Even though the players involved are mostly anything but, Liverpool vs Chelsea is a quintessentially English football fixture.
It pits red vs blue, north vs south, flair vs belligerence. And yet those contrasts are exactly what make this match-up so keenly contested, and so religiously enjoyed by supporters, pundits, armchair watchers and punters.
This Saturday’s battle, which will take place in the evening kick off slot at Anfield, is set to be fiercely fought with both teams in decent form but having to overcome their own respective midweek European headaches.
Liverpool threw away a three-goal lead at Sevilla, and while in the grand scheme of things that should not prove problematic – they only need to avoid defeat against Spartak Moscow to reach the Champions League’s knockout stage, it once again highlights the Reds’ defensive frailties.
Chelsea’s fixture against Qarabag was rather more satisfying, but the logistics of their return travel were not. They flew home overnight on Wednesday, landing in London at 4am, before returning to their Cobham training ground at 5am. With hours of sleep lost, their preparation in the past couple of days has been less than ideal.
The bookmakers are siding with Liverpool on Saturday – they are as short as 6/5 to claim all three points, with Chelsea priced at 5/2 – but if there’s anything the history books can show us it’s that fixtures between these two teams rarely go as expected.
This is a modern rivalry steeped in history, but one that has taken on extra significance as both sides continue to try and assert their dominance on English football.
There have been plenty of defining moments through the years in tussles between Liverpool and Chelsea, and here are some of the very best:
Dalglish at the Double
Perhaps this is where the rivalry was born.
Liverpool won the title at Stamford Bridge in 1985/86 – the first part of their famous double – courtesy of a goal from player-manager Kenny Dalglish (where have all the player-managers gone?).
It was a tough result to bear for Chelsea, as defeat meant they missed out on the top five and a place in the UEFA Cup, although English clubs were banned from European competition at the time.
As Liverpool’s players celebrated wildly on the Stamford Bridge turf, you wonder if the first seeds of this bitter feud were sown.
Hughes Magic Sets Up Sweet Revenge
It would be a decade until Chelsea would have their revenge on Liverpool at the Bridge. In an FA Cup fourth round tie in January 1997, the Reds romped into a 2-0 lead courtesy of goals from Robbie Fowler and Stan Collymore.
The Blues threw on Mark Hughes as an impact sub, and boy what an impact he had. Paired up front with Gianfranco Zola and Gianluca Vialli – now that’s a trio – Hughes and co set about writing the wrongs of the first half.
All three netted, with Vialli bagging a brace, as Chelsea ran riot in the second half, completing a 4-2 victory and going on to lift the FA Cup at Wembley.
Great Dane Seals Blues’ Fate
In 2002/03, as is the case to this day, the top four teams in the Premier League book their place in the following season’s Champions League.
So the Chelsea vs Liverpool fixture that ended the season was always likely to be a cracker with the Blues, in fourth, just ahead of the Reds on goal difference alone heading into this all-or-nothing clash.
A pulsating clash went one way and then the other, before the tie was settled when Jesper Gronkjaer, the Danish winger, fired home to secure a 2-1 for Chelsea. The manic celebrations at the final whistle exorcized the demons of Liverpool’s title win at the Bridge in 1986.
Incidentally, Gronkjaer’s goal would have far wider ramifications. Chelsea were said to be in nearly £100 million in debt, and if they hadn’t qualified for the Champions League, Roman Abramovich would not have invested the club. What a butterfly effect the forgotten Danish player has had on the club!
The Ghost of Luis Garcia
There was a period in the second half of the 2000s where Liverpool and Chelsea could not avoid each other. As well as their domestic duels, the duo were paired together relentlessly in the Champions League.
The 2004/05 clash is remembered for Luis Garcia’s ‘ghost’ goal – did it go in or didn’t it? – as Liverpool won 1-0 on aggregate to book their place in the final.
They met in the 2005/06 group stages, and a pair of 0-0 draws highlight how keenly contested fixtures between them are. But a year later they were once again meeting in a pant-shreddingly nervous semi-final, and again it was Liverpool who came out on top 4-1 on penalties after the tie finished 1-1 on aggregate.
But as we’ve seen already, Chelsea will not be denied, and so they took the ultimate revenge just 12 months later – again at Stamford Bridge. After a 1-1 draw at Anfield, the Blues took the spoils with a 3-2 extra time win in the second leg courtesy of foals from Drogba and Lampard.
But the tie will always be remembered for Jon Arne Riise’s extraordinary own goal in the 95th minute of the first leg to hand Chelsea the decisive away goal.
Gerrard Slips Out of History
In the 2013/14 campaign, Liverpool looked dead certs for the title. Brendan Rodgers assembled a fantastic team featuring a front three of Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling, and that trio was almost unstoppable as the Reds swept all before them.
Until one fateful day against Chelsea, that is. At 0-0, Steven Gerrard mis-controlled a pass in the middle of the pitch, and as he went to retrieve the situation he slipped, allowing Demba Ba to race clear and slot home.
A second from Willian followed later, and Liverpool’s 11-game winning streak was ended. Manchester City, who were six points behind prior to this fixture, closed the gap to three and would ultimately end the Reds’ best chance of winning the title in decades.