Geographically and ideologically, Liverpool and Chelsea are separated by miles, yet as both sides prepare for Saturday’s FA Cup final, they could hardly be more well acquainted with each other.
They say familiarity breeds contempt, but where Liverpool and Chelsea are concerned, the 30 meetings between the sides in the last eight years has led to a rivalry that has descended rather rapidly into intense hatred.
It’s not just the fans of both clubs and the arguments over history, tradition and money that recall the historic recent meetings between red and blue.
Everybody remembers the controversy and drama (and sometimes tedium) of the Rafael Benitez and Jose Mourinho era: a Chelsea Carling Cup victory, a Liverpool FA Cup semi-final victory and two Merseyside triumphs in the Champions League semi-finals are all among the most memorable matches of the last decade and the edge between the managers has cast a shadow over the fixture that still remains.
For Liverpool, those days of European glory nights are long gone and next season will be the third consecutive season without Champions League football at Anfield.
Of course, Chelsea don’t look like qualifying from their league position either (although, as Liverpool found in 2005, winning the thing renders that irrelevant) but their recent fortunes have been much more favourable than Liverpool, who, as this week’s annual accounts suggest, still have some way to go before they are going to be competitive in a manner the fans crave.
It makes Saturday’s FA Cup final all the more significant for Liverpool. A season of woeful underachievement for Kenny Dalglish in the Premier League has been masked by success in both domestic cups, with the Carling Cup already in the cabinet to end a six-year trophy drought.
Still, the Merseysiders are underdogs on Saturday and with Chelsea understandable favourites to win in 90 minutes at 7/5, what is Liverpool’s best chance of securing an unlikely cup double?
Much depends on Dalglish’s team selection. He must bite the bullet and make sure Andy Carroll – the polar opposite of quick, clever and incisive – is not in the starting 11.
I say unlikely because as anyone who has watched Liverpool this season can tell you, the idea that they are a team who are on the brink of winning two trophies seems absurd.
In fact, you don’t even have to have watched them, because the statistics tell you everything: just 43 league goals scored all season, just five home wins and nine defeats on the road should, I suggest, have Dalglish worrying for his job regardless of Saturday’s result. Fenway Sports Group didn’t buy the club to finish halfway down the league, that is for sure.
Yet the cups have been kind, with Chelsea, Everton, Manchester United and Manchester City all beaten. So which Liverpool will turn up?
Much depends on Dalglish’s team selection. Liverpool have beaten Chelsea twice this season and the first game will surely be in Dalglish’s mind: Luis Suarez, Maxi Rodriguez and particularly Craig Bellamy (not for the first time) gave the Chelsea defence a torrid time with quick, clever and incisive movement and Dalglish must bite the bullet and make sure Andy Carroll – the polar opposite of quick, clever and incisive – is not in the starting 11.
Without knowing at this stage though, the 39/20 on a Liverpool win in 90 minutes doesn’t tempt me against a Chelsea side that before Wednesday’s reverse against Newcastle had only lost one of 16 matches under Roberto di Matteo.
Neither side are keeping clean sheets (Chelsea have just five under Di Matteo, Liverpool have just three in the last 17) so I expect goals. But as we know, Liverpool don’t score many and with a score draw a possibility in my eyes, the best way to punt on Liverpool is for them to win after the 90 minutes.
Seven of Liverpool’s nine major finals since the turn of the millennium have gone to extra time, with four of those going to penalties.
Liverpool won seven of those matches and all four of the shoot-outs and seem to have a habit of being involved in epic showpiece occasions.
With the odds looking pretty big – 9/1 for a penalty shoot-out win, 12/1 for an extra time victory – it is worth a punt as it could well be another one of those marathon afternoons for Liverpool.
Recommended bet: Liverpool to win on penalties @ 10/1
Outside punt: Liverpool to win in extra time @ 11/1
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