A Night at The Bridge

chelsea-liver.jpgLiverpool and Chelsea play at Stamford Bridge on Sunday in what is traditