IT is a rivalry that is unique in English, and perhaps even, world football. Unlike many derbies in Britain, this one is not born out of locality or a history of distinguished clashes in the 20th century. It has not originated – much like Manchester United and Arsenal’s feud – from a prolonged battle for the league title, nor is there an extensive history of fan violence between the two clubs. Yet, Liverpool and Chelsea have developed an enmity for each other which few clubs in England’s top flight can match.
When speaking on Sky Sports in late 2017, John Terry referred to the battles between the clubs as ‘hatred’, while Jamie Carragher said: “Chelsea became like a derby game. It became alongside United and Everton, maybe even above United. Sometimes I used to watch United and Chelsea and I’d want United to win, that’s how much Chelsea used to wind me up.”
The duo, of course, were two of the main protagonists for their clubs between 2004-2009, during which time the Reds and the Blues met on 24 occasions. Yet in that era, the pair’s league meetings added little fuel to a fire that would burn so intensely. Instead, it was their reoccurring cup matches that resulted in the showdowns which are now a thing of folklore, and transformed the fixture into a titanic clash of European super clubs. Of course there were subplots, such as managerial strife, differing club values and one of the most famous ‘nearly transfers’ of all time.
Liverpool may be Chelsea’s biggest rivals in the Roman Abramovich era, but the irony is that they played such an influential role in the Russian’s investment in west London. The clubs met on the final day of the 2002/03 season, both needing three points to qualify for the Champions League. The Blues emerged victorious in the game billed as ‘the £20 million match’ and ultimately convinced Abramovich to invest in the club after reportedly deliberating between several teams.
Aptly, the first game after the ‘Russian Revolution’ took place at Anfield, where a late Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink strike gave the visitors all three points. Both sides finished in the top four that season and secured their place in the Champions League. It also marked the end of the road for the clubs’ managers, with Gerard Houllier and Claudio Ranieri being replaced by Rafa Benitez and Jose Mourinho.
The duo arrived in England with admirable records, and both had just guided their sides to European glory. Benitez managed to twice snatch the La Liga title from the clutches of Real Madrid and Barcelona, while also winning the 2004 UEFA Cup with Valencia. Mourinho on the other hand, had improbably led FC Porto to Champions League glory, as well as a Portuguese title. So high was their stock at the time, the Independent’s Miguel Delaney has since claimed that in 2004 they were: “the two brightest young coaches in continental football.” The pair were tactically-astute and revolutionised the Premier League by deploying three men in centre-midfield and introducing grounded defensive-midfielders. Today these are common place in English football but their origins owe much to the ingenuity of Benitez and Mourinho.
Their prior success also meant that they arrived in England with a justified arrogance and self-belief that often results in conflict, and they almost instantly developed a mutual disdain for each other. They were both winners and both expected to continue this in the Premier League. It was simple, anyone who got in their way would be subject to the wrath of both managers, and Benitez and Mourinho’s paths so often crossed it became farcical. Their rivalry was also born from Mourinho’s anger that he was reportedly overlooked for the Liverpool job in 2004, with the Anfield hierarchy instead opting for Benitez. Had the ‘Special One’ got his desired job the landscape of English football could, and would, be very different today.
However, when Benitez and Mourinho first locked horns it was somewhat anti-climactic, with Chelsea winning 1-0 in a scrappy affair. The Blues triumphed by the same scoreline again when the sides met three months later. However, this tie was fraught with the type of controversy that produced such enmity between the sides. Frank Lampard’s first-half tackle resulted in Xabi Alonso fracturing his ankle, and to the fury of the Kop, the England international escaped with just a yellow card.
As a result, Liverpool were without Alonso when they travelled to Cardiff for the League Cup final eight weeks later, where they once again faced Chelsea. Benitez attempted to stoke the fire ahead of the game, by claiming the pressure was on Chelsea, and initially it seemed to be the case as Liverpool took an early lead thanks to a sensational John Arne Riise strike. Liverpool held on for most of the match, but in the 79th minute tragedy struck as Gerrard – who it was known at the time was a long-term transfer target for Chelsea – accidentally headed into his own goal.
