How Liverpool v Chelsea became one of the fiercest rivalries of the 2000s
There is no geographical or historical reason why Liverpool and Chelsea should have any sort of dislike of each other, but for a while in the 2000s their rivalry was one of the most entertaining in English football.
Luis Garcia’s ‘ghost goal’ in the 2005 Champions League semi-final remains the most memorable – and controversial – moment of what turned into one of the most highly-charged fixtures in English football.
The contrast between the two clubs’ fortunes at the time was particularly striking. While they are a working man’s club, Liverpool were part of English football’s traditional aristocracy, whereas Chelsea were on the up, funded by the new money of Roman Abramovich.
As Frank Lampard said in an interview with Jamie Carragher for the Daily Mail: “We were the new kids on the block who had a few quid and signed a load of players. Jose puffed his chest out and then we kept playing each other. It was a clash of two ideals.”
In Rafa Benitez and Jose Mourinho, two managers were in charge who were both looking to make their mark in England. Both astute tacticians, the battle in the dugout was just as fierce as that on the pitch.
All these factors combined to ensure the clashes between the two sides were always fascinating, always competitive and always dramatic.
The new kids on the block
One of the first significant clashes between the two teams actually predates both Benitez and Mourinho.
On the final day of the 2002-03 season, Gerard Houllier’s Reds visited Claudio Ranieri’s Blues in what was essentially a straight shootout for fourth place and Champions League qualification.
The significance of Chelsea’s win that day cannot be overstated. A month later Abramovich completed his takeover of the Blues, but it could have been very different.
“Had Liverpool won on that spring day, who knows what might have happened?” Mark Fleming wrote in The Independent in 2011.
“Abramovich would almost certainly have taken his roubles elsewhere, and Chelsea could have suffered a similar fate to Leeds, or possibly worse, as they were facing financial oblivion at the time.”
On this day: 2003 – Jesper Gronkjaer scored the '£1bn goal' to beat Liverpool to 4th place. The rest is history… pic.twitter.com/yZ8ZVMjKxJ
— Chelsea Transfers (@CFCTransfers) May 11, 2016
The start of something special
By 2005 Mourinho and Benitez had arrived, and Chelsea were ruthless in their attempts to establish themselves as the team to beat in England.
Mourinho’s first trophy at Chelsea came with victory over Liverpool in the League Cup final. Given the drama of what followed between the two teams, it was a fittingly turbulent encounter.
John Arne Riise gave Liverpool the lead after just one minute, but Chelsea triumphed 3-2 after extra-time, with Steven Gerrard scoring an own-goal with just 11 minutes left of the original 90 minutes.
The ghost goal
Arguably the most infamous moment of the rivalry. Undoubtedly the moment when the fixture became something more than just two of the best clubs in the country facing off.
The fact Mourinho still complains about Luis Garcia’s controversial effort – which saw Liverpool reach the Champions League final at Chelsea’s expense – to this day says it all. As does Garcia continuing to dress up as a ghost for Halloween.
— Luis Garcia (@luchogarcia14) October 31, 2017
Steven Gerrard’s transfer request
“Steven Gerrard is for sure one of my favourite enemies,” Mourinho said in 2015. And as the old saying goes, you keep your friends close and your enemies closer.
Mourinho would try and sign Gerrard at Chelsea, Inter Milan and Real Madrid, and in the summer of 2005, only six weeks after inspiring the Reds’ historic comeback against AC Milan in the Champions League final, the midfielder handed in a transfer request.
Gerrard was annoyed after contract talks had stalled and, as he describes in his autobiography, decided to deploy “a hand-grenade rolled into the Liverpool boardroom”.
Liverpool’s talisman would eventually commit his future to Anfield, but the saga only added fuel to what was now a raging fire of a rivalry.
Familiarity breeds contempt
The following season, as if to exacerbate the tension, the teams were drawn in the same Champions League group, with both games ending in 0-0 stalemates.
In the Premier League, Chelsea triumphed 4-1 at Anfield and 2-0 at Stamford Bridge, but in yet another semi-final meeting – this time in the FA Cup – Benitez’s men secured a 2-1 victory.
Ten meetings in two seasons, but we couldn’t get enough.
Lightning strikes twice
For the third consecutive season, Liverpool and Chelsea clashed five times in total.
The Reds triumphed in the Community Shield, while both sides recorded a win each in the league.
By this point Chelsea were the dominant side in England, but when it came around to a second Champions League semi-final in three years, Liverpool repeated their success of 2005 with a victory on penalties.
Looking back at that time, Carragher told Lampard: “I’ll be honest. I couldn’t stand you as a club. It surpassed Everton and Manchester United as our rivalry for a period.”
Goals From Memory
2007: Daniel Agger vs Chelsea, Champions League semi final second leg pic.twitter.com/Ory0kBDLWH
— Liverpool FC Blood (@lfcbloodth) July 27, 2015
New faces, same story
The following season saw Mourinho depart Chelsea, but the two teams remained inseparable, with another five meetings in 2007-08.
Two league draws were joined by Chelsea’s 2-0 win in the League Cup, in which Peter Crouch was sent off for a wild lunge (further proof, if it was needed, just how heated the clashes were).
And the Blues, by now under the management of Avram Grant, finally gained revenge in the Champions League, winning 4-3 on aggregate in the semi-final, with Lampard scoring the decisive goal only days after his mother had passed away.
The tables somewhat turned in 2008-09, with Liverpool enjoying the better league campaign, but Chelsea triumphing in Europe.
For the fifth consecutive season, the clubs met in the Champions League and produced arguably the greatest tie of the lot.
After Chelsea won 3-1 at Anfield, Liverpool threatened another famous comeback in a pulsating 4-4 draw at Stamford Bridge.
In those five years, Liverpool and Chelsea had met a staggering 24 times.
Torres turns traitor
Following the departure of Benitez, Liverpool struggled badly under Roy Hodgson, and Fernando Torres decided to swap Merseyside for west London in a £50million move which enraged the Reds faithful.
Torres’s Chelsea debut ironically came against Liverpool, when both the fans and players made their feelings well known – Daniel Agger’s early challenge left the striker in a heap on the ground, and the sentiment was shared in the away stand.
Do not let this slip
When Mourinho returned to Chelsea in 2013, the fixture had a pantomime villain once again.
Typically, it was Mourinho and Gerrard at the centre of the story, with the midfielder’s slip gifting Manchester City the title after a masterclass from the Portuguese at Anfield.
Chelsea fans were always quick to remind Gerrard of that moment, never more so than his final appearance at Stamford Bridge.
“I’m not going to get drawn into wishing the Chelsea fans well, it was nice of them to turn up for once today,” was Gerrard’s response.
The virtues of respect are often preached in football, but sometimes there is nothing quite as enthralling as a rivalry built on bad blood.