The Joy of Six vs Chelsea
The Joy of Six: great Chelsea v Liverpool moments and matches
Half a dozen enthralling games, from a post-war 7-4 hammering to probably the most valuable 2-1 win ever
1) Liverpool 7-4 Chelsea (First Division, September 1946)
Arsène Wenger invented broccoli and water in the late 1990s, but he wasn't the first football manager to recognise the importance of a good diet for his players. In 1946, the Liverpool boss, George Kay, took his side on a pre-season tour of the US, partly to get them fit, but mainly to get them fat. He was working on the advice of his chairman, Bill McConnell, a Merseyside cafeteria owner who had visited the States the year before to pick up tips on industrial catering for the Ministry of Food. Britain was still on rations, and McConnell reasoned that if he could bring his players over "to play a few games while sampling American malted milks and ice cream, American meats and vegetables, they'd go back to Liverpool and win the first division championship".
So Liverpool's previously scrawny squad bulked up, the players putting an average of half a stone each on to frames ravaged by the war. The extra energy helped the team to announce their title challenge early, with this walloping of a strong Chelsea built around the England forward Len Goulden. Billy Liddell and Bob Paisley made their Liverpool debuts, and tore Chelsea apart again and again down the left, Liddell with skill and pace, Paisley causing bother with his tough tackling and Delapesque throw-ins. They were 6-0 up after 50 minutes. Notice had been served, and at the business end of the season, after being shocked by second-division Burnley in the FA Cup semi-final, Liverpool won six of their last seven games to pip Wolves and Stanley Matthews's Stoke to the title, both teams by then running on empty. Kay would always reference the "good food" on the US trip as a crucial factor in his team's championship success.
Chelsea would end the season in lower mid-table, though it hadn't been for any lack of ambition: Goulden had been joined early in the season by Tommy Walker, who had scored 279 goals in 253 appearances for Hearts, and superstar striker Tommy Lawton. "Soccer is going to be big business indeed," reported the Guardian in the wake of Walker's capture. "Big transfer deals are inevitable." Liverpool had joined Chelsea by splurging in the market too, landing Albert Stubbins, the darling of … Newcastle United. The more things change, and all that.
2) Liverpool 2-0 Chelsea (FA Cup semi-final, March 1965)
Despite a meagre trophy haul of one League Cup during the 1960s, Chelsea define that swinging decade like few other football clubs. But why is this? A swashbuckling playing style, maybe? Their proximity to the Fashionable Kings Rahd™, perhaps? Or their willingness to engage in the sort of impossibly glamorous international espionage popularised at the time by the James Bond franchise?
"The name's Docherty. Tommy Docherty." It's a line the suave and sophisticated Chelsea manager may or may not have uttered upon inviting Ron Yeats and Ian St John into a Rotterdam hotel room for "a few beers", a couple of hours after Liverpool's victory in a 1965 European Cup quarter-final play-off against Cologne at the neutral De Kuip. What Docherty was doing in Holland that evening is anyone's guess, though it should be noted that Liverpool had just played 120 minutes of knife-edge football (eventually decided by the toss of a coin) and his Chelsea team were due to play them in an FA Cup semi-final three days later. A couple of looseners would no doubt further knacker the Liverpool duo ahead of the big game, and possibly trick them into revealing Shankly's tactics too. But Shankly had been keeping tabs on his players, and turned up to march Yeats and St John back by their ears to the Liverpool hotel, stopping only briefly to engage Docherty in a full and frank exchange of philosophical ideas.
Shankly had been doing a spot of snooping around himself, and had got his hands on a brochure designed in readiness for a Chelsea FA Cup final appearance, reportedly the handiwork of midfielder and future crime novelist Terry Venables. Pinning it up on the Villa Park dressing room wall ahead of the semi, he ordered his team to "stuff those wee cocky southern buggers". It was a diktat easier issued than executed: Chelsea – boasting Venables, Peter Bonetti, Eddie McCreadie, Bobby Tambling and Ron Harris – were top of the league and on for an unprecedented treble. But Liverpool triumphed with a wily display: sitting back to preserve themselves after their midweek exploits, they weathered a storm during which a John Mortimore header was controversially ruled out, then struck in the second half through a Peter Thompson solo effort and a Willie Stevenson penalty (the only spot kick he took for the club).