Liverpool fans ire was amplified by Mourinho’s celebration to the goal. The Blues boss put a finger to his lips and walked past an irate sea of red, appearing to suggest they remain silent, although some speculated it was in response to Benitez’s pre-match comments. Mourinho was banished to the stands, but the Blues rallied in his absence, and extra-time goals from Didier Drogba and Mateja Kezman secured the first silverware of the Abramovich era.
It was not the last meeting between the sides that season however, as they were paired again in the semi-final of the Champions League. At the time this was unprecedented. No English teams had ever been drawn together in the Champions League, and only once before had it occurred in the European Cup. This also marked the first occasion that two sides from the Premier League had ever made it to the semi-final stage in the same season.
For Liverpool, the game marked an opportunity to reinstate themselves as a force in European football. The club had a long history with the competition and had previously won it on four occasions. Yet, the Heysel Disaster had resulted in the disqualification of all English sides from European competitions, and the Reds had failed to seriously compete in the Champions League since its formation in 1992. For Chelsea, it was less of a case of reinstating themselves, than demonstrating they were indeed a top European side. Abramovich hoped to round off an incredible two years, which would have seen him construct an all-conquering ‘super club’ from relatively little.
When the sides met at Stamford Bridge in late April 2005, it was a remarkably open affair, despite the traditionally defensive-mindset of Benitez and Mourinho. Lampard and Drogba spurned early opportunities for the hosts, while Petr Cech had to make several key saves, resulting incredibly, in the game finishing goalless. The following leg at Anfield came just three days after Chelsea secured their first league title in 50 years. In reality, few fancied Liverpool. Mourinho’s men were undoubtedly the better side (as highlighted by the 33 point gap between the teams that year) and despite Liverpool’s plucky effort in the first leg, it was widely assumed that Chelsea would come out on top, just as they had done all season.
However, as summed up by the Liverpool Echo’s Neil Jones, that evening would go down as “perhaps the greatest Anfield night of the modern era.” Jamie Carragher wrote in his autobiography, “Nothing I had experienced compared to the evening of 3 May 2005. The fans turned up believing we were going to win. Now we felt it too, and the Chelsea players couldn’t avoid being affected by the surge of absolute conviction coming from the stands.”
The game, of course, was fraught with controversy and Luis Garcia’s fourth-minute tap-in – the only goal of the night – is still revered by Liverpool fans and disregarded by Chelsea supporters. Mourinho infamously described it as the ‘ghost goal’ and chastised the linesman for awarding it. “The best team lost and didn’t deserve to lose,” he said after the match. “After they (Liverpool) scored only one team played, the other one just defended for the whole game.
Yet, Benitez didn’t care. He had guided Liverpool to the Champions League final and outsmarted his nemesis on the way. Of course, Liverpool famously won the competition in the most dramatic fashion. In Benitez and Mourinho’s first season in England the pair had won three trophies, and almost overnight established themselves as England’s top teams alongside Manchester United and Arsenal. In fact, the emergence of Liverpool and Chelsea as elite sides displaced the entrenched strangle-hold Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger had enjoyed on domestic honours.
Yet a three-month break did nothing to improve relations between the clubs, as the Gerrard transfer saga came to a head in the summer of 2005. Just weeks after the Liverpool captain masterminded that incredible comeback in Istanbul, it was announced he would swap Merseyside for the capital. Of course, Gerrard reversed his decision at the 11th hour, but the incident only exacerbated the ill-will between the clubs. Liverpool fans felt aggrieved that Chelsea had tried to use their financial power to bully the Reds into selling their prize asset, while Chelsea felt let down by Gerrard’s late change of heart, and often jeered him in the clubs’ subsequent meetings. “Chelsea fans are not my people. We’ve all worked that out,” the former Liverpool skipper wrote in his 2016 autobiography.
