Never since their rivalry became a UEFA Champions League staple have Chelsea had a better chance to send Liverpool packing. True, the London club hardly recorded poor first-leg results in their previous semi-finals with the Merseysiders, having collected a goalless draw and a 1-0 victory, but last week's 1-1 stalemate at Anfield was loaded with significance. Freed of the obligation to attack and spared another dose of the Kop's singular intensity, Chelsea will feel they ought to drive home their advantage.
The duo have made a habit of meeting on the European stage and
tonight's contest will no doubt throw up another contrast of
styles. While the Reds will be more willing to attack as they
target their eighth final and sixth title, expect the Blues to be
more cautious in their pursuit of a first-ever appearance in the
showpiece fixture, which will be this year held in Moscow, home of
the club's billionaire owner, Roman Abramovich.
Since their disappointing start to the campaign and the surprise departure of manager Jose Mourinho in September, Chelsea have got themselves back on track under the guidance of Avram Grant. More discreet than his predecessor, the Israeli has taken the team forward with a clinical, no-frills approach owing more to Italian than English football.
As a result, what had been an eight-point gap to leaders Manchester United in the Premier League is now just a matter of goal difference with two games left to play, after the Blues defeated their rivals 2-1 on Saturday. Grant's cause has also been boosted by the recent return of two established contributors in Michael Ballack, scorer of a brace at the weekend, and Andriy Shevchenko, who made a crucial goal-line clearance in the same match.
Liverpool are completely focused on their European ambitions, however, after sealing their place in next year's competition thanks to an eight-point lead over fifth-placed Everton in the league. They will need every drop of concentration, too, after letting their grasp on the first leg slip. Leading 1-0 during the opener, they boasted a 58 per cent chance of progressing, but those odds diminished considerably when John Arne Riise headed into his own net in added time. Galvanised by their away goal, it is Chelsea who now possess a 77 per cent chance of coming out on top.
Added to that, Chelsea have never lost a European tie to an English club at home, while Liverpool have failed to score in their eight visits to Stamford Bridge since Rafael Benitez took over the reins in 2004. In their defence, however, Steven Gerrard and Co can call upon an almost unrivalled experience of must-win scenarios, not to mention a track record of flying in the face of statistics.
If they are to punish Chelsea a third time, Liverpool must score in London, meaning star forward Fernando Torres will have to make his presence felt considerably more than at Anfield. For the Reds, the key to the encounter will be moving forward without allowing Didier Drogba a sight of goal at the other end, but they will also have to neutralise the home side's marauding midfielders, who enjoy nothing more than hovering around their opponents' area. That is particularly true of Frank Lampard, who has returned to training following the death of his mother last Thursday. There could be no more stark testament to the English international's hunger than that, and if he plays he will be making his 55th Champions League appearance and eighth against Liverpool.
"Liverpool's fans have often intimidated us and that's been one of the reasons behind our eliminations. But I'm sure that our supporters will give Liverpool the same reception on Wednesday. I can tell you they're every bit as fantastic as Liverpool's fans, especially in games as prestigious and important as this one." John Terry, Chelsea captain
"It's not finished yet. We're going to give everything at Stamford Bridge. These kinds of matches generally come down to small details. Let people say Chelsea are favourites; it's not important. We just have to prove the opposite." Steven Gerrard, Liverpool captain
Past Champions League meetings
27 April: Chelsea 0-0 Liverpool
3 May: Liverpool 1-0 Chelsea
Group stage 2005/06
28 September: Liverpool 0-0 Chelsea
6 December: Chelsea 0-0 Liverpool
25 April: Chelsea 1-0 Liverpool
1 May: Liverpool 1-0 Chelsea. Liverpool won 4-1 on penalties
22 April: Liverpool 1-1 Chelsea