The quarter-finals are upon us, and with them comes another edition of what is fast becoming one of the fiercest rivalries in European football.
Kick-off: Wednesday, April 8, 20:45 GMT.
Stop Playin' Those Mind Games
Who would have guessed that Liverpool would draw Chelsea in the last eight of the Champions League? Only those who didn't expect them to meet up in the semi-finals for the fourth time in five years, is probably the answer.
These days, the Reds seem to have a permanent reservation in the competition up until the final four, a stage they have failed to reach just once since Rafael Benitez took the reins back in 2004. People just expect them to be there at the business end, regardless of how poor their domestic form might be. Whereas at the start of decade they had fallen away from the elite ranks, they are now the quintessential CL team - they showed that when they knocked out Real Madrid 5-0 on aggregate in the previous round.
But this year it's different. For the first time in many a moon, the Merseysiders come into a European knockout encounter with Premier League ambitions still intact. In past seasons the continent was their sole focus by this time of the season but now they sit just one point behind Manchester United as they chase their first English title since 1990.
Whether that will have any effect remains to be seen. In any case, Benitez has messed with his usual pre-match routine ahead of this particular clash. In an attempt to avoid the annual word-war that used to break out between he and Jose Mourinho, the Spaniard has called for a ceasefire as Guus Hiddink's men prepare to march on Fortress Anfield - not that he was expecting any trouble from the Dutchman.
"Some managers want to play too many mind games. With Hiddink, it will just be about football," he said earlier this week.
So the media will be left to drum up some feud or frenzy of their own invention as Liverpool, fresh from a last-gasp win over Fulham, ready themselves for yet another date with the Blues - although this time they are the ones aiming to atone for the previous season's disappointment.
The Reds well and truly had the wood over Chelsea heading into last year's semi-final clash, but it proved third time lucky for the Pensioners as they grabbed a 4-3 aggregate win - in extra time - to end their winless run against ‘Rafa's’ mob in Europe. Only John Terry's faulty studs and Edwin van der Sar's magic gloves kept them away from a first Champions League title, as Manchester United emerged victorious after a penalty shootout.
That defeat in Moscow spelt the end of Avram Grant's brief (yet, on balance, fairly impressive) tenure. However, the Israeli's successor, the decorated Luiz Felipe Scolari, lasted no longer in hot-seat; a run of poor results saw Roman Abramovich wield his axe once more in February.
And so in came Hiddink, who agreed to split his duties with the Russian national team so as to try and restore some sort of order at Stamford Bridge. And the Dutchman has delivered, boosting the Blues back into the title race, through to the quarter-finals of the FA Cup and past Juventus in the last 16 of the Champions League.
Now 'Tsar Guus' faces his biggest test yet. Not only does he come up against a team widely regarded as the masters of knockout football, and one who boast a historical advantage over his outfit, he must conquer a side that have done the double over Chelsea this season in domestic action - the very side that ended Stamford Bridge's 86-game streak of impregnability.
But, in many ways, it is a situation tailor-made for Hiddink, and one in which he has thrived at international level. He will leave the club at the season's end (or so he keeps saying, anyway), meaning his accomplishments in these few months will reflect the entirety of his Chelsea legacy. No rebuilding phase, no grace period - just results.
And so, walking tall after a hard-fought win over Alan Shearer's Newcastle United at the weekend, Chelsea will head to the north west confident of repeating (or bettering) last year's exploits and keeping alive their hopes of clinching an unlikely treble - although they haven't won an away match in the CL since beating Rosenborg on November 28, 2007.
April 04 Fulham 0-1 Liverpool (Premier League)
March 22 Liverpool 5-0 Aston Villa (Premier League)
March 14 Manchester United 1-4 Liverpool (Premier League)
March 10 Liverpool 4-0 Real Madrid (Champions League)
March 03 Liverpool 2-0 Sunderland (Premier League)
April 04 Newcastle United 0-2 Chelsea (Premier League)
March 21 Tottenham Hotspur 1-0 Chelsea (Premier League)
March 15 Chelsea 1-0 Manchester City (Premier League)
March 10 Juventus 2-2 Chelsea (Champions League)
March 07 Coventry City 0-2 Chelsea (FA Cup)
Javier Mascherano is suspended, meaning Lucas Leiva will almost certainly start in midfield. Albert Riera, meanwhile, is available once more after serving a one-match ban, although he now faces competition for his spot from a revitalised Andrea Dossena, who, along with Alvaro Arbeloa, is one caution away from a suspension himself.
Daniel Agger has recovered from a back injury and played 180 minutes for Denmark last week, meaning he could make his first start for the Reds since February. Yossi Benayoun is also fit again, as he proved when he came off the bench at Fulham to blast home a late winner. Sami Hyypia is still carrying a knee knock.
Fabio Aurelio sat out the win at Craven Cottage but should line up at left-back.
Probable XI: Reina - Arbeloa, Skrtel, Carragher, Aurelio - Alonso, Lucas - Kuyt, Gerrard, Riera - Torres
Didier Drogba is fighting a race against time as he seeks to shake off an ankle injury - a battle he is reportedly losing. Jose Bosingwa is also a doubt, having missed the win at Newcastle after sustaining a gash to his leg and a hamstring strain while on duty with Portugal.
Bosingwa's compatriot Ricardo Carvalho also returned from the international break worse for wear, but he is expected to reclaim his place in defence for the trip to Anfield.
Joe Cole and Paulo Ferreira are out of action with season-ending knee injuries, while Nicolas Anelka, Ashley Cole and John Terry are all one ban away from a booking.
Probable XI: Cech - Alex, Terry, Carvalho, A Cole - Mikel, Essien, Lampard - Malouda, Anelka, Kalou
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Fernando Torres likes scoring against the Blues; he has netted against them four times in as many games and should cause John Terry and his rearguard all manner of problems. Steven Gerrard rarely misfires on a European night while the in-form Xabi Alonso should enjoy a fascinating tussle with Chelsea's muscular midfield.
Since returning from a long-term knee injury, Michael Essien has slotted back into the first team almost seamlessly. He is Chelsea's engine. Going forward, they will look to Frank Lampard and Nicolas Anelka to do the damage.
Chelsea won't win - you simply don't when you travel to Anfield for a Champions League tie. They have the ability to score, certainly, but then few teams have been better at finding the net than Liverpool of late. Drogba's potential absence could be crucial, given the way these encounters tend to suit the Ivorian's style. A narrow win for 'Pool, then, is this punter's bet.
Liverpool 1-0 Chelsea
Mike Maguire, Goal.com
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