IT’S LIVERPOOL AGAIN…
Just what is the point in cup draws anymore? Give Trevor Brooking and co the night off and just put us and Liverpool together. It just seems to be a foregone conclusion these days that we will draw the scousers at some stage in any competition. Champions League, FA Cup, League Cup; we’ve met them in recent years more times than Rafa’s had crisis meetings with Liverpool’s owners. There have been good games, bad games, and when Robbie Fowler was in their starting line-up, downright ugly games.
And so, after drawing 1-1 at Anfield earlier on in the season (thanks again must go to Rob Styles), an unhappy reunion will be in store at the Bridge on Wednesday evening. The League Cup quarter-final is the occasion this time, as we continue the pursuit for back-to-back trophies in this competition.
We will have to do so without John Terry of course, following that challenge from Emmanuel “The Executioner” Eboue on Sunday. But with the bad news comes the good, and specifically the news that Ricardo Carvalho is ready again for selection. Michael Ballack (remember him?) continues his fight to full fitness but is said to be available while there are still question marks over Florent Malouda. Avram Grant can also welcome back Michael Essien from suspension, and Scott Sinclair from loan. Sinclair has started both League Cup games so far this season and indeed scored against Hull in the third round. Many fans are hoping to see the speedy winger at some point and he should feature at some stage.
Rafa Benitez’s side is changed more than the locks on Liverpool players’ houses following a spate of robberies on their country estates while on playing duty. Benitez will be looking to perform a smash and grab himself at the fortress Stamford Bridge, but away wins are a thing of the past at SW6. We are more likely to see ten men behind the ball and a counter-attacking style from the Spaniard’s side, and it certainly wouldn’t be the first time.
Liverpool have received a boost with the news that influential midfielder Xabi Alonso could return for the game following weeks out with a foot injury. Defenders Daniel Agger and Steve Finnan should miss out however, along with Jermaine Pennant who is still nursing a broken leg. Back-up ‘keeper Charles Itandje should start as Benitez continues his policy of resting Pepe Reina for the League Cup.
Liverpool have made it to this stage by beating Reading and Cardiff in previous rounds, while we saw off Hull and Leicester. The last time we played Liverpool was of course back in February 2005, when an own-goal from Steven Gerrard and extra-time strikes courtesy of Didier Drogba and Mateja Kezman saw off the Reds and handed us the League Cup and Jose Mourinho’s first trophy as Chelsea manager.
With Drogba injured and Kezman long gone, who will step up this time to send us on to the semi-finals and eventually a Wembley date next Spring? Another Gerrard own-goal would be most welcome, but a team effort will be imperative to send Liverpool out of the cup and give us the upper hand in cup competitions…until we predictably meet again in the FA Cup and Champions League next year of course, then we will have to do it all again!
Prediction: The return of Ricardo Carvalho is a massive boost while Ballack-despite finding himself routinely slated last season-is being labelled as a key figure for this game. A good performance would prove the doubters wrong, but while individuals are focused on, I reckon the team as a whole will have to dig in and fight for the win. A tight 1-0 against a strict Liverpool defence would be a big result, and please, anything but penalties this time!