For the third time in four seasons, Liverpool and Chelsea will contest a Champions League semi-final to see who will be in Moscow for the final. The previous two semi-final clashes were extremely tight ties and were more a display of defensive and tactical negation than a reflection of the offensive talent that both squads possessed.
The Reds reached last year’s final via a penalty shoot-out victory after a 1-1 aggregate score, while the Blues were eliminated in 2005 by a controversial Luis Garcia goal in a 1-0 aggregate win. I hope that this year’s matchup will be a little more open though one could hardly expect a repeat of yesterday’s Arsenal – Liverpool second leg match which ended 4-2 (excellent match report at the Telegraph and a lively, often heated, discussion on the EPL Talk site)
Arsenal just came up a bit short in the six-goal thriller and one has to wonder why Theo Walcott did not start the match. His dazzling run past four Liverpool players created Arsenal’s second goal and his pace has been troubling defenders anytime he has been giving some game time. Arsenal will have months to reflect on what might have been while Liverpool appear to be peaking at the right time and had they not squandered points early in the Premier League season, they might be in the running for the title. While Fernando Torres was riding the pine, Liverpool struggled to create or finish chances against teams like Birmingham and Portsmouth. Those points that were dropped before Christmas (at least 6-8 points) have been vital and overall the Reds have been held to a draw on 12 occasions, compared with just 5 draws for current leaders Manchester United. However, they have been much more consistent in CL play and are looking good for a third finals appearance in four seasons.
Meanwhile, Chelsea beat Fenerbahce 2-0 at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday to secure their place in the last four for the fourth time in five years. The game was only 4 minutes old when Joe Cole swung in a cross that was met by Michael Ballack. His downward header across the keeper found the far corner of the net and nudged Chelsea ahead in the tie based on away goals. From that point on, Chelsea struggled to beat Fenerbahce, gifting possession away far more than a club of Chelsea’s quality should. However, they did manage to keep a vital clean sheet at home and potted two goals to see them through. The 2-0 scoreline flatters Chelsea just a little and Fenerbahce has to be applauded for their efforts in the CL this season though that will be of little consolation to them at the moment.
One area of concern for Chelsea will be in goal where both Petr Cech, who needed 50 stitches on a serious facial injury sustained in a training-ground clash with team-mate Tal Ben-Haim on Sunday, and Carlo Cudicini, who limped off with a hamstring problem during the match with Fenerbahce on Tuesday, are not likely to be available for the first-leg against Liverpool. Another absentee will be Michael Essien, who picked up a needless booking for throwing the ball away.
Chelsea’s Russian owner Roman Abramovich has desired to win the Champions League since he purchased the club in 2003. Abramovich has poured massive investment capital into the club (estimated by some sources to be as much as £587 million as of February 2008) and won’t be overly pleased by the performance of his club in the quarter-finals despite the fact they advanced. It has been widely rumoured that Avram Grant may be on the firing line should the Blues fail to capture European glory this season. They will need a vastly improved performance in order to get past Liverpool and make it to their first Champions League final.