The mouth-watering Champion’s League semi-final tie of Chelsea versus Liverpool is now only a day away. I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but Liverpool, Chelsea, and their respective gaffers have had something of a history recently. But, as the British papers wet their pants with excitement over the chance to recycle the same ‘mindgame’ storylines, the talk exchanged between the two camps leading up to Wednesday’s game has been rather tame.
Predictably, Mr. Mourinho did play his part by reminiscing about Luis Garcia’s 2005 CL semi-final goal. Stevie G laughed it off; saying it was done and dusted, a joke at this point and The Special One needed to get over it. Rafa spoke about his relationship, or lack thereof, with Jose and how they don’t (but could) share a drink after the game (in the Boot Room!) like he does with every other manager. Exchange the words ‘share a drink’ with ‘shake hands’ and change the date on the story; we’ve heard this all before. I do, however, get a kick out imagining Rafa and Mourinho sharing a glass of wine. Surely, it would be reminiscent of ‘The Princess Bride’.
One can only imagine Jose musing:
“All I have to do is divine from what I know of you: are you the sort of man who would put the poison into his own goblet or his enemy’s? Now, a clever man would put the poison into his own goblet, because he would know that only a great fool would reach for what he was given. I am not a great fool, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you. But you must have known I was not a great fool, you would have counted on it, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me.”
So, as far as trash talk is concerned, no fresh ground was tread in the run-up. Not that a out-of-character Alonso quote of “I’m going to break Frank Lampard’s foot!” wouldn’t have been a tasty treat on which to chew. But, the chatter has been respectful, which is probably just as well as long as you’re not employed as a writer for a British tabloid. What we have been left with is the prospect of another high-stakes poker game between two shrewd managers and a slew of world-class footballers.
But, before I delve deeper into the latest battle of Good versus Evil, I want to touch on some of this week’s early soccer-related news. Because I tend to write in more of an essay format and shy away from short posts, I rarely discuss the daily minutiae. But, a few golden nuggets shimmered in this morning’s pan and I wanted to sift through them.
Firstly, the news that doesn’t relate to either Chelski or Liverpool…
Following speculation that Arsenal shareholders may have an interesting future should Kroenke and Dein join forces, Manchester City look to be the next Premiership club up on the block, ready and primed for takeover. City’s prospective suitors are rumored to be former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, an unnamed American consortium, and shockingly, Englishmen and former City player Ray Ranson.
Shinawatra had previously been linked to Liverpool and questions about his country’s human rights policies during his tenure were raised then and no doubt will be once again each and every time his name comes into play. The unnamed American consortium may exist or it may just be a creation of the press. Either way, American interests will become the standard when linking potential buyers to Premiership clubs in the future.
With obvious reason, many fans are reluctant to turn their beloved clubs’ reigns to foreign control, especially those from countries without a sophisticated footballing culture. While they can’t be blamed for the fears of losing traditions, I wonder why it is that the those names continuously are foreign. It’s no shock that American businessmen would eventually make their way over the pond; they have plenty of capital and the game’s coffers are flush and primed to be taken advantage of.
What continues to baffle me is the lack of English, or even British, suitors in the Takeover Game. While they may be more suits with larger sums of money in America, it’s not as if England is an impoverished country without its fair share of wealthy businessmen. Why is it that so few of these names are interested in joining the ‘foreign invasion’? Has the time of English/British owners passed? Why does somebody like Richard Branson fancy spending his cash on balloons instead of balls? Why the general disinterest in footballing investment from the top money men? Is it no longer a viable return in their eyes?
It is precisely for this reason that I root for the likes of Ray Ranson and all the other former players, either using their own money or heading consortiums, in the quest to keep English football, at least partially, English. There should be no reason that the sterling pound should continue to sit on sidelines as foreign currency continues to pour in over the border. Not that foreign investment is wrong or should be discouraged; the future looks bright for Liverpool and the new American connection. If only our shared citizenship were enough to finagle me a dream job working for the club I love.
I just find it odd that there aren’t more Brits, who grew up loving the game or a certain club and now have found success, clamoring to indulge in a dream and grab a piece of the action for themselves.
On a less serious note, a report out of London claims that Jose Mourinho once hid in a laundry hamper to sneak into a CL quarterfinal with Bayern Munich from which he was banned. If you remember, at the time, there was wild speculation that Jose would be somewhere in the stadium communicating with a member of his staff, Rui Faria, using some sort of walkie-talkie-type technology. None of that was ever proved, and Chelsea went on to win without his (apparent) help. At this point, so much time has passed that if this hide-and-go seek game were ever inexplicably confirmed to be true, UEFA would not punish the Chelsea button-pusher.
Would it technically be cheating? Yes.
Do I condone cheating? No.
But, I think this story is fantastic and hope it’s true. Not because of my general dislike for Chelsea and the Trenchcoated One, but because it’s the sort of folklore you’d expect to hear about the 1950’s and which you want to believe still happens in the modern game. While it may be speculation conjured solely up to fill column inches, this is the sort of lie I would never deny. It feeds the legend that Mourinho constantly tries to self-construct, and in this instance, actually adds a likeable shade to the regularly ugly hue in which he he paints himself. We can only hope he had a pair of shorts stained with crotch sweat in his face for the ride out.