Whether presumptuous Chelsea, on their way back from Birmingham, got stuck into the champagne they'd taken with them in anticipation of victory, is not recorded. Liverpool went on to win their first FA Cup against Leeds in the final. Chelsea's league season fell flat, the Doc's side finishing third, but at least they would find some solace by winning the League Cup.
3) Chelsea 0-1 Liverpool (First Division, May 1986)
Docherty's team would gain a modicum of revenge for their 1965 semi-final defeat the season after, putting the holders out in the third round at Anfield, Peter Osgood the star man. Chelsea would win the next two FA Cup ties between the sides as well. In January 1978, Ken Shellito's unremarkable team thrashed the reigning European champions 4-2 at Stamford Bridge, with two from Clive Walker, sending Bob Paisley into an uncharacteristic funk. "Bloody pathetic we were," he hissed. "I'm not taking anything away from Chelsea, mind, but we went out with sawdust in our heads."
Four years later, John Neal's Chelsea were mired deep in the Second Division, yet did for the reigning European champions at Stamford Bridge, an even more stunning result. It was 2-0 this time, Peter Rhoades-Brown scoring early, the team then playing rope-a-dope, allowing Liverpool to come on to them before delivering a late Colin Lee sucker punch. Steve Francis, Chelsea's 17-year-old goalkeeper, made a stunning save from Terry McDermott, who also hit the bar, but otherwise didn't have to engage in any man-of-the-match antics. "They gave us all the field but tactically there was nothing we could do to break through," sighed Paisley, doomed never to win the cup.
The teams met in west London in the fourth round in 1986, but Chelsea – back in the top flight – couldn't make it four cup wins in a row. Injuries to Kerry Dixon and Colin Lee reduced John Hollins's team to 10 men just before the break – only one substitute allowed, remember – and quickfire goals from Ian Rush and Mark Lawrenson sealed the deal for Liverpool, despite David Speedie pulling one back. Just like 1965, Chelsea were in the hunt for the domestic treble, but it was all falling away. Defeat in the League Cup quarter-final to QPR followed. The Full Members Cup was won towards the end of March, with Chelsea still in touch at the top of the table, but they claimed nine points from their last 11 games and finished sixth.
Rubbing it in, Liverpool had won 10 of their last 11, and came to Stamford Bridge again on the final day of the season to claim the title, Kenny Dalglish chesting down Jim Beglin's clever dink down the inside-left channel and guiding it past Tony Godden. It was one of the most famous title-winning goals, the first half of a famous double sealed.
4) Chelsea 4-2 Liverpool (FA Cup, January 1997)
Chelsea's close but no cigar season of 1985-86 took the wind out of the club's sails; they were relegated two years later. They returned immediately, whereupon champions-elect Liverpool ran nine goals past them in two league matches, a 4-1 win at Anfield, a 5-2 drubbing at Stamford Bridge. But the Reds were about to fall from their perch, while Chelsea would spend the Nineties upwardly mobile. Liverpool's 1989-90 double over Chelsea would be their last in the league for 19 years. Like you'd have taken a price on that at the time.
As a rough rule, throughout the following decade and into the early years of the new millennium, games between this pair were a home banker on your pools coupon. Both clubs recorded big victories on their own patch, Liverpool giving Ruud Gullit's teams a couple of sexy thrashings (5-1 in 1996, 4-2 a year later), Chelsea tutoring Gérard Houllier in the ways of attack with successive 2-0, 3-0, and 4-0 wins between 2000 and 2001.
But it was a couple of Chelsea 4-2 victories that stood out. At the business end of 1990-91, late goals from Kerry Dixon – then a Real Madrid target – and Gordon Durie effectively ended the title challenge of a Liverpool side containing Jimmy Carter, David Burrows, Ronnie Rosenthal and David Speedie. Liverpool's failure to secure the league title seemed shocking at the time; in retrospect, they'd clearly overachieved with this shower just by finishing second.
