OVER TO YOU LADS, YOU KNOW WHAT TO DO
One leg down, one to go this Wednesday evening as the Blues welcome Liverpool to Stamford Bridge in a Champions League semi-final second leg. They will be looking to go one better than in previous last four encounters with Rafael Benitez’s side, and this time Chelsea have a valuable away goal heading (no pun intended) into this match after John Arne Riise’s gift at Anfield last Tuesday. By the time the game kicks off, one set of finalists will already be confirmed, as Barcelona and Manchester United (losing visitors at the Bridge on Saturday, just in case you had forgotten) play 24 hours before in their own second-leg. Hopefully, by Wednesday night, Avram Grant’s team will have secured a place in Moscow too.After the thrilling 2-1 win over United, the Premier League fight (again, no pun) is back on, and momentum and morale must be sky high in the Chelsea camp. Good spirits will have been boosted further with the news that Frank Lampard trained on Sunday following his absence at the weekend, and is expected to take his place in the starting XI on Wednesday. Michael Ballack’s cavalier performance against United should secure him a starting berth too, while Michael Essien returns from a one-game European suspension but could find himself shunted to right-back, or the substitutes bench, if Claude Makelele gets the nod in midfield. It would be the veteran French midfielder’s 125th match in UEFA European competition and his eighth semi-final in the Champions League. If he plays, he will have to shield the defence even more than he usually does, with centre-back John Terry a booking away from missing a potential final.
Benitez made wholesale changes for his side’s 2-2 draw with Birmingham at the weekend, with reserves and out-of-favour players taking the field, including the likes of Damien Plessis, Andriy Voronin, and of course, John Arne Riise! With Fabio Aurelio injured in the first-leg, Riise is set for a start in his place, and will probably get a warm reception from the fans… Chelsea’s anyway! Liverpool need to score at the Bridge as Chelsea currently lead on away goals, but under Benitez they haven’t netted at SW6 in 777 minutes of football. Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher are a booking away from suspension, but until they’ve actually beaten Petr Cech, it’s nothing to really worry about.
Last week’s display was hardly vintage from Chelsea, but as usual the result was achieved in the end. After beating Alex Ferguson’s side on Saturday, Avram Grant completed a hat-trick of wins against the rest of the ‘top four’, and he will be aiming to enhance his reputation even more by swatting aside Liverpool and reaching a Champions League final for the first time in Chelsea’s history. With the Reds our conquerors in recent years, revenge is on the cards and after the 1-1 draw last week, they seem rattled. Stuttering in the league and fully focusing on Europe’s elite competition, they will no doubt we going all out for the win on Wednesday, but if we can stay tight at the back and organised in midfield, we can make it to Moscow.
It is achievable, and we can do our part too. If we wave our flags, sing our songs, and get behind the team, Anfield will seem like a library in comparison. The atmosphere at Stamford Bridge on Saturday was electric, and the eleven on the pitch played until the final whistle with style, substance and at times, swagger. A repeat performance would be ideal.
This is the moment we have been waiting for, this is the opportunity. All those past disappointments could be quashed with just 90 minutes of football, all the eliminations forgotten, all the problems swept aside. Moscow is where we belong after braving such a turbulent season, and by the time the final whistle sounds on Wednesday, we could have both feet in the final.
Over to you lads, you know what to do.
Prediction: Not a penalty shoot-out in sight as we hold firm with a clean sheet. Defending an away goal is not the way to do it, so we need to show a bit of attacking intent too, and I’m going for a narrow 1-0 win and a nervy 90 minutes. But plenty to cheer about afterwards!