Both clubs headed into the new season with renewed vigour and aspirations. Benitez had vast room for improvement in the league, while Mourinho wanted another swipe at the Europe’s top prize. Given the Gerrard saga and dramatic clashes of the previous campaign, the upcoming Liverpool v Chelsea meetings were eagerly anticipated. Remarkably, their next skirmish would once again come in the Champions League. Despite being the reigning European champions, Liverpool were forced to qualify for the 2005/06 edition of the tournament as they finished outside the qualification places in the previous season, and therefore, were not seeded as an English side in the group stage.
In truth, these unique European ties produced two dour games, as Benitez and Mourinho largely cancelled each other out, and both ended scoreless. The major talking point form these fixtures was Michael Essien’s horror tackle on Dietmar Hamann in the second leg, which incensed the Liverpool bench. Once again, Benitez came out on top overall in Europe, and Liverpool just pipped Chelsea to first-place in the group.
Yet in the league, Mourinho was still the specialist. In 2005/06 he became only the second-ever manager to successfully retain the Premier League title, finishing eight points better off that second-placed Manchester United, and nine ahead of Liverpool. Chelsea again prevailed in both league meetings between the clubs, the first of which took place just four days after a 0-0 draw in the Champions League, a game that saw Benitez criticise what he viewed as negative tactics from Chelsea.
Mourinho was incensed, and Chelsea demolished the Reds 4-1, in a rare high-scoring meeting between the clubs. After the game Mourinho responded to Benitez’s statements saying: “They (Liverpool) have to defend or wait for a mistake and a goal. When they play against us face to face they can’t win.” The sides’ second league meeting of the season, which Chelsea won 2-0, was also marred with controversy, as Liverpool’s Pepe Reina was sent off for pushing Arjen Robben in the face. The Dutch winger certainly made the most of the incident, causing Benitez to sarcastically state that he was on his way to visit Robben in the hospital after the match.
Tensions were perhaps at all time high when the pair met in the 2006 FA Cup semi-final. For Liverpool, this was their only chance to win silverware that season, whereas Mourinho was aiming to become one of the few managers to win the league and cup double. However, Benitez once again found a way to outfox the ‘Special One’, with Liverpool winning 2-1. Luis Garcia – Liverpool’s match-winner in the Champions League a year before – once again proved to be the Blues’ undoing, as his second-half volley was ultimately the difference between the sides. Cameras immediately panned to Gerrard at full-time, the man who so nearly joined Chelsea in the summer, but instead stayed, and would inspire Liverpool to victory in the final a few weeks later.
Yet Mourinho still had one parting shot at the Reds after the game, saying: “Did the best team win? I don’t think so. In a one-off game maybe they will surprise me and they can do it. In the Premiership the distance between the teams is 45 points over two seasons.” The reality at the time was that few could argue with his statement. Chelsea were possibly the best side in Europe during Mourinho’s first two years at the Bridge and Liverpool’s numerous shortcomings were highlighted over a 38-game season.
The Reds’ squad lacked depth and real quality. Hypothetically, only Carragher, Gerrard and Alonso could have competed for a place in Mourinho’s team. In comparison, when the sides met in February 2006, Paulo Ferreira and Shaun Wright-Phillips were not even included in the Chelsea squad. Despite the gulf in class, Benitez managed to outsmart Mourinho in their various cup clashes. He unlike so many managers at the time, found a way to silence Lampard, Robben, Drogba and co, and knew his team could steal a goal at the other end. This also fuelled their animosity. Mourinho was envious of Benitez’s cup record against him, while the Spaniard resented Chelsea’s ability to perform at their optimum throughout the entirety of a Premier League season. Both managers also truly believed they were better than the other. “His (Benitez’s) quote was ‘Abramovich is the ‘Special One’’, he saw Mourinho as his equal.” Carragher claimed in late 2017.
