2:45pm on espn2
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: 2-0 Fulham (a); 3-1 Blackburn (h); 4-2 Arse (h)
Chelsea: 1-0 Everton (a); 1-1 Wigan (h); 2-0 Fener (h)
Liverpool: Gerrard, Kuyt 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: Konrad Plautz (AUT)
Guess at a squad
Carragher Skrtel Hyypia Aurelio
Kuyt Gerrard Babel
Much of the pre-match discussion has centered on Gerrard’s neck “injury.” I put injury in quotation marks as I’m still skeptical; the fact we’ve still seen articles about it and the quotes from Benitez makes me think it might actually be legit, but part of me still thinks it’s mind games on Liverpool’s part. And if it is mind games, it’s a far better tactic than the laughable “Gerrard to Chelsea” rumors Avram Grant attempted to start. What is this, 2005?
Either way, Gerrard trained this morning and has been declared available by Benitez in today’s press conference. As has Hyypia after his head injury and halftime substitution at Fulham on Saturday.
Otherwise, I don’t expect any changes from what’s seemingly become Liverpool’s first-choice XI. There are two possibilities, but I don’t know if we’ll see either.
First, with Benayoun playing well and Babel still making more of an impact (and with a better goal return) as a substitute, Yossi could see another start on the left. But Babel’s been getting starts in the big games and has been brought further and further along as the season’s progressed. I’d be surprised if Benitez changed his methods at this stage of the campaign.
Second, Pennant’s also done well on the right recently: the sub appearance against Inter and starts against Arsenal and Fulham in the league. But I still think that Kuyt will get the nod, especially if Carragher lines up at right back. Kuyt, no matter how much better he’s done in the past couple of months, isn’t the end all, be all on the right, but with Carragher more likely to sit deeper than either Finnan or Arbeloa, Kuyt’s two-way play is especially important, and the work he puts in getting up and down the flank can’t be overlooked. I’ve been really pleased with Pennant of late, but I think he’ll be on the bench, available to make an impact like he did in the first leg against Inter.
In team news, Lampard will return for Chelsea after being on compassion leave with his ailing mother, while both Cudicini and Drogba are still doubtful through injury. Essien is suspended for this leg, but no other Chelsea players have yellow card issues. If Gerrard, Carra, or Aurelio pick up a yellow tomorrow, they’ll miss the second leg.
There’s little else that needs to be said about a Champions League semi-final against Chelsea. We’ve been here before. The difference is this time the first leg is at Anfield. Liverpool, despite frequently playing cautiously in the first legs, will need to score and need to take an advantage to Stamford Bridge. Keeping a clean sheet and keeping Chelsea from getting a critical away goal is just as important. The team has to make the Anfield atmosphere pay dividends.