1-1 on aggregate; Chelsea lead on away goals
Liverpool: 4-2 Arsenal (h); 1-1 Arsenal (a)
Chelsea: 2-0 Fenerbahce (h); 1-2 Fenerbahce (a)
Round of 16:
Liverpool: 1-0 Inter (a); 2-0 Inter (h)
Chelsea: 3-0 Olympiakos (h); 0-0 Olympiakos (a)
Liverpool: 4-0 Marseille (a); 4-1 Porto (h); 8-0 Besiktas (h); 1-2 Besiktas (a); 0-1 Marseille (h); 1-1 Porto (a)
Chelsea: 0-0 Valencia (h); 4-0 Rosenborg (a); 0-0 Schalke (a); 2-0 Schalke (h); 2-1 Valencia (a); 1-1 Rosenborg (h)
Last 3 matches:
Liverpool: 2-2 Brum (a); 1-1 Chelsea (h); 2-0 Fulham (a)
Chelsea: 2-1 United (h); 1-1 Liverpool (a); 1-0 Everton (a)
Liverpool: Kuyt 7; Gerrard 6; Torres 5; Babel, Crouch 4; Benayoun 3; Hyypia 2; Voronin 1
Chelsea: Drogba 4; Ballack, J Cole, Lampard 2; Alex, Kalou, Malouda, Shevchenko 1
Referee: Roberto Rosseti (ITA)
Guess at a squad
Arbeloa Carragher Skrtel Riise
Kuyt Gerrard Babel
The fourth time that Liverpool and Chelsea have met in a semi-final and it’s the fourth time that Chelsea have been favored. Make no mistake; had Riise not scored in his own net in the 95th minute, Liverpool would be in a better position, but it was always going to take a big night at the Bridge to see them through to Moscow. And now it’ll take at least one goal, fully aware that Liverpool have never scored at Stamford Bridge under Benitez.
Even considering both Pennant and Crouch’s performances over the weekend, I still think we’ll see what’s seemingly become the first-choice XI tomorrow.
Benitez did say today, in response to a question on the official site:
Q: Has anyone given you any selection problems after the win over Birmingham at the weekend?
A: Yes. Yesterday we were training and practising and thinking about ideas, but we still have another session to come. At the end of that I will see how they are and after that we will start talking about the team for Chelsea.
However, I’d still be surprised if there was any variation in the front six.
There were a few comments following the Birmingham game suggesting Pennant should get another start. And I’d unquestionably agree that he’s played well in his last two chances. But I still think he’ll come in off the bench, a la Inter.
If Pennant started tomorrow, it’d most likely be in place of Kuyt. While I know I can be biased in favor of Kuyt, I still think he’s both better suited for the 4-2-3-1 and better suited for playing away at Chelsea.
Scoring is Liverpool’s first priority (Kuyt is top scorer in Europe), thanks to the away goals deficit. But Liverpool also cannot let Chelsea play their game. Liverpool must hassle the home side whenever Chelsea have the ball and defend from the front as best as possible. And that fits Kuyt to a tee, with the work he puts in essential to Liverpool’s success. I truly have no problem with Pennant starting and I certainly believe he can do a job. But at the same time, I still think Kuyt’s better fits what Liverpool will do.
Another possibility could be using the same formation as away to Arsenal, with Gerrard on the left and Crouch behind Torres. This is what I wrote about Crouch in the 4-2-3-1 after the Arsenal match. I don’t know if much has changed, especially since we haven’t seen the option used in the four matches since, although admittedly, the league matches have seen far different sides than the Champions League.
Pennant, Kuyt, and even Crouch are playing better than Babel at the moment. But Babel is still probably the only real option on the left in this formation, and he still has the talent to change the game. Pennant’s played there before, but only in a 4-4-2, switching flanks with whomever’s on the left, and I don’t think he’s done it since returning from the injury lay-off.
The other alternative would be Gerrard on the left. And as we saw against Arsenal, it can leave gaps while taking Gerrard out of the game. There being gaps to exploit down the left are an even bigger concern with Aurelio injured and Riise, who can be drawn out of position going forward, likely to play.
And I do think Riise will play. Arbeloa’s always an option on the left (especially if Carra’s at right back, which hasn’t been used since the quarter-final at Anfield), but I think the Spaniard will feature on the right, as he did in the first leg. That Finnan played against Birmingham (and has seemingly been relegated to the league matches) probably means he won’t start tomorrow, while Arbeloa’s done well at right back recently.
Admittedly, I’m worried about Riise starting. Not only is there the concern that he’ll try too hard after the last leg, but he also hasn’t been at his best all season. However, that he started against Birmingham in a bid to get his confidence back (relegating Insua to a substitute appearance, with JAR going off after an hour) has to mean Benitez wants him for Wednesday.
For Chelsea, Lampard’s back from compassion leave, they’ve no new injuries to report, and they’re coming off a huge win over United, which, admittedly, I didn’t think would happen (although the strength of that side means their players might be getting fatigued, having played three matches in eight days). On form, it’s certainly not the best time to go up against them, especially at their place.
But form goes out the window in the Champions League semi-finals. Liverpool was the underdog in the last two semi-final second legs, and they scored both times to send Chelsea out. That it’s at Stamford Bridge tomorrow doesn’t mean anywhere near as much as some pundits will have you believe.
No one does European nights like Liverpool. Let’s see yet another example of it.