Of course, Chelsea’s domestic dominance during that period was heavily dependent on their owner’s unprecedented spending. In Mourinho’s first two seasons as Chelsea boss his outlays amounted to nearly £150m, whereas Liverpool’s spending in that time was just over half of that figure. Naturally, this led to accusations by those on Merseyside that Chelsea were an ‘artificial club’, built by Abramovich’s millions rather than endeavour, resourcefulness and character, qualities which Liverpudlians pride themselves on.
Liverpool, a club built by greats such as Bill Shankly, Kenny Dalglish and Ian Rush, had the most impressive history of any side in the country and viewed Chelsea as a stain on English football. As Jamie Carragher claimed in his autobiography, “To our supporters, Chelsea as a football club characterised everything they despised. Their approach seemed as much about belittling everyone else as promoting themselves. They represented the opposite of all I believed in.” For their part, Chelsea viewed Liverpool as a club obsessed with the past rather than the present, and felt that others were simply envious of their ability to spend outlandish sums of money.
Chelsea’s controversial transfer policy was in the spotlight again during the summer of 2006.The Blues secured the services of Ashley Cole from Arsenal, a year after being found guilty of ‘tapping up’ the player. John Obi Mikel’s arrival was also contentious, having previously signed a contract with Manchester United. Mourinho splashed out £30m to bring Andriy Shevchenko to the Bridge, as well as adding Michael Ballack, Salomon Kalou and Khalid Boulahrouz to his ranks. Liverpool in contrast, spent less than £25m on Dirk Kuyt, Craig Bellamy and Jermaine Pennant.
Several of these players made their debut in the 2006 Community Shield, where Benitez again got the better of Mourinho in a cup competition. The game also highlighted the evident discord between the managers, as they refused to shake hands upon its conclusion. Liverpool’s victory, while not as symbolic and significant as cup semi-finals, was still celebrated by their fans given the clubs’ rivalry. It was business as usual however, when they met again in the Premier League. Drogba’s phenomenal strike was the only goal of the game and despite it only being September put the Blues eight points ahead of Liverpool in the league. Ballack provided an obligatory moment of controversy as he was sent off for a stamp on Liverpool’s Mohamed Sissoko.
Liverpool did manage to end the Blues’ five-game winning streak against them when they met in February 2007. Goals from Kuyt and Pennant proved to be a significant blow to Chelsea’s title aspirations, in a season which would ultimately see them toppled by Manchester United. Unsurprisingly, Mourinho attributed the defeat to the Blues’ fragilities following numerous injuries, rather than an impressive Liverpool performance.
Inevitably in this era, this was not their last meeting of the season, and they were again drawn together in the Champions League semi-final. The first leg, at Stamford Bridge, saw Chelsea win 1-0 thanks to Joe Cole’s first-half effort. In truth, the Reds were lucky to escape with just a one-goal deficit and Chelsea were determined to exact revenge for the 2005 defeat at Anfield.
In the build-up to the reverse fixture, the two managers once again waged a war of words, with Mourinho referring to Liverpool as a ‘cup team’ and highlighting how the Reds had again failed to compete for the Premier League title. In response Benitez said: “I’m sure Chelsea do not like playing Liverpool. When they are talking and talking and talking before the game, it means they are worried. Maybe they’re afraid?” He also claimed that Liverpool fans were the ‘Special Ones’ and criticised Chelsea for handing out flags before the previous tie.
The second leg was perhaps the most tense and dramatic of all Liverpool/Chelsea showdowns during that time. Daniel Agger put the home side ahead midway through the first-half from a well worked set-piece routine. Both teams had chances to finish the game, Drogba and Gerrard in particular coming close, but after 90 minutes the score remained 1-1 on aggregate forcing extra-time, and eventually penalties.
