Sunday’s game between Liverpool and Chelsea (Watch live on NBCSN, 9:05 a.m. ET and online via Live Extra) was meant to be a title decider. Now, after Chelsea hit a sticky patch, it has become a shot at redemption for Jose Mourinho and his team.
Their mission: ruin Liverpool’s title hopes.
Even if Chelsea beat Liverpool it won’t do much for their faint title hopes; but this could be about revenge for Mourinho.
Cast your minds back to 2005. Almost exactly nine years ago Chelsea was at the height of their power under Mourinho, winning Premier League titles back-to-back and a force to be reckoned with in Europe. On May 3 they faced the second leg of their UEFA Champions League semifinal away at Anfield, in a winner takes all battle after drawing the first leg 0-0 at Stamford Bridge. Luis Garcia hooked the ball towards the goal at the Kop end. William Gallas hooked the ball off the line. Yet somehow, a goal was given and Liverpool advanced to the final of the UCL, where they eventually beat AC Milan in one of the most memorable finals in living memory.
That was meant to be Mourinho’s Chelsea lifting the UCL trophy in Istanbul. That was meant to be his parade. Almost a decade on, the only trophy the ‘Special One’ hasn’t won as Chelsea’s boss is the Champions League. What followed was Mourinho starting a feud with then Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez and there’s been a mutual disdain between the Portuguese boss and Liverpool ever since. That has spread to the fans, as Sunday’s game is eagerly anticipated both on and off the pitch, especially after Mourinho accused Liverpool’s star man Luis Suarez of diving and believes he could injure his only fit goalkeeper, Mark Schwarzer. Oh, Jose.
Ahead of Sunday’s clash, Mourinho has been playing down the importance of it as it is sandwiched in between Chelsea’s two UCL semifinals with Atletico Madrid. They drew 0-0 in Madrid last Tuesday and have the second leg at home on Wednesday with a whole host of injury problems ravaging Mourinho’s squad. It is clear where the 50-year-old Portuguese bosses priorities lie. He is likely to play a ‘B squad’ against Liverpool on Sunday, with Mourinho complaining about Chelsea not getting help from the English FA.
“We represent English football and are the only team in European competitions,” Mourinho explained after the 0-0 draw with Atletico Madrid in the semi-finals of the Champions League. “Spain has four and gave them all the conditions to try to have success, so I know what I would do. But I’m not the club. I have to speak to them. I would play with the players who are not going to play Wednesday.”
“The fact that the (Liverpool) match is on Sunday, I think puts the problem not in my hands but in the hands of those who decide the game should be on Sunday and not Saturday or Friday.”
Yet, we shouldn’t underestimate how badly Mourinho wants to win on Sunday. Not for the glory of his squad, or that a victory will likely hand Manchester City the initiative in the title race, but because he is a stubborn man of principle, who never forgets when he is wronged like he was back at Anfield nine years ago. Yes, the referee looked to have made an incorrect decision back then, but Mourinho’s record at Anfield has been poor over the years.
In eight games at Anfield as Chelsea boss, Mourinho won the first two games in 2005 but in the last six he has recorded just one win against the Reds.
Now, emphatically, he has a glorious chance to change that fortune around.
Add into the fact Mourinho’s manic outburst at referees following Chelsea’s shock defeat to Sunderland last Saturday, which cost him a third fine of the season from the FA, plus his request to play the ‘B squad’ during the week, and you have a man creating a staunch ‘us against them’ mentality at the Bridge.
Further fueling the fire is the fact that Mourinho’s former academy and reserve team manager during his first stint in charge of Chelsea was… Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers. Intertwining storylines have entangled Sunday’s clash as Mourinho and Chelsea aim to upset Anfield, Merseyside and neutrals around the world who want to see Liverpool win their first league title in 24 years.
Can Mourinho play the role of home-wrecker against Liverpool?
You bet your bottom dollar he’ll be trying his hardest to throw a spanner in the works of Liverpool’s ominous title machine. That knowledge alone will spur his Chelsea players on, as the master of the dark arts aims to conjure up a dastardly spell to dispatch an old demon which has been haunting him for quite some time.
Liverpool fans be warned, Jose is aiming to turn his track record at Anfield around. Starting this Sunday in Liverpool’s biggest game of the campaign.