s important that we stop him from playing well," said Xabi. "He has a wonderful ability to break forward quickly from midfield, scoring and making many goals for his team. To stop him we need to look after the ball when we are in possession and win as many loose balls in midfield as we can."
Alonso wants to make it as difficult as possible for Lampard: "I will be trying to make sure Lampard doesn’t get control of the ball too much, and when he does get hold of it I will make life as uncomfortable as I possibly can for him. If we don’t do that in the middle of the pitch, we know he can hurt us. Fortunately we also have a player in the same mould as Lampard, in the shape of Steven Gerrard."
Gerrard has been extremely quiet in the build-up to this game – little wonder though as so much emphasis is on his plans at the end of this season – and whether they include moving to London. Alonso sees both the England midfielders as talented, and can’t choose between them: "At the moment I can’t say who is best out of Gerrard and Lampard, but one thing is for sure, they are two of the best players in the world. England are lucky to have them."
Back in November, Steven Gerrard spoke about what he thought of his midfield partner. It was prior to Alonso making a rare appearance for Spain, and Liverpool’s captain said, "I watch a lot of Spanish football on television and I cannot understand why Xabi is not one of the first names on their team-sheet. Obviously they have a lot of good midfielders in the likes of Baraja and Albelda. But Xabi is the best of them all. Everyone can see that he is a talented footballer. He can pass it long or short, is technically gifted and very rarely gives the ball away."
Gerrard continued: "What has impressed me is his attitude and professionalism for such a young lad. He’s only 22 but he eats, sleeps and drinks football. He’s very similar to Jamie Carragher in that respect."
Frank Lampard stirred up a lot of the trouble involving Gerrard last summer at Euro 2004. It was him that said, "Steven Gerrard is a fantastic player, I think our partnership works really well. He is another one Chelsea are in for and any player who strengthens our squad and team will be welcome."
Lampard also seems unable to see that when he and Gerrard play together, Steven has to play a deeper role. Where Gerrard is able to perform well in both the defensive and offensive sides of his midfield role, Lampard is too eager to get forward and look for the glory. Lampard said at the time, "I think it helps that we are both similar. We’re both attacking players but I hope we’re clever enough to instinctively know who is going to sit back while the other goes forward."
Gerrard is clever enough to spot that Lampard wants to get forward most of the time when he plays alongside Lampard. Tonight Liverpool are hoping that Gerrard is going to restrict his England team-mate’s shots at glory.