It proved to be another famous European night at Anfield – made all the more memorable by Benitez, who sat cross-legged in the technical area during the spot-kicks as he watched Reina save from Robben and Geremi, ensuring Liverpool progressed to the final. “We’ve got to two European Cup finals in three years now, not bad for a little club, eh?” a gleeful Steven Gerrard said at full-time, in response to Mourinho’s pre-match jibes. The Chelsea boss again managed to upset Benitez after the game by claiming the Blues were the better side, a comment hotly refuted by the Spaniard.
However, it would ultimately be the last meaningful clash between the two protagonists in this rivalry. Despite winning the FA and League Cup in 2006, there were mounting rumours that Mourinho and Abramovich’s relationship had soured and within weeks of the start of the 2006/07 season, the ‘Special One’ departed the club. While the Liverpool/Chelsea rivalry developed due to their on-the-field clashes, the behind-the-scenes wrangles between the two managers were an added subplot.
As summed up by Miguel Delaney: “Benitez resented how Mourinho had all that money, that allowed him to win more trophies, and because he was then so loved by the media. Mourinho resented that Benitez had got the job he was rejected for, and because the Liverpool boss then had the best record of any manager against him. Plus, they just wound each other up.”
In his first spell at the Bridge, Mourinho impressively won major five trophies. In that time he was only prevented from winning silverware on seven occasions, and remarkably, three of these occurred at the hands of Liverpool. In that time, Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger struggled to compete with this young, innovative figure. Benitez, on the other hand, found a way to regularly outmanoeuvre his foe with a vastly inferior side and resources. While the rivalry did not die with Mourinho’s departure, the absence of this discord between the two bosses did remove an enthralling aspect of the clubs’ mutual enmity.
They did have one final showdown, a 1-1 draw in August 2007, which saw a newly-acquired Fernando Torres – who would write his own personal chapter in this rivalry – net his first goal for the Reds, only to see it cancelled out by Frank Lampard in the second-half. It was another highly-contested battle between the two that saw nine yellow yards and several dubious refereeing decisions. When they next locked horns in the league, Avram Grant was in the Chelsea dugout. However, a change in manager made little difference in the gritty nature of the tie and both teams played out a 0-0 draw.
In between the league meetings, the clubs met at the quarter-final stage of the League Cup. While Benitez largely enjoyed the upper hand against Mourinho in these situations, Grant’s Chelsea managed to easily dispose of Liverpool 2-0. It would, of course, not be their final encounter of the season and after both sides progressed to the Champions League semi-finals where they once again were paired together. Incredulously, this was the fourth season in a row that the clubs met five times and that they had faced-off in the semi-final of a cup competition.
In the first leg, Liverpool were the dominant side, yet were left to rue missed opportunities after Riise’s own goal in the fifth minute of injury time meant the game finished 1-1. Ahead of the return fixture Benitez controversially accused Drogba of diving. “With Drogba it’s important to have a good referee,” he said. Inevitably, it was the Ivorian who opened the scoring at Stamford Bridge, before Torres equalised and brought the tie to extra time. Surprisingly, this 30-minute period produced three goals, as Lampard and Drogba netted for Chelsea, rendering Ryan Babel’s late goal irrelevant.
Like many of the classic encounters between the clubs, so much rested on the midfield over these two-legged clashes. In both ties Chelsea lined-up with Lampard, Makelele and Ballack, who were combated by Liverpool’s Gerrard, Mascherano and Alonso. All six were supremely talented players and were capable of grinding out results, something which is vital in these crucial games. Despite the array of foreign talent in the two teams, both were anchored around their talismanic English leaders: Gerrard and Lampard.
