Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) – Liverpool enter Tuesday’s Champions League semifinal return leg at Anfield trailing Chelsea 1-0. However, you will not find a Liverpool player who has any doubts that the Reds will come out on top on their home soil and play in their second Champions League final in three years.
Much of this optimism can be traced back to Liverpool’s 2005 win at Anfield against Chelsea under very similar circumstances. In their 2005 Champions League semifinal, the two teams played to a 0-0 first leg at Stamford Bridge before returning to Anfield where a Luis Garcia goal in the opening minutes allowed Liverpool to advance on to the final, where they would take out AC Milan.
This year, the Reds come home after a 1-0 defeat in London thanks to a goal by Chelsea’s Joe Cole. The Reds are fortunate to be behind by just the lone goal as Chelsea dominated play for long stretches and should be carrying a bigger advantage into Anfield than the one-goal lead they have.
That result has given Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez hope and he feels that the tremendous home-field advantage that Liverpool own at Anfield will be enough to carry his club through.
“We didn’t play well in the first game, but we lost only 1-0 which means there is not a lot of difference between the teams,” Benitez told the club’s website. “If you can play below your level and only lose by a goal, it means if you raise your level you must have a really good chance. We can use the memories of two years ago to our advantage because we know what the players and fans can do working together.”
While the home supporters will provide a big boost to Liverpool, they must also find a way to change things tactically as well. The Reds were very passive in the first leg against Chelsea, and allowed the Blues to bring the game to them. The Liverpool midfield in particular did a poor job of containing Frank Lampard, who was allowed to roam free and generate a number of good scoring chances.
Didier Drogba also gave the Liverpool back line a tough time, and the Reds know that one Chelsea goal on Tuesday will give them a massive hill to climb.
Liverpool has no choice but to take chances offensively, something they failed to do in London. They seemed to have no interest in grabbing a crucial away goal, and now they must play a great two-way game if they are to have a chance at booking a spot in Athens.
After such a poor performance in the first leg, Liverpool are fortunate to be behind by just one goal, but Benitez was able to rest most of his regulars over the weekend and should come out in attack mode.
Chelsea, meanwhile has to overcome a disappointing weekend in Premiership play if they are to reach the final. A 2-2 draw at home against Bolton dropped the Blues five points behind league-leaders Manchester United, and put their hopes of a third-straight Premiership title in serious doubt.
Manager Jose Mourinho will have a few lineup decisions to make, as he will be without star midfielder Michael Ballack, who is likely out for the remainder of the season after undergoing ankle surgery. Mourinho will have the services of midfielder Michael Essien, but he is likely to fill in along the back line to help an injury-riddled defense. Should Chelsea fall behind, Mourinho will have a number of dangerous weapons offensively to call upon, as Arjen Robben is back from injury, and both Shaun Wright-Phillips and Salomon Kalou will be available.
In Wednesday’s Champions League semifinal, AC Milan returns home to the San Siro looking a bit of home cooking themselves. The Rossoneri have to be disappointed after dropping an entertaining 3-2 contest at Old Trafford in the opening leg.
Kaka created havoc among the United back line as he scored two first-half goals to give Milan a huge edge at halftime. However, the Italian side sat back for much of the second half and allowed Wayne Rooney to score twice, including a last-minute goal, to give the Red Devils the lead heading back to Italy.
Milan does have two away-goals to its credit, and needs just a 1-0 result to move on to the final. They will once again have the benefit of playing against a weakened United back line, and should be able to take advantage. Playing without central defenders Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, United was clearly vulnerable in the middle, and Kaka will once again look to exploit that area. Patrice Evra will not take part in the match because of an accumulation of yellow cards, but manager Sir Alex Ferguson will likely have regular outside back Gary Neville in the fold once again.
This contest will come down to how well Milan’s defense can stop Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo. With a weak back line, expect United to attack from the opening whistle, and with Rooney in top form, they will be tough to stop. United is capable of keeping up with any team offensively, but the question is whether or not that back line can hold out long enough to give them a chance at making the Athens final an all-England affair.