Chelsea vs. Liverpool : 20 November 2011.
The History: –
Another Chelsea versus Liverpool match meant that I found myself reaching back into time for some truly amazing memories over the years. I referred to my tabulation of all of the Chelsea games I have seen and was rather taken aback by the sheer volume of Liverpool games I have witnessed. My total number of games – going back to 1974 – totalled 853, but a staggering 54 of those (one in nine), has featured Liverpool. And, to be truthful, some of the exciting games I have had the pleasure to witness have involved Liverpool.
The top five are obvious –
1978 – Chelsea 3 Liverpool 1
My first ever sighting of the then European Champions and we whooped them. Jock Finnieston and Tommy Langley.
1982 – Chelsea 2 Liverpool 0.
We were a struggling Division Two team, yet we rocked them to their foundations in this F.A. Cup tie. They were European champions, then, too.
1997 – Chelsea 4 Liverpool 2.
Two down at the break, Hughes, Zola and Vialli produced the best second-half performance I have ever witnessed and this game had me buzzing for days after.
2008 – Chelsea 3 Liverpool 2.
A night of high drama and pure emotion at The Bridge as Frank sent us off to Moscow.
2009 – Chelsea 4 Liverpool 4.
One of the most stunning nights of football ever seen in SW6.
But there are plenty of others – the 2003 CL “decider” and Zola’s last ever game in the Chelsea blue…the back-to-back CL games at Anfield in 2008 and 2009…and the crucial game in 2010 which almost wrapped-up the league title.
And yet – the old cliché…familiarity has certainly bred contempt. There is no love lost between us. The turning point came in 2005…not the Carling Cup Final (another corker!), but the CL semi-final at Anfield, only a few days after our first League Championship in 50 years.
The Luis Garcia goal that wasn’t and that song; the History song.
Things have never been the same since and I guess they never will.
The Weather Report: –
I collected Parky at 9.15am and my car was shrouded in mist for the entire trip to London. Ah, this was proper London weather…proper football weather…and proper Chelsea weather. I thought back to all of those classic photos from a long lost era, when Stamford Bridge was enveloped in mist and fog during those countless winters where players with names such as Hilsdon, Gallagher, Spence, Bambrick and Woodley toiled on the sodden turf. Those London fogs seemed to have almost disappeared over the past decades, but here was a day which would provide echoes of past gladiatorial battles. I wondered what the visitors from America… Andy, Josh W and Josh B – all from sunny southern California – would make of the winter weather. I was hopeful that it would add to their day at The Bridge.
This was a typically manic pre-match. For once, I visited the Chelsea Megastore and loaded up with Chelsea presents for my trip to Germany. I am staying with my old friend Mario in Bergisch-Gladbach, a mere 10 miles from Leverkusen. I bought loads of Chelsea items for him and his three boys…all Juventus fans, but soon to be Chelsea fans too. I collected my ticket for Wednesday and then Parky and I spun around to the hotel bar.
We met up with Texas Beth, Toronto Dave, Kent Gill and Kent Graeme, LA Andy, LA Josh, SF Pete, DC John and San Diego Josh.
Not to mention the Holy Trinity – Ron Harris, Peter Bonetti and Bobby Tambling.
Beers, photos, laughs.
I did my best shepherd impersonation and coaxed and cajoled the visitors along to the CFCUK stall, then The Malt House (where we quickly bumped into Chicago Joe and Chicago Michelle) and eventually up to The Goose. This was Josh B’s first ever visit to Stamford Bridge for a game and although he was cool and collected, I just knew his heart was beating fast. A single bottle of Peroni, a quick chat with the regulars – “ready for Germany, boys?” – and we then retraced our steps back to The Bridge.
The Liquidator: –
“Blue Is The Colour” gave way to “The Liquidator” as I reached my seat in the Matthew Harding wraparound.
It hurts me to report that this was not a great Chelsea performance. And yet, in that first-half, we did carve out a few chances…a Mata effort from an angle, a Mikel blast from way out. A Drogba free-kick which confused us all. But Liverpool chased and harried us. At the other end, Petr Cech made a lovely double save on the goal line. The noise wasn’t fantastic. The Liverpool fans, away in that far corner – maybe sound-proofed in all the mist – seemed quitter than normal. They didn’t have their usual array of red flags either…just a few, including that very rare sighting – an LFC Union Jack.
They’re Scouse, not English, as the banner on The Kop infamously said at a previous CL game.
A Cech ball to Mikel, a slip and a neat ball by Bellamy.
1-0 to the visitors and they were jumping.
At the break, I said to Alan that Mata was quiet. The whole team needed to step up. Sturridge entered the fray in place of the hapless Mikel and as I was still trying to fathom out if Villas-Boas had changed the shape of the team when Malouda whipped in a ball and Sturridge struck. I had to rub my eyes; it was just the sort of goal that we let in, usually in the last few minutes, at The Shed End.
We then had a period of ascendency and a few half-chances…a Luiz header, a Malouda strike, Drogba over from the “D”.
Then Liverpool threatened again.
There was disquiet in the ranks and the support waned.
A desperate change by the manager saw the ex-Anfield players Torres and Meireles enter the fray…but late…way too late. The stunning denouement saw ex-Chelsea full-back Glen Johnson maraud into the Chelsea final third and curl one in at the far post.
Again the Scouse hordes jumped like fools.
The Future: –
It was a sombre drive home. The winter night grew cold. The lights of the cars made driving tiresome. I was in no mood to listen to “606.” I dropped off Parky and returned home with my tail between my legs. I half-heartedly watched our game on “Match of the Day 2” and – I’ll be honest – was surprised how many chances we had during the game. But, deep down, I knew. You knew. We all knew. We had been poor and Liverpool had taken their chances well. In retrospect, it was closer than it felt, but us Chelsea fans have grown to expect better performances. I scanned the internet for comments and there was talk of “high defensive lines”, “square pegs in round holes”, “changing the guard” and even concerns for AVB’s tenure as manager.
I shrugged and tried to be as pragmatic as possible.
The team is changing – but can we?
Can we cope with a season of transition, of change, of metamorphosis? Can we allow the manager that most vaunted commodity – time?
While we all ponder that, Bayer Leverkusen await.
Germany – here we come.