There was a time in English football when Chelsea and Liverpool seemed to be facing off every other week. In the five years between October 2004 and October 2009, the two clubs locked horns no fewer than 25 times. As well as the Premier League, the sides jostled in the Community Shield, FA Cup, League Cup and Champions League.
Some of the most memorable clashes came in the latter competition, although most European ties between them were tight, tense tactical affairs rather than feasts of attacking football. After one such game in the 2006/07 semi-finals, former Real Madrid manager Jorge Valdano made his feelings clear.
“Football is made up of subjective feeling, of suggestion – and, in that, Anfield is unbeatable,” he wrote in Marca after Liverpool triumphed on penalties following a 1-1 aggregate draw. “Put a shit hanging from a stick in the middle of this passionate, crazy stadium and there are people who will tell you it’s a work of art. It’s not: it’s a shit hanging from a stick.
Liverpool’s shoot-out victory that night meant they had now knocked Chelsea out of the Champions League at the semi-final stage on two occasions. The west London outfit enacted a measure of revenge the following season, though, beating Liverpool 4-3 on aggregate to reach the final, where they lost on penalties to Manchester United.
Remarkably the two teams were drawn against each other once again in 2008/09, this time in the quarter-finals. Liverpool were still managed by Rafael Benitez, who had taken charge of all their previous Champions League meetings with Chelsea, who were bossed by Guus Hiddink following Luiz Felipe Scolari’s sacking two months earlier.
It was Liverpool who drew first blood in the first leg, Fernando Torres opening the scoring six minutes in. However, Chelsea were celebrating by the end of that night, as Didier Drogba’s goal and an unlikely brace from Branislav Ivanovic gave them a 3-1 lead heading into the second match at Stamford Bridge. Liverpool, who were without Steven Gerrard through injury, had a mountain to climb.
However, anyone who had watched the Reds play in Europe in the previous few seasons knew better than to write them off. And anyone expecting a comfortable evening for Chelsea were soon made to think again, as Benitez’s side took the lead through Fabio Aurelio, who did superbly to sneak a free-kick into the near post when Petr Cech – and everyone else on the pitch – stood waiting for a cross.
Liverpool then made it 2-0 in the 28th minute, Xabi Alonso coolly converting from the penalty spot to level the scores on aggregate. At this stage Chelsea were still in the lead on away goals, but the momentum was firmly with the visitors to west London with an hour left on the clock.
Chelsea made it to half-time without conceding again, though, and then proceeded to wrestle back control after the interval. First, Didier Drogba halved the deficit on the night, squeezing the ball home from a tight angle with help from Pepe Reina, then Alex wiped it out with a stunning free-kick. When Frank Lampard made it 3-2 on the night and 6-3 on aggregate in the 76th minute, Liverpool looked dead and buried.
They were not, though, and there were still more twists and turns to come at Stamford Bridge. Lucas Leiva gave the visitors hope with a deflected strike five minutes after Lampard’s close-range effort, before a Dirk Kuyt header in front of the travelling Liverpool fans gave Benitez’s men a 4-3 advantage on the night. With the away goals rule in play, one more from the Reds would be sufficient to secure their place in the last four. They had seven minutes left to get it.
That, in the end, was not quite enough time. In fact it was Chelsea who grabbed the game’s all-important eighth goal, Lampard locating the top corner from just inside the penalty area to put the tie beyond Liverpool once and for all. The Blues lost to Barcelona in the next round, but this is a night they still remember 12 years on.