Chelsea v Liverpool: How these Premier League giants developed a titanic rivalry

16 Sep

As Chelsea and Liverpool meet for the first time in the Premier League’s new Friday night fixture slot, talkSPORT looks at how the rivalry between the two clubs developed out of an incredible sequence of matches between 2004 and 2009.


During this period, the two clubs played each other an astonishing 24 times in a sequence of games that took in Champions League, Premier League, FA Cup, League Cup and Community Shield meetings. 

That’s 14 more games than they would normally have been scheduled to play, so it’s no wonder they developed a fierce rivalry.

For added spice, there was no love lost between Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez and his Chelsea counterpart, Jose Mourinho, who was in charge of the Blues between 2004 and autumn 2007.

Both men were rising stars when they arrived in England in the summer of 2004, with Benitez a double La Liga champion and UEFA Cup winner at Valencia, while Mourinho had swept all before him as Porto boss, claiming the Champions League to boot.

But the two took charge of very different clubs.

Mourinho’s Chelsea were the nouveau riche big spenders, a club with just a solitary league title to its name, earned way back in 1955, and now desperate to buy their way to the top.

Benitez’s Liverpool had none of Chelsea’s financial clout and, despite a flurry of cup successes early in the decade, couldn’t help but cling to a glorious history for comfort as they strived to recapture former glories.

When the two clubs were paired together in the 2005 Champions League semi-final, the contrast in competitive strength was stark.

Chelsea were on the brink of winning the Premier League title, 11 points clear in first place and 31 ahead of fifth-placed Liverpool.

Mourinho’s side had already claimed the League Cup (see picture below), beating a spirited but outplayed Liverpool 3-2 in the final, in which the Portuguese infamously ‘shushed’ the Merseyside club’s fans – putting a finger to his lips as if to say, ‘you’ll be quiet now’ – when Chelsea came from behind to claim the trophy.

Since that match, the Reds had somehow managed to reach the last four in Europe, but despite having won four European Cups in the past, were major underdogs against a Chelsea team that had beaten Barcelona and Bayern en route to the semis.

Against the odds, and roared on by a thunderous Anfield crowd, Benitez’s team defeated Chelsea 1-0 on aggregate, courtesy of a controversial Luis Garcia goal (see picture below) that Mourinho refused to accept had crossed the line.

The referee, Lobos Michel, later explained that, “If my assistant referee had not signalled a goal, I would have given a penalty and sent off goalkeeper Petr Cech”, as the Chelsea goalkeeper had fouled Liverpool striker Milan Baros in the build up to Garcia’s strike.

No matter what Mourinho thought, Liverpool went on to overcome Milan in the final to lift their fifth European Cup, and the stage was set for a bitter rivalry to grow.

Indeed, Chelsea came close to signing the Reds inspirational skipper, Steven Gerrard, for the second summer in a row, just weeks after the 2005 Champions League final.

As it was, Gerrard remained at Anfield and skippered the club to a dramatic FA Cup final win a year later, having beaten Chelsea 2-1 in a pulsating semi-final at Old Trafford (pictured below).

Luis Garcia was on target again, as well as John Arne Riise, and the Reds were making a habit of upsetting the Blues in knockout action.

But the Blues had already gained a measure of revenge for their Champions League elimination by thrashing Liverpool 4-1 on Merseyside in the Premier League, as they stormed to another title in 2005/06.

While Liverpool were collecting cups, Chelsea were winning what the Kop had once regarded its personal property: English league titles.

Benitez got the better of Mourinho in the 2006 Community Shield, and saw off the Portuguese in the Champions League semi-finals again in 2007 (see picture below), before the Chelsea boss left Stamford Bridge in September of that year.

The Spaniard even had the satisfaction of ending Chelsea’s incredible 86-game run of being unbeaten in home Premier League matches, when Liverpool won 1-0 in London in October 2008.

It sparked a concerted Premier League title challenge for Liverpool, yet they fell just short of taking top spot from Manchester United in 2009. Chelsea, who had by now been eclipsed in the league by United, had continued to rack up domestic cup silverware of their own.

But it was in Europe where the most memorable matches occured between the Reds and Blues. 

Incredibly, Liverpool and Chelsea were drawn to play each other for five consecutive seasons in the Champions League, and it was Mourinho’s successors who finally got the better of Benitez in continental competition.

Under the temporary management of Avram Grant, the Blues beat their familiar foes 4-3 on aggregate to reach the 2008 final (see picture below), then won a thrilling quarter-final 7-5 in 2009 with another interim boss, Guus Hiddink, in charge.

The following season Liverpool crashed out at the group stage and, with Anfield riven by in-fighting amid poisonous ownership issues, Benitez was dismissed in 2010 as the club slipped from Europe’s elite.

With it went the feeling of intense rivalry between Liverpool and Chelsea that had been generated by going toe-to-toe in major cup clashes.

An FA Cup final win for Roberto Di Matteo’s Chelsea over Kenny Dalglish’s side in 2012 stoked memories of previous big games, but Liverpool’s decline took the edge off meetings between the two for a few years, until Mourinho returned to deal a fatal blow to Liverpool’s Premier League title hopes in 2014.

The story that day was of Steven Gerrard’s slip to let the Blues score a crucial goal, just when it looked like he would finally lead his club to an elusive championship.

Liverpool’s skipper had been at the heart of the battles between both sides in the previous decade, and it felt as though the wheel had cruelly turned full circle, back to 2005, when a Gerrard own goal had handed Chelsea a late League Cup final equaliser.

He bounced back from that blow to beat his old foes en route to the miracle of Istanbul, but months after that slip, it was Chelsea who emerged to win the Premier League title in 2014/15. 

Gerrard left Anfield that summer, and by Christmas of 2015 Mourinho had departed Stamford Bridge, being ignominously sacked following a shocking run of results.

Now both clubs are looking forward, with charismatic managers Jurgen Klopp and Antonio Conte in charge and aiming to add to the illustrious honours lists compiled by Liverpool and Chelsea.

In the build up to the first Friday night match between the two clubs, Klopp has described Conte as the “Guardiola of Juventus”, praising his counterpart’s prior role in the resurrection of the Turin giants, while the Italian has called the German “one of the best in the world”.

Such mutual respect is a departure from the animosity that was bred by clashes between Chelsea and Liverpool in recent times, and it may not last long if Conte and Klopp can turn this fixture into a clash of the titans once more.

Chelsea v Liverpool, October 2004 to May 2009: The Facts
Games played: 24
Chelsea wins: 10 (Five Premier League, Two League Cup, Three Champions League)
Liverpool wins: 7 (Three Premier League, Two Champions League, One FA Cup, One Community Shield)
Draws: 7 (Five Champions League, Two Premier League)

Trophies won in that period
Chelsea: Two Premier League titles, Two League Cups, Two FA Cups, One Community Shield

Liverpool: One Champions League, One FA Cup, One UEFA Super Cup, One Community Shield

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