Moving on… After scoring in a reserves game, Michael Owen is ready for his comeback. Unfortunately for former speedster, Newcastle’s chairman Freddy Shepherd is using him as a pawn to squeeze a few more quid of compensation out of the FA for Mikey’s World Cup injury.
Owen claims he’s healthier than ever and his career has actually been extended because of the recent operations. It’s sad, because I want to see the former Liverpool stand-out back on the pitch. But, it’s also oddly good because it’s only a matter of time before his legs betray him again. I’m sorry, Mikey, but I believe we’ve seen the best you’ve had to offer.
Hopefully, he’ll prove me wrong.
Now, back to tomorrow’s grudge match.
Liverpool travel to Stamford Bridge without any (recent) serious injury. Obviously, Garcia’s CL antics will be missed and Auriello’s season is also done. But, Bellamy is back from his knee knock-up and after resting key players against Wigan, Rafa has a otherwise full squad from which to chose.
So, who will he select and in what formation?
My rudimentary guess is that anticipating Chelsea’s packed midfield, Rafa will only employ one striker up top. Nothing shocking there. It will be either Kuyt or Crouch. Crouch gives the Reds somebody to play off of, while Kuyt’s work rate offers constant movement and effort all over the final third.
I would guess that Crouch and his recent goal glut would start so that he could give way to Kuyt’s energy after an hour, but Dirk’s double on the weekend may reverse that. Let’s pencil Kuyt’s mullet in up top and put Peter on the pine.
The midfield is chock full of options. Because we’re away and we’ll want to keep the supposedly dangerous Chelsea midfield in check, I’d expect both Mascherano and Sissoko to start in the defensive center. So, that leaves Gerrard and Alonso and another slot to be filled. Does Stevie G play behind the striker or will he go out on the right? If he goes on the right, Xabi is in the middle, so Riise probably gets nod on the left.
Otherwise, playing Gerrard in the slot behind Kuyt (with Xabi behind Captain Fantastic) sacrifices width and lends itself to a stalemate. There still would be another name to be penciled in for a midfield position, but putting Pennant or Gonzalez out there doesn’t make much sense in when it comes to balance. Not that this wouldn’t stop Rafa. He is clearly a crafty tactician and may have a better thought-out plan.
He could play Speedy Gonzalez and his faux-hawk on the left, Pennant on the right, with Mascherano and Alonso in the center. This would leave Gerrard in the free role behind the striker and Sissoko on the bench. Riise would be relegated to left back with Finnan on the right. Obviously, Carra and
Hansen Agger start in the middle. Pepe, per usual, is between the pipes.
My guess is that Gerrard starts on the right with carte blanche to roam. That means Riise and his laser left foot takes aim from the left side of midfield. Arbeloa slots in at left back, and the rest of the defense stays the same.
So, the starting XI should look something like this:
Riise Alonso Gerrard
Arbeloa Agger Carragher Finann
And on the bench:
The Slave Dudek, Crouch, Pennant, Gonzalez, Hyypia, Bellamy, Zenden.
Sadly, we see no Fowler. I can only hope he makes the move to MLS this summer, so that I might actually enjoy watching him step out on the field. That is, when I remember that MLS is actually on.
As for Chelsea…
Michael Essien is suspended for the match, which may explain why he was out drinking at 5 am the other night when he was picked up on suspicion of drunk driving. (I love that the English call it ‘drink-driving’)
This is a serious hole in the Chelsea line-up. While not a fatal blow by any means, Essien has clearly been dangerous in the midfield and even as a defensive deputy. He’ll be missed. By Chelsea, that is.
There are doubts as to Ballack’s and Carvalho’s (*cough*cunt*cough*) fitness, but I expect at least Carvalho to make the bench. The sniper’s rifle has put Robben out for the season, but otherwise, the usual suspects, including a newly returned Joe Cole, are fit for selection.
My best guess at Chelsea’s line-up, which I took all of 17 seconds to thoughtfully ponder:
J. Cole Lampard Makelele Wright-Phillips
A. Cole Boulahrouz Terry Ferreria
Cudicini, Geremi, Bridge, Kalou, Carvalha, Shevchenko, Diarra.
Chances are that I’m wrong and Jose will not start Makelele, instead opting for Ballack (if his ankle allows him to take part) or another striker like Sheva. The chances of Joe Cole and Shaun Wright-Phillips both starting a meaningful game are slim to none, but injuries may just necessitate that.
Mourinho has seen fit to wait until the second half to stretch the pitch, maybe waiting on fitness levels to drop before he brings on his young wingers. That may be his back-up plan.
Also, four Chelsea players (Drogba, Cech, J. Cole, Diarra) have to watch where they stick their boots, as each of them are one yellow card away from suspension. So, a booking for any of them means they miss the return match at Anfield. A shame.
Frankly, I don’t care. Liverpool are ready for this. It should prove to be a hard fought battle, an entertaining game, and the result will likely set-up a tasty return leg at Anfield. I don’t make predictions but I am cautiously optimistic.
Now, let’s twat these fuckers.