The seventh meeting in just short of a year between Liverpool and Chelsea takes place at tomorrow, with Chelsea’s boss Jose Mourinho still trying to rattle Liverpool off the field. After playing for a draw in midweek in the Champions League clash, Mourinho hinted at doing the same tomorrow – because he says it will hurt the Reds more than them to come away with only one point:: "Both teams are in a very good situation in the Champions League, but on Sunday it is a competition where we are in a very good situation and they are not. So, if they lose on Sunday, I think it is finished for them."
It’s true that Liverpool need to start turning draws into wins, but Mourinho’s cockiness may yet again prove to be his downfall. Chelsea’s only other real test in the Premiership so far came against Arsenal when they narrowly won 1-0. A last-minute escape against Wigan is not something that Jose will brag about too much, and other wins include matches against newly-promoted Sunderland and nearly-relegated West Brom. Chelsea are six points clear at the top right now, but will have a game in hand after tomorrow’s match. Liverpool have played only five league games this season, so still have time to start progressing.
The cockiness it seems is spread throughout the Chelsea squad. Confidence always overlaps cockiness, but it’s safe to say that comments attributed to Chelsea’s William Gallas are more than confidence. The arrogant comments were: "If we can carry on like we’ve started this season we will practically be champions in January. If we can do that it will give us a good chance to concentrate more on the Champions League. Our aim is to win in Europe, especially after getting knocked out in the semi-finals two years in a row, because we know the Premiership will be ours sooner or later." That’s right, they know the Premiership will be theirs.
If Liverpool are unable to field a full-strength team tomorrow it will be no thanks to Chelsea. Frank Lampard’s challenge on Steven Gerrard was the biggest disgrace of many bad tackles he made in the game, but most of these went unpunished. Last season’s clash at Anfield in the league saw Lampard break
Xabi Alonso’s ankle. John Terry was booked in the week for a foul on Alonso, and unhappy at having a decsion against him the Chelsea captain was then accusing Xabi of being a diver. As Xabi explained, this wasn’t true: "Terry was asking me about when he was shown a yellow card and told me he did not foul. He was furious because he was shown the yellow card and in the Champions League it is not good because with two cards you are suspended and I know because of last season." Last season Alonso missed the Anfield leg of the Champions League tie thanks to a dive from Gudjohnsen, bringing him a yellow card and a one-match ban. Alonso continued: "It was a foul. I felt he kicked my ankle from behind and that was what got a booking for."
Xabi thinks that the game tomorrow will be similar to the European clash, but would like to see Liverpool get the three points they deserved during the week: "It is important to try to win on Sunday and score one goal at least. Wednesday gave us the confidence to go and try to get a result. It will be quite a similar game. Crouch played well against two strong centre-backs in Carvalho and Terry. He gave us the chance to go forward. He is important to us, trying to get forward and he does very well. We hoped to win all the home games in the Champions League and I think we deserved to win."
Alonso will probably get some abuse in the press from Mourinho now, like his compatriate Fernando Morientes did for daring to criticise Chelsea in the press. He’s only telling the truth though: "We did more than them in attack and they were waiting in the second-half for a counter attack. They were more happy than us with a draw. We are going to approach Sunday in the same way."
As for Reds boss Rafa Benitez, he believes that Chelsea must be getting worried. Only poor refereeing decisions kept Chelsea from a midweek defeat against Liverpool, and Rafa says that explains the criticism from the Russian camp: "When they are talking and talking and talking before the game it means they are worried, maybe they are afraid, I don’t know. Maybe he needs to talk because it’ll be difficult to control the games and to beat us. Against us they have a lot of problems because we approach the games with a lot of confidence and we are not afraid. We know that we can beat them. "
In fact Rafa hits the nail on the head – showing too much respect to teams like Chelsea and believing all the hype is not a good way to go into a game. The sooner that other Premiership teams believe that the better. Rafa continued: "I don’t talk a lot about the other teams, I prefer to spend my time talking about my team. I cannot stop him if he wants to talk about my team. If they talk a lot, it means we are doing the right things. "
"We played better than them on Wednesday, they are at the top of the league with a squad maybe as good as anyone in the world and we played at the same level as them. We had control in midfield, defence and attack. As a manager that makes me happy. I do not want to keep talking about the penalties we were denied, but if you watch TV you could see there was no doubt, two, maybe three."
Rafa was asked if Chelsea were now best team in the world. Not really a question to ask the manager of the only club in Europe this season to be competing in the FIFA World Club Challenge tournament, but he replied anyway: "It is a very difficult question. What makes you the best team in the world? Chelsea are a very good team, they are difficult to beat, but to me, Arsenal played much better football two or three years ago. They won matches and were exciting to watch. Barcelona and Milan too, they play much better football, they create entertainment and win matches so how can you say Chelsea are the best team in the world?"