The duo would regularly provide moments of magic which could decide the outcome of a match. Both of course, somewhat controversially partnered each other in centre-midfield for England during that period, where it was often claimed that so great was their rivalry at club level, it hindered their relationship on the international stage. Despite playing the same position the duo executed their roles in different manners. Gerrard was a box-to-box player with a superb range of passing, whereas Lampard was a prolific goal scorer whose runs were second to none. Their contrasting styles meant the debate around which player was better was regularly discussed in workplaces and schools throughout the country.
When the sides next met in the 2008/09 season it was once again decided by a midfield maestro. Xabi Alonso’s deflected strike ensured a 1-0 win for Liverpool at Stamford Bridge, on a day that ended a remarkable run of run of 86 home league games without a defeat for the Blues. The result demonstrated how much Chelsea’s standards had dropped since Mourinho’s departure just over a year ago. Yet his replacement, Grant, was no longer in charge at the Bridge, having paid the price for a ‘poor’ season in 2007/08, which saw Chelsea finish as runners-up in the league and losing finalists in the Champions League and League Cup.
In his place the club appointed former World Cup winning manager, Luiz Felipe Scolari, but in truth it never worked out for the Brazilian. One of his final afternoons as Chelsea boss came in February 2009, when a late Torres double ensured Liverpool’s took six points off their rivals for the first time in the Abramovich era – on a day that saw seven yellow cards and Lampard dismissed for a tackle on Alonso. While Chelsea’s stock may have been at its lowest since the Russian’s takeover in 2004, Liverpool were flying and dreaming of that elusive Premier League crown.
Yet that season followed a similar script for the Reds; their title tilt eventually wilted, Manchester United usurped them, and they faced Chelsea in the latter stages of the Champions League. Absurdly this was the fifth year in a row that the great rivals were drawn together in the Champions League, but rather than their regular semi-final meeting, on this occasion they were instead paired in the last eight of the competition. When the clubs did draw swords again in April, Guus Hiddink had replaced Scolari and had steadied the ship in West London. In the first leg, the Dutchman managed to do what few in the history of European football have achieved: a win at Anfield. A double from Ivanovic and Drogba’s neat finish meant that the Blues won 3-1 in another blockbuster instalment.
It perhaps demonstrates how strong Liverpool’s affinity with the Champions League is that many of their supporters wholeheartedly expected them to overhaul this margin in the reverse fixture. At half time, their belief appeared to be vindicated as Liverpool were 2-0 ahead, only for it to be dashed in the second period as Chelsea scored three without reply. In Europe however, Benitez’s side could never be ruled out and the dream was alive again after Lucas and Kuyt scored, meaning the away side were just one goal away from qualifying. A goal did come, but heartbreakingly for the Reds, Lampard’s second strike of the night ensured Chelsea progressed after an absorbing 4-4 draw.
The 24th meeting between the sides in just five years proved to be the most entertaining spectacle they ever produced, and highlighted just how much had changed since the tense encounters between Benitez and Mourinho. Chelsea in particular, developed quickly into an offense powerhouse, and just a year later registered a then Premier League record of 103 goals in a single season.
The 4-4 draw also marked the end of Liverpool and Chelsea’s great European feud. The 2008/09 season did see personal highs for Benitez – such as a record points tally of 86 and finishing above Chelsea for the first time under his stewardship – but he could not maintain it. While the Blues were so dominant the following year, Liverpool floundered. They crashed out of the Champions League at the group stage and struggled with the loss of Alonso to Real Madrid. Boardroom instability and poor recruitment meant that Liverpool slipped outside of the Champions League places in 2010 for the first time in five years, finishing seventh, and bringing to an end the established top four.
It was evidently time for a change on Merseyside, and Benitez departed the club that summer. His last game at Anfield of course, coming against Chelsea. Perhaps more than any other indicator, the fact that Liverpool and Chelsea only met twice that season (with the Blues winning both games 2-0) highlighted how far the Reds had dropped behind their rivals. By the 2010/11 campaign many of the characters who had over the years left such indelible marks on this fixture, had departed their respective clubs. Chelsea lost Makelele, Carvalho and Ballack in that period, as Riise, Alonso, Hyypia and Mascherano departed Anfield.