Chelsea had helped to end Liverpool's reign at the top of English football, yet they still had a more painful blow to deliver. In January 1997, Roy Evans's attractive side came to Stamford Bridge for an FA Cup fourth round tie with justified confidence. They were top of the table and looking good for the title. The previous September at Anfield, Patrik Berger was the star in a 5-1 league win over an all-star Chelsea team – Gianluca Vialli, Mark Hughes, Roberto Di Matteo, Dennis Wise, Dan Petrescu – that had been tipped by some for the league.
For 45 minutes, the game went to form, Liverpool tearing Chelsea apart at will, John Barnes and Jamie Redknapp dictating play in the middle, Steve McManaman and Robbie Fowler repeatedly ripping through the defence. Fowler and McManaman grabbed an early goal each, but then spurned chances to put the tie to bed by repeatedly attempting to walk the ball into the net. They would pay for their insouciance. Ruud Gullit threw on Mark Hughes at half-time, and within 18 minutes of the restart, the bustling striker, along with Gianfranco Zola and Vialli, turned the tie on its head with a three-goal blast. Vialli made it four with 15 minutes left, shades of 1978 and 1982 in the result.
But it was more devastating for Liverpool than those mere blips in the Paisley era. It was the first time they had lost a game after being two up since August 1964, when they were beaten 3-2 at Blackburn. Confidence shot, they never looked the same team again that season, ending well off the league pace in fourth spot. Chelsea went on to lift the cup, 26 years of major-title frustration put to bed.
5) Chelsea 2-1 Liverpool (Premiership, May 2003)
A totally unremarkable game – Sami Hyypia giving Liverpool an early lead, Marcel Desailly equalising, Jesper Gronkjaer scoring what turned out to be the winner midway through the first half – save the fact that it probably changed the entire course of football forever. Chelsea were £80m in debt and facing a Leeds-style meltdown, but this win put them in the Champions League ahead of Liverpool, and brought them to the attention of cuddly oligarch Roman Abramovich who, so the apocryphal tale goes, had been previously mulling over a plan to buy Tottenham Hotspur or Everton. A lot of people in west London owe Jesper a drink or two.
6) Liverpool 1-0 Chelsea (Champions League semi-final, May 2005)
In recent years, Chelsea and Liverpool have enjoyed some cavalier exchanges in cup competitions. Chelsea's first trophy under José Mourinho was secured in the 2005 Carling Cup final, Steven Gerrard's ludicrous long-range own goal 11 minutes from time the pivotal moment of a match won in extra-time by the long-forgotten Mateja Kezman. Liverpool, meanwhile, won the 2006 FA Cup semi-final, Luis García's exquisite chip settling that one for Rafael Benítez's men.
But it's been in the Champions League where the fireworks have really gone off. And you can take your pick from four knockout rumbles. The 2007 semi, Benítez cross-legged on the turf as he watched his side win on penalties. The 2008 semi, a tale of two own goals, the first a preposterous header by John Arne Riise at the end of the first leg, the second Benítez's unwise taunting of Didier Drogba ahead of a second leg the striker, accused of diving, would boss. And the crazy 4-4 quarter final at Stamford Bridge in 2009, one of those matches where, truly, neither side deserved to lose (though unfortunately for Liverpool, they'd certainly deserved a 3-1 spanking at home in the first leg).
And there's the 2005 semi, perhaps the greatest of them all. It had pretty much everything: Luís García's phantom goal, which gave Liverpool a dubious lead, though it did ensure Petr Cech didn't get sent off; a second-half barrage from Chelsea; staunch defending from the home side; an astonishing last-gasp miss at close range from Eidur Gudjohnsen; and a febrile atmosphere agreed by most who experienced it as being the most intense in English football for many a year. There's unlikely to be a rumpus quite like it again any time soon. Unless Fernando Torres manages to rattle in a hat-trick on Sunday, perhaps.
Copyright - The Guardian