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Sunday, August 09, 2009

Liverpool vs Chelsea Champions League 08-09 Preview

(This entry was originally published on Friday, March 20th, 2009)

The All-English affair has now been the centre of all attention in Champions League. The draw of Champions League quarter final line up has been conducted today in Switzerland. Eight teams have got to know their opponents they will be facing in the two-leg quarter final in April. No doubt, English fans are not happy to see Liverpool and Chelsea being drawn together in the quarter final of the tournament. Both the clubs have been in excellent form of recent and thus, it is expected that football could experience a mouth-watering battle between the two English giants. Both the clubs are still active in the premier league title race and their inspirational performances indicate two hard-fought affair.

Liverpool

Buoyant form of Liverpool could be a threat for the opposition team and given their Champions league record over the last few seasons, Liverpool seems to be one of the big contenders of Champions league title this season. The ease with which Liverpool outclassed Real Madrid twice in both legs of first knock-out round, it seems that Benitez boys have progressed into the quarter final full of confidence. Moreover, Liverpool’s thrashing 4-1 victory away at Manchester United must have boost up their confidence level.

Liverpool’s title hope in premier league seemed to have been fading away just couple of months back, but their recent emphatic victory over defending champion Manchester United have not only increased their hope of winning first premier league title in 19 years, but also boost up their confidence level. Thus, Liverpool seems to be gearing up to win a rare double. Liverpool still sits in the 3rd place in premier league with 4 points adrift of leader Manchester United.

Liverpool may not have a very good record in premier league in the last few seasons, but their performance in Europe has been very consistent as they never finished before semi final stage in the last four seasons with two final appearances in which they clinched their fifth European title in 2004-05 season. Kind of consistency Liverpool has been displaying in Champions league over the last few seasons matches with very few European clubs. If their recent record in Europe is what makes you consider the All Reds favorite for this season, then their revitalized form in premier league would only justify your decision. I was really amazed to see Liverpool defeating high-flying Manchester United in such a manner in front of United fans at Old Trafford.

If you look back to Liverpool’s two back-to-back wins over Europe’s most successful club Real Madrid, you must have to say that Liverpool deserve another European title this season. You might say that my judgment about Liverpool’s chances in Champions league is exaggerated, but then I would ask you to find out any other team in Europe who are now capable of defeating Real Madrid by a 5-0 margin and Manchester United by a 4-1 margin. You can not just claim these results fluke when a team is playing at its best and consistently showing their prowess in Europe for a number of years now.

Liverpool has a very strong squad in the presence of an inspirational captain Steven Gerrard. The midfield general has been in sparkling form of recent and his combination with front man Fernando Torres has been proven lethal for the opponent teams. Torres has been scoring consistently, while Gerrard has continued his job as a creative midfielder who very often can provide threatening pass or through ball for Torres and other attacking players, and sometimes Gerrard himself appeared in the opponent penalty box to score match defining goals.

Alongside Torres, Liverpool attacking line up boasts of the dedicated players like Dirk Kuyt who possesses excellent skill and stamina. His fellow Dutchman Ryan Babel is another forward who can bring out moments of glory for the All Reds. Gerard-led Liverpool midfield also features a holding midfielder like Xabi Alonso who is well-skilled to destroy the opponent attacks in the midfield and sometimes appears with their creative touch to provide excellent pass for the attacking minded players. Albert Riera did not have a very good game at Manchester United, but you already know what he is capable while playing at his best. Javier Mascherano is another important player in the midfield who is well aware of his role in the middle of the park.

Defense is not a big strength for Liverpool, but in the presence of some quality defenders like Jamie Carragher, Sami Hyypia, Daniel Agger, Fábio Aurélio, Álvaro Arbeloa, Emiliano Insúa, Liverpool defense seems to be very balanced and strong. No doubt, Carragher must play a big role in their back line with supports from Hyypia, Agger and Aurélio. They have some quality goalkeepers in Pepe Reina and Diego Cavalieri. Overall, Liverpool squad seems to be very strong, skill and features young, talented players as well as experienced players.

Chelsea

Chelsea is last year’s losing finalists in Champions League and they are still very much active to win their first ever Champions League title the history. Just couple of months ago, Chelsea was struggling with form that ultimately resulted into the sacking of former manager Luiz Felipe Scolari. Since Dutch manager Guus Hiddink took over as Chelsea boss, Chelsea’s fate started to turn around. The Blues have won each and every game they have played under Hiddink. Chelsea progressed into the quarter final of Champions league defeating Juventus 3-2 on aggregate. Chelsea’s confidence under the guidance of former South Korea and Portugal coach Hiddink has been increased.

Chelsea has a number of reasons behind their revitalized form. First of all, their prime striker Didier Drogba has been players very close to his top form over the last few weeks, while French striker Nicolas Anelka has been in excellent form so far this season. Drogba has been scoring very consistently and has been instrumental behind their revitalized form. Chelsea stands second in the league table only on goal different, but still four points behind the leader Manchester United. However, they are still very much active in the premier league title race. Chelsea as a team has shown extensive prospect in the last one month and that is what seems to be a positive sign for the Blues.

Hiddink is playing both Anelka and Drogba together in the up front and the strategy has worked very well for them so far. Both the strikers are in good form and Chelsea does not have any problem in scoring now. Moreover, playmaker Michael Essien has recently returned after six months out injured and this is another most important thing that you must count while considering Chelsea’s chances in Europe this season. To many, Essien now deserves a place among the Chelsea legends because of his contribution to the success of the West London club since 2002. Now that, Essien is back in the squad, Chelsea midfield seems to be more creative and strong and the whole team is expected to be more confident.

Besides Essien, Chelsea has some other skilled midfielders likes Frank Lampard, Michael Ballack, Florent Malouda, Deco and Joe Cole. Hiddink has a number of options in the midfield positions and this is another positive sign for the Blues. Essien and Lampard are the two biggest assets in Chelsea midfield who can produce match defining passes for the strikers.

When a team features defenders like John Terry and Ricardo Carvalho in the middle of the defense, you must agree that their defense is one of the bests. No doubt, the combination of Terry and Carvalho has been instrumental behind Chelsea’s successes for a long time now. Chelsea also has two quality full backs in Ashley Cole and Jose Bosingwa whose skill and talent go very well with the big club status of Chelsea. Most importantly, Chelsea has a goalkeeper in Petr Cech who is definitely one of the best in Europe at this moment.

I must say that Chelsea as a squad has been depleted following the departure of a number of players since last Summer. Still, the current squad is very balanced and dangerous for any opposition. The kind of quality Chelsea squad features, I think, they deserve to be at least in the semi final of Champions league this season.

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