The League Cup final on Sunday sees the first piece of domestic silverware up for grabs but also the true reignition of one of the most intense rivalries in English football of the 21st century – Chelsea and Liverpool.
While there’s been league battles between the pair, none better than their pulsating 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge in early January, this is the first final between the two clubs since 2012. And one of few clashes with that “big match feel” in the same time period, give or take a game or two.
While neither club would claim the other to be their main rival; Liverpool with Manchester United and Everton, and Chelsea with several London clubs, probably Spurs in first place, there is certainly a lasting dislike shared between both sets of fans due to the controversy and clashes of the last 20 years.
Chelsea and Liverpool – A Rivalry Reignited
The Calm Before the Storm
Prior to the early noughties, there wasn’t much to discuss when the topic of a Liverpool and Chelsea rivalry was broached. There simply wasn’t one. Sure there was an FA Cup semi-final in 1965 and Kenny Dalglish, in his first season as player-manager, scoring the winner as the Reds captured the league title at Stamford Bridge in 1986 but not much else of note. There wasn’t any noticeable animosity. There was two clubs at different ends of the country, often competing at different ends of the league table.
There also wasn’t an away win to speak of for over decade – Liverpool not winning at the Bridge from December 1989 to January 2004, and Chelsea coming up short at Anfield from February 1992 to August 2003. Several shellacking’s along the way for both sides.
So How Did This Rivalry Begin?
Well, it can be pinpointed back to the day that changed the course of English football history. The day Chelsea became the club we know and love/loath today. The final day of the 2002/2003 season.
The two clubs were level on points and met at Stamford Bridge in a near play-off for the fourth and final Champions League spot. Chelsea ran out 2-1 winners, at the time hitting the jackpot and avoiding financial ruin. Little did they know, it would mean so much more.
Weeks later, Roman Abramovich bought the club for little over £60 million and the Blues went on a spending spree the likes of which had never been seen in England. By the time the clubs next met, it was a whole new Chelsea both Liverpool and the rest of the league was now contending with.
That next game just so happened to be the first game of the very next season. Chelsea again ran out 2-1 winners, this time on Merseyside. The first win of the Abramovich era. The Anfield hoodoo lifted.
Mourinho v Benitez – A 16 Episode Series
From here, so many more of both club’s biggest moments were intertwined. The first being the appointment of two European champions as managers in the summer of 2004. Jose Mourinho heading to Chelsea and Rafael Benitez heading to Liverpool. The two would embark on a rivalry that helped define this era of Premier League football as one of the best, if not the best.
Staggeringly, the sides would meet 16 times in the three and a bit seasons of Jose’s first stint in charge, across every competition imaginable. Most of the league success belonged to Chelsea but it was in the cups where animosity and bitterness would be forged.
Mourinho’s first trophy came against Liverpool in the League Cup final in 2005, his shushing of their fans after Chelsea’s equalizer making him public enemy no.1 in Scouse eyes. Domestic revenge would come the following season as Red bested Blue at the semi-final stage en route to FA Cup success.
Chelsea and Liverpool Clash in Europe
However it was in the European Cup where the most memorable clashes took place, the two locking horns as polar opposites; Chelsea, the nouveau riche upstarts looking for a first title. Liverpool, the old aristocrats hoping to add to the four already won.
It’s doubtful anyone reading this will need a full reminder of what happened. 2005, and the “Ghost Goal”. 2007 and penalties. 2006 also saw the two thrown into the same group as Liverpool were rendered stateless having won “Big Ears” but finishing only fifth in the league.
It was only after Mourinho left that Chelsea’s Anfield anguish would end, progressing past the Reds in 2008 and 2009. Five years straight of European match ups – something unlikely to be repeated again anywhere, let alone between sides from the same country.
Add in Steven Gerrard flirting with swapping red for blue in the early years of this five-part drama and you’re looking at a series Netflix would be happy to produce. Maybe Jose could have found an answer to the never-ending question of “Can Gerrard and Lampard play together?” Guess we’ll never know.
A Cooling off Period on-Field, Not off-Field Between Chelsea and Liverpool
Following the culmination of the 2008-2009 season, where Liverpool ended Chelsea’s record 86-game unbeaten home run (told you they were linked), the two club’s paths would go in different directions, especially when the extent of Liverpool’s financial troubles were revealed.
Competition for major honours dissipated, outside of a 2012 FA Cup final battle won by Chelsea, but controversy remained through several transfers between the two. The Reds would pick up Joe Cole and Daniel Sturridge but it would be the icons going the other way which somewhat signaled the end of an era.
The final day of the January 2011 transfer window saw Fernando Torres, the saviour of Liverpool and scourge of Chelsea down the years, swap sides in a record £50 million move. Not that it worked out, but it still had to sting a bit. Near two years later a move even more shocking and wildly unpopular in West London took place, as the old enemy Benitez took over at the Bridge in an interim position, just 30 months after leaving Anfield. Not his last surreal job either.
The Special One and the Slip
If that felt like a cooling off on a rivalry, the return to stage of the Special One, replacing his arch-nemesis, would turn the temperature right back up, if only for a few years. The lasting image of the 2013/2014 season would again feature the two clubs – that of Stevie G slipping on the Anfield turf and Demba Ba slotting a goal that ended his last chance at the league title. A second goal, assisted by Torres to add insult to injury, felt like an act of ultimate Anfield revenge for Mourinho, who of course beat his chest like he’d won the title himself.
There’s been incidents in the years since – Jürgen Klopp’s first league win came at the Bridge, Liverpool beat Chelsea on the night they finally lifted the title in 2020, Klopp vs Lampard during said game – but the rivalry hasn’t had the same bite to it, as the clubs haven’t been directly challenging at the same time.
A Germanic Touch to Reignite?
This League Cup final might change that. Chelsea have been regulars in domestic cup finals while this is Liverpool’s first since this same competition in Klopp’s first season in 2016. It pits the two old rivals against one another, and two German managers with a shared history, Thomas Tuchel coached Mainz like Klopp and succeeded him in Dortmund, and a seemingly good relationship – let’s see how long that lasts.
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