Liverpool’s 2-1 win over Chelsea yesterday in the FA Cup semi-final sees the Reds making another trip to Cardiff to face either West Ham or Middlesbrough in the final in May. It was the tenth time in two seasons that the two sides have met; four league games, four Champions League games and one Carling Cup game preceding this. In that time Chelsea’s attitude has seen them take on a temporary position as most-hated team in England. For Liverpool fans opinion is still split over who their most-hated team is, but Chelsea are certainly giving Everton and Manchester United a run for their money.
Listening to the two managers yesterday two words came to mind – one each.
crass: 1. Coarse; crude; not refined or sensible 2. Materialistic 3. Dense
class: Admirable behaviour; elegance.
When Rafael Benitez joined Liverpool it came after some months of speculation over who would take over the reigns at England’s most successful club of all time once Houllier was inevitably shown the door. Jose Mourinho’s name had been mentioned regularly, but by a huge – and we mean huge – stroke of luck the Portuguese man went to Chelsea instead. Liverpool got the class manager, the man who is heading alarmingly fast towards legend status at Anfield. He’s some way to go to match the status of King Kenny and Shankly or of Fagan or Paisley – but he’s heading the right way.
Mourinho seems to be struggling more than ever with coming to terms with the few defeats he admittedly faces. Yesterday was the second time Liverpool have ended Chelsea’s hopes in cup competition at the semi-final stage, and it does seem to hurt him. It’s actually unbelievably funny to watch his interviews after losing, especially against Liverpool. Let’s hope we see many more of them, assuming he sticks around much longer.
Jose Mourinho was asked if Liverpool were closing the gap on Chelsea: “In the Premiership they have no chance. Over 40 matches, no chance. Maybe they will surprise me and they can do it. But in 10 matches against us they have won twice. In the Premiership the distance between the teams is 45 points over two seasons.
“We beat them in a final; they beat us in two semi-finals. A psychological advantage? I don’t think so. In four matches in the Premiership we beat them four times.”
When Chelsea were humbled by Liverpool on their way to becoming European Champions last season, Jose said the best team lost. He never got over that defeat, bringing it up months later along with his unilateral decision to disallow Luis Garcia’s goal. He was asked if the best team won again yesterday. What else would you expect him to say? “Did the best team win? I don’t think so.” Yes, Jose is bringing bitterness to the Premiership previously unseen outside Goodison Park. He said of the last half-hour: “In the last 30 minutes we deserved extra time.” Certainly Chelsea were getting back into things, after he made changes to his odd tactics, but they’d already lost the game by then in all honesty. Not for Jose though – it was all even before that: “In the first half nobody was better. They had a good start to the second half but then we dominated the game.”
He won’t wish Liverpool any luck in the final either, further underlining his deep resentment of the side his boss would love him to emulate success-wise: “I cannot wish them luck in the final. Middlesbrough or West Ham will be there and I must respect them. I wish them luck for their qualification match in the Champions League.” Mourinho is relieved Chelsea don’t have to qualify first – he’s not very good in knock-out ties.
Rafael Benitez was asked what he thought about Mourinho not shaking his hand at the end. Benitez was happy with the victory and though and was above taking a cheap shot at the beaten man: “I was with our supporters at the end and I could see him but he didn’t want to. At least we showed the people we can beat them.”
Morale at Anfield is sky high, the players and staff are friends as well as colleagues. They accept the rotation policy and in the main get a fair crack of the whip. Chelsea are rumoured to be one the clubs with the lowest morale in the league, Shaun Wright-Phillips one example of players they buy at a high price yet barely use. Rafa said: “They have a lot of good players but we do too. We have a great team spirit.”
No doubt expecting Mourinho to be complaining about how unfair something or other was, Rafa pointed out one simple fact: “We are in the final. My players have done a fantastic job.”
The Abramovich money has brought Chelsea a lot of players, but no FA Cup yet: “Chelsea are one of the most expensive teams in the world and they have a lot of good players. They played well and we were trying to control them but it is really difficult to control Duff, Cole, Lampard and Drogba and all the players that they have.”
Liverpool Football Club exists for its fans above all else, not as a rich man’s plaything. Rafa, as always, was made-up for the supporters and his players: “I am really happy and delighted for the players, the club and the supporters. It was an amazing game for us. The big clubs are always thinking about winning the big trophies and we are in the most famous Cup in the world. It is really important for us to win.”