When Liverpool and Chelsea last played in the Premier League at Anfield the home side were odds-on to win the Premier League. In an incident that will be for many years celebrated in other team’s songs Steven Gerrard slipped in front of the Kop, Chelsea scored and the momentum was handed back to Manchester City.
In that one brief incident Gerrard’s season that had so much promise at the time began to go horribly wrong. He was about to lead his boyhood club to the title in the year of the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster and he had the World Cup in Brazil to look forward to with England. In six weeks his football world was turned upside down and he has yet to recover from the blows.
In a bizarre selection decision Gerrard was not in the Liverpool team that played Real Madrid in the Champions League on Tuesday night. He has yet to sign a new contract to extend his stay with his beloved club though Brendon Rodgers is making the right noises that he will get a new deal that could see him play for Liverpool over the next two years.
At his peak Gerrard was one of the best midfield players in the world and he could have joined Chelsea or Real Madrid at certain stages of his career. His decision to stay with Liverpool was vindicated in Istanbul in 2005 in arguably his finest moment for the club when they won the Champions League. Trailing 3-0 to AC Milan at half time Gerarrd dragged the team back into a match that was finally won after extra time and penalties.
I’m not a fan of Liverpool as my favourite team also play in red shirts in a city in the north west of England. However, Gerrard should be admired for his loyalty to the club he supports when he could have gone elsewhere for more money and better prospects of winning the league. Last season was Liverpool’s window of opportunity but the moment has gone and now they are back amongst the also-rans.
Rodgers has gone down the Spurs route by spending the vast amount of money raised from the sale of one player on a number of inadequate replacements. When Gareth Bale was sold to Real Spurs decided to buy several overseas players who as a group have not compensated for the departure of one of the best players to have represented the club. The failure of the signings cost Andre Villas-Boas his job and the club are still underperforming and Rodgers could go the same way.
For Bale and Spurs read Luis Suarez and Liverpool but the parting was inevitable even before the latest biting incident. After Uruguay beat England in the World Cup Suarez was so scathing of the country where he earned a living and in particular the Press that his position had become untenable even before he bit Giorgio Chiellini. The cynics might say he created a situation where a move to Barcelona was best for all parties concerned.
Rodgers position with Liverpool became even more tenuous after his selection for the match against Real Madrid. Granted in the context of qualifying for the next round of the Champions League the result was meaningless but surely any club should play their best team in just about the their biggest match of the season. Paul Scholes said Alex Ferguson would never make such changes.
The fact that Gerrard and Raheem Sterling did not start was an insult to the thousands of Liverpool supporters who had travelled to see their side try to win a football match in one of the most iconic stadiums in the world. Rodgers could also be in trouble with UEFA due to Article 4.01d which states: “On entering the competition, participating clubs should play in the competition until their elimination and field their strongest team throughout the competition”
Liverpool’s best players would have seen this match as a potential career highlight and it added insult to injury that Sterling and Gerrard were sent out to play towards the end of the match when Liverpool needed a goal. Rodgers would defend his strategy saying he is focusing on the remaining two group fixtures and the match against Chelsea on Saturday. Loose any of those three matches and Rodgers will look even more foolish.
He may have factored in Chelsea’s match at Maribor in the Champions League on Wednesday. That means the Blues have 24 hours less to recover for the match at Anfield that begins at 12.45. Mourinho will no doubt whinge about the situation but to say his club are being picked upon in the context of back to back fixtures is a bit of a joke. The Special One is not stupid and knows this is part of the game in England.
Ahead of the Maribor match Chelsea are unbeaten this season and have scored in every match. They are the leading scorers in the Premier League with Diego Costa their top scorer in all competitions. He is fit again and regardless of how things pan out in Maribor he will play for Chelsea against Liverpool. Eden Hazard has scored five goals this season and Cesc Fabregas has added something that was missing during Mourinho’s first campaign in his second spell at the club.
No doubt Mourinho will find reasons to complain during the rest of the season and so far fixture planning and the lack of noise at Stamford Bridge have been targets. Ultimately Chelsea look ideally placed to win their first league title since 2010. Chelsea’s 2014-15 edition may not be outstanding but becoming England’s top dogs is well within their capabilities.
In Mourinho’s four seasons following a full first campaign in charge he has at least won the domestic championship. Last season’s squad was not good enough for the manager and he rectified the situation with the signing of Costa and Fabregas. Chelsea are the best team in the league and can continue the process of becoming champions by avoiding defeat at Anfield on Saturday even if Steven Gerrard plays.