Encouraging words from Anfield in the build-up to tomorrow night’s clash with Chelsea. Chelsea are sky-high on confidence after winning every game in the league so far this season, and already talk in the media is that they’ve won the league. They are certainly doing well, but as their opening fixture against Wigan almost proved, any team could beat them on their day. Wigan actually got as far as injury time before conceding a goal against them, and were unlucky for that to happen.
Chelsea are actually on a run of four straight away defeats in the Champions League, the last one was last season when Liverpool dumped them out of the trophy on their way to becoming the European Champions. First up from the Liverpool camp saying that Chelsea might not be as invincible as some make out is manager Rafa Benitez: "Chelsea are not unbeatable. We have beaten them before and we can beat them again. They are a better team than they were last year but we’re a better team as well. To beat them you need every player to be playing at 100 percent and you can’t afford to make any mistakes because they have good players who can punish you. You need to work hard and concentrate for the full game."
Liverpool themselves have yet to lose a game in the league yet this season, but with more draws than victories they aren’t doing as well. Rafa admits they are good team, but not unbeatable: "They are not easy to play against because they work very hard in defence and always have fine players going forward, but they can be beaten. We are confident, that’s for sure."
Another member of Liverpool’s Spanish contingent is confident too. Xabi Alonso was suspended for the Anfield leg of last year’s tie, but is looking forward to playing them tomorrow night, wearing the five stars on the shirt to represent those five European Cup wins: "We have a lot of respect for Chelsea but we are not afraid of them and I know we can beat them. They are going very well this season but no side are unbeatable. We know all about them and we know it will be a tough game but we’re confident. We want to have another good run in the Champions League this season and repeat what we achieved last year. It will be difficult but we’re going to take things step by step and game by game and then see how far we can go."
Home-grown defender Jamie Carragher is confident too, not least because of the home advantage of tomorrow night’s match. Chelsea players admitted last season that the atmosphere was the most intimidating they had ever played in, and Carra feels that this was part of the reason Liverpool went away victorious: "There was a big gap last year but it was bridged that night because of how much we wanted to win it and how much the crowd was on our side. I’m sure Chelsea did turn up believing they couldn’t lose but after hearing the crowd that night I knew we wouldn’t lose. Our supporters want to see Chelsea lose – and that brings out the animal in them as well."
Carra recalls the taunt made to Liverpool fans by Mourinho in Cardiff earlier that season. It went unpunished by the FA, but "the special one" was punished in a much better way by the Reds: "I knew before the game it was going to be special. We had the thing with Mourinho in the Carling Cup Final and the gesture he made to our fans and the Stevie Gerrard stuff. That all boiled up to wind our fans up and that helped to create a tremendous atmosphere. I think it will be difficult to surpass that feeling and the atmosphere of a semi-final in a group game."
As if to ensure an extra couple of notches on the Anfield volume controls, Carra continues: "There’s no love lost between our fans and the Chelsea fans and their club, particularly after what happened with Stevie again in the summer. I’m sure it will be another cauldron of an atmosphere."
Carra remembers other nights like that: "We’ve had a few nights like it before, Gerard Houllier’s comeback game against Roma and the Juventus match in the quarter-finals, games that you’ll never forget. We wanted to score early and that’s what we did but then they put us under a lot of pressure. You want to score early but it did affect us because from then on there was a little bit of fear of losing it."
Carra also recalls the dubious time-keeping: "One away goal would have made all the difference. We were hanging on and then suddenly we got to the end and there were six minutes of injury time. Six minutes? Where did that come from? But that was where the fans really played their part to carry us over the line."
Liverpool lost at home and away in the league last season, both games were tight and Chelsea were lucky to win the second game. In Cardiff it took an own goal to give them a chance to play extra time, and a tired Liverpool battled but eventually lost 3-2. At Stamford Bridge in last year’s first leg it was goalless, with the 1-0 win never to be forgotten in the return. As Carra recalls of last season: "Nobody has ever run away with the game. Last year we lost to a set-piece at Stamford Bridge and then in the home game we deserved to be in front and should have had a penalty before we lost to a deflection. In the away semi-final leg they only had one chance, which fell to Frank Lampard, but it was a tight game and a draw was a fair result and then we beat them at home. We’re a club built on nights like that so I wasn’t surprised by it."
Don’t expect any quotes from the Chelsea camp – Jose Mourinho has told his players not to speak to the media after getting in a sulk over something or other that was said (or not) last week.