You might think you’ve seen this all before. Red v Blue, Liverpool v Chelsea. This time it’s different.
Over the past four years of Champions League duels between these two you might think you’ve seen every Drogba dive, every dodgy goal at the Kop end and every deflected Lampard strike that you can possibly imagine.
For a start, this time the prize on offer is not a Cup final. There’s also no John Arne Riise to undo 90 minutes of excellent Liverpool work. There’s no Javier Mascherano (at least in the first leg), but there is a Michael Essien.
For the first time in four knock-out ties between Liverpool and Chelsea it is Liverpool who go in as favorites. It is The Reds who will mark their best run of the season if they can record a sixth straight victory on Wednesday, it is The Reds who have beaten Chelsea twice this season, and it is The Reds who have not lost at Anfield for 14 months.
Chelsea’s pedigree for the competition is building season-by-season though, they have been to four semi-finals in five years, they have dumped Juventus out in their own backyard and, when these teams meet… the side who plays the second leg at home wins.
Liverpool will be quietly happy to have that second leg away from home though. No Mascherano at Anfield is far less of a blow than no Mascherano at The Bridge.
As Steven Gerrard says, it has become the theme of Benitez’s reign that Liverpool have to beat Chelsea to reach finals. They did it on their way to the 2005 and 2007 Champions League finals, and they also did it in the FA Cup run of 2006.
More omens? How about the fact that Rafa Benitez has won all five of the knock-outs ties that have seen Liverpool play the first leg on a Wednesday?
Sami Hyypia has a real taste for quarter finals, scoring in a club record three Champions League last-eight ties. Gerrard can equal that, and you wouldn’t bet against the in-form Reds skipper who has netted against every team he has met in the Champions League this season. If he beats Petr Cech, he also sets a new Liverpool record of eight Champions League goals in one campaign.
Chelsea probably stand on the cusp of the greater historic moment though. Having lost the final last season, they are bidding to become the first London side in history to lift club football’s greatest trophy.
In Guus Hiddink, they have a man who has done it all before with PSV, but the Russia manager must solve a worrying run of form that has seen Chelsea fail to win an away European game since November 2007.
Hiddink’s rival Benitez recently commented that ‘the right winger will know the left back’ after all of the recent meetings, and that familiarity can be expected in the starting XIs, with Petr Cech, Jose Bosingwa, John Terry, John Mikel Obi and Nicolas Anelka all ever-presents in this year’s competition.
The likelihood is that late goals, like we saw with John Arne Riise last season and with Fernando Torres this year, could well prove crucial. Liverpool have scored 10 times in injury time this season, Rafa’s rotation means that they are once again the fittest team in England going into this stage of the campaign… mistakes aside, expect The Reds to take a lead to Stamford Bridge.