While the rivalry somewhat fizzled out in the early 2010s, it did not completely die. The Torres transfer of 2011 rekindled some of that burning passion between the sides, as did Luis Suarez’s infamous bite on Ivanovic two seasons later. There were of course a few cup clashes along the way, but they were few and far between compared to the incessant meetings in preceding years. A pulsating FA Cup final in 2012 and a controversial two-legged League Cup semi-final three years later – that saw Diego Costa retrospectively punished for a stamp on Martin Skrtel – only served to remind Liverpool and Chelsea fans of what had been under Benitez and Mourinho.
It is perhaps a testament of how strong the rivalry was between the club that Benitez and Mourinho have continued to lock horns over the years. Ironically, after leaving Liverpool the Spaniard replaced Mourinho at Inter Milan in 2010. Yet his next managerial move shocked the footballing world, as he temporarily took charge at Stamford Bridge. Unsurprisingly, the Chelsea fans failed to accept Benitez, despite guiding the Blues to Europa League glory, and he was often booed by his own supporters. As fate would have it, he was replaced at the end of the season by Mourinho, who returned to Chelsea for a second time in 2013. “I don’t want to win the Europa League. It would be a big disappointment for me, I don’t want my players to feel the Europa League is our competition,” Mourinho said upon his appointment, just weeks after Benitez had claimed he lacked sportsmanship.
And it was with Mourinho at the helm that Chelsea managed to deal Liverpool perhaps the greatest blow in their recent history. Their showdown in 2014 evoked the clashes of yesteryear, which Neil Jones has described as “a big game, a big occasion, for big hearts and big characters to provide big moments.” Unfortunately for Liverpool fans, the big moment was Gerrard’s infamous slip, which perhaps prevented the Reds from winning the Premier League title. For the Liverpool skipper it was an unjust and cruel blow, especially against the side that he so nearly joined nearly a decade previously. Mourinho’s touchline antics highlighted just how much it meant to get one over on his old rivals, as did his claims months later that Liverpool had wanted them to be ‘clowns in the circus’.
Gerrard left Liverpool the following season, with one last parting shot to the Chelsea fans. “I’m not going to get drawn into wishing Chelsea fans well. It was nice of them to turn up for once today,” he said in May 2015, a day when he was mocked for his slip by the home fans at Stamford Bridge. Terry, like Gerrard, netted on that day and his departure from Chelsea last summer saw the last player from of those epic European clashes leave the respective clubs.
Yet, for all the furore and emotion that accompanied those games in the mid-to-late ‘00s, both sets of fans reflect fondly on that era. Neither side have enjoyed such a prolonged period of success – certainly in Europe – since those days. During a time when the established European powerhouses became ‘super clubs’, Liverpool and Chelsea expanded together, and although coming from different backgrounds they simultaneously grew from the shadows of Manchester United and Arsenal’s dominance. It was a rivalry that could not have developed in any other era of football, as its’ origin stemmed from those great European nights, that were full of passion, desire, and essentially hatred. By their very nature, cup clashes can only result in a winner and loser, which amplified the excitement and significance of the occasion. While meetings between title contenders are often crucial, they are not truly decisive given that so many other games must be played before a winner is determined.
It also isn’t just Liverpool and Chelsea fans who recall those clashes affectionately. This was a time when England and the Premier League ruled the continent and between 2005-2012, only one Champions League final didn’t involve an English team. Those titanic showdowns between Liverpool and Chelsea were as much a demonstration of the quality of the Premier League as it was how strong Benitez and Mourinho’s sides were. The fixture may have slipped in stature over the past decade (they have only been paired together in cups once in the last six years) but its significance to both sets of supporters has not been lost. From shushes to ghost goals, transfer sagas to slips, these fans have seen it all, and certainly have not forgotten.