Ryan looks at the crucial factor for Liverpool in today’s Champions League match against Chelsea.
Our success this year and in ’05 in Europe’s premier competition can be traced back to one vital feature in our approach to games; We bust our balls to score first.
Rafa loves to be in control. He sets the team out to grab the bull by the horns, score first, and from then on in he fancies his chances of being able to set us up with the main aim of frustrating and stalling. Get the first goal, and we rarely lose.
It’s a tactic that he adopts whether we’re playing home or away, one that is often deployed in the strangest of places, and one that’s brought unremitting success. He uses any factor he can rely on; differing set-up’s, bizarre team-choices (Le Tallec against Juve anyone?), and to a massive extent – the power the Anfield crowd hold in unnerving the opposition.
Let’s look at the evidence:
Leverkusen ’05, home & away – Early goals in both ties. A 2-0 lead was quickly established at Anfield, and from there we looked comfortable and were able to contain the Germans. Their late scrambled goal at Anfield which could have led to a dramatic comeback in Germany was negated when we took the game to them early doors away from home and Garcia got two. Game over after 20 minutes.
Juventus ’05 – Long before United were tearing into Roma, we’d showed them how to do it with this fearless performance against Italy’s best. Cannavarro, Thuram, Ibrahimovic, Nedved, Del Piero, Buffon, Emerson and the rest were shown zero respect. Urged on by the buoyant crowd, Capello’s lot were left stunned. 2-0 up after 30 minutes – Rafa received exactly what he wanted – Control.
Chelsea ’05 – Don’t let them score, and we’re in with a chance. I think Rafa knew that the crowd were worth a 12th man at Anfield, and he played on it. Subsequently Chelsea players have remarked that the ferocity of the Anfield support that night deterred them. And so did the players beginning to the game. 1-0 up, and Rafa was toying with Jose. Puppets and strings.
Barcelona & PSV ’07 – Rafa’s actually changed how teams view the away-leg in Europe these days. Look at how he’s treated them both; as an opportunity to attack. His view is that if we can score away from home, then we’re in charge of our destiny. It’s a dangerous tactic, but it rocked everyone when we did it at the Nou Camp. For the first 10 minutes we attacked, and even when we conceded our philosphy did not alter – take the game to them, and score. Going back to Anfield with two away goals was Rafa’s dream.
Likewise for PSV – 3-0 up in the first leg, it was all over before it even got back to the return fixture.
Benfica last year was the exception. Losing the first leg 1-0 was a major blow, and Rafa never really recovered from it. He’s much better when leading from the front.
And I think this is how Rafa will view the Chelsea tie. He’s already been subtely mentioning the importance of scoring away from home, and going out to attack, and I genuinely believe this isn’t mind games. He’ll not want Chelsea being in the ascendancy when we come back to our place in two weeks time, and for that reason I think he’ll have a proper go at Stamford Bridge. He’ll not overly mind conceding, so long as we score. 1-1, or 2-2 would be fucking perfect.
Carlo Ancellotti, Sir Alex Ferguson, and Jose Mourinho between them have won Premier League’s, Champions Leagues and Serie A titles. On paper they’ve better sides than us, and all of them outspend us by some distance. Come Wednesday night though, rest assured that in our dugout – we’ve got *the* best in the business for this type of occassion.
Let battle commence…