In April 2009, for the 5th time in as many seasons, two of English football’s biggest clubs – Chelsea and Liverpool – were drawn alongside one another in the UEFA Champions League.
Three of these ties were epic semi-finals in which drama and controversy were never too far away. Phantom goals, refereeing decisions and penalty shoot-outs all played their part in what became one of European football’s most heated rivalries. There were plenty of sub-plots between the two sides also – coaches Jose Mourinho vs Rafa Benitez, midfield dynamos Frank Lampard vs Steven Gerrard and the duel between Fernando Torres and John Terry to name but a few.
However, the 10th and final battle between the two teams in Europe was no doubt the most entertaining in terms of the quality of football being played. After a comfortable 3-1 victory in the first leg at Anfield, Chelsea were in no doubt that they were in charge of the tie upon their return to Stamford Bridge. Yet, in typical Liverpool fashion during Benitez’s reign, the Reds drew level within the first half an hour with goals coming from a Fabio Aurelio free-kick and a Xabi Alonso penalty. Chelsea were still ahead on the away goals rule at half-time but all the momentum had quickly swung in favour of the team from Merseyside.
Despite this, Russian coach Guus Hiddink’s words of encouragement during the break helped to calm Chelsea’s nerves, and just six minutes after the restart Didier Drogba, as he so often did during his eight years at the club, led from the front, pulling a goal back for the Blues. Further second-half strikes from the Brazilian centre-back Alex and midfield talisman Frank Lampard appeared to have killed Liverpool off. Incredibly, the Reds were still not finished and scored twice in the final ten minutes to give Chelsea an almighty scare. Firstly, Lucas’ deflected shot from long range made it 3-3 before Dirk Kuyt headed home to put Liverpool ahead on the night. Just one goal short of progression, Liverpool were on the brink of adding to their rather large catalogue of famous European comebacks.
Unfortunately for the Reds, Frank Lampard scored his second and Chelsea’s fourth with one minute remaining on the clock to finally end any hope of Benitez’s men going through. After one of the most thrilling games ever to be played in Europe’s premier competition, Chelsea were on the brink of a second straight UEFA Champions League final against Manchester United in the semi-finals but Andrés Iniesta’s remarkable 93rd-minute second-leg goal took FC Barcelona through on the away goal rule.
Adam Davern, Pundit Arena