The Slip, five years on: why Chelsea are no longer the enemy for Liverpool in 2019
Liverpool and Chelsea is a modern football rivalry; one which began on the final day of the 2002/03 season, when the Blues beat the Reds to clinch Champions League qualification.
It soared to its peak under the respective management of Rafa Benitez and Jose Mourinho between 2004 and 2007: the two Iberian bosses pitted their sides against each other in a League Cup final (2005), two Champions League semi-finals (2005 and 2007), and 16 times in total across all competitions between October 2004 and August 2007.
But the rivalry didn't end when Mourinho departed Stamford Bridge in 2007.
There was another Champions League semi-final (2008) and a Champions League quarter-final (2009) for Benitez to contend, with Avram Grant and Carlo Ancelotti adversaries in the opposition dugouts on those occasions.
Six months after Benitez left Anfield in 2010, Fernando Torres was swapping red for blue in a £50 million deal which stoked the flames again. There'd been an FA Cup final between the sides in 2012, not long before Benitez was a deeply unpopular temporary appointment at Stamford Bridge – then led Chelsea to Europa League success amid utter contempt from the Blues’ support.
And then came Anfield 2014: Mourinho back in the Chelsea dugout against Brendan Rodgers' Reds, inches from glory. This does not slip. Oh Christ, he's bloody slipped. 0-2. Gone.
So as Liverpool prepare to host Chelsea at Anfield this weekend amid their first title challenge since that fateful game, there’s a huge ghost for the Reds to lay to rest.
Mourinho had turned up looking like an unshaven bus driver intent on ruining Liverpool’s title dreams under Rodgers. Sure enough, the Portuguese did a job on his former Chelsea lieutenant, somehow inspiring victory from a side containing Mark Schwarzer in goal, rookie defender Tomas Kalas and an out-of-favour attacker called Mo Salah up front. Liverpool had won their last 11 league games in a row.
Of course, the slip is what enabled Mourinho’s side to get their three points and mean that the title was no longer in Liverpool’s hands. Luckily, nobody's mentioned it much in the five years since.
2014 vs 2019
So how do I, as a Liverpool supporter, feel about the Chelsea rivalry now in 2019 compared to five years ago?
Predominantly, the rivalry is nowhere near the same – largely due to Chelsea not being seen as much of a threat to Liverpool right now. The two clubs are in very different places to their respective recent pasts; Liverpool are in the ascendency, while Chelsea continue to lurch from one manager to another minus the success they enjoyed during the 2000s.
Secondly, the rivalry is perhaps dissipated by Mourinho no longer being around. He was the antagonist – the one who shushed Liverpool fans in his first season in England during a League Cup final, and who many believe always felt wounded by being overlooked for the Anfield job behind Benitez in 2004.
Instead of Mourinho, there’s the more likeable and respectful Maurizio Sarri. Klopp and Sarri share a mutual respect and were seen laughing with each other during the two sides’ encounter earlier in the season. “Even after the equaliser, remembering that moment, we hugged like two old friends,” explained the Italian.
There’s no Torres, and the wounds of his departure have long healed on Merseyside. There’s no Frank Lampard or John Terry – although the Kop may still have a rendition of a certain song for the latter up their sleeves.
All of that dissolves the dislike. Ultimately, it’s about who is a threat to your club whether they're a ‘rival’ or not.
Liverpool and Chelsea haven’t met in a ‘big’ game for several years – a League Cup semi-final in 2015 is the only one of note since that FA Cup final in 2012. Liverpool will finish this season above Chelsea in the league table for the third time in four seasons. Liverpool are competing in the Champions League and in the middle of a title challenge, while Chelsea are in the Europa League and struggling to get a top-four finish.
There will always be the pain of 2013/14, but Sunday offers an opportunity to bury that five years on.
Chelsea’s rise in English football was fuelled by money from billionaire owner Roman Abramovich – a takeover that transformed the landscape of the Premier League and led Liverpool’s former owner David Moores to acknowledge that he could no longer compete financially. Such muscle has now been flexed at Manchester City; it is they rather than Chelsea who are now transforming English football – within the rules or not – and providing the biggest challenge to Jurgen Klopp as he seeks to restore Liverpool's glory days.
After a Champions League quarter-final last season, and with a potential final between City and Liverpool in Madrid around the corner – plus the nail-biting title race, of course – Guardiola vs Klopp feels like the rivalry that's set to dominate English football in the way which Benitez vs Mourinho did during the 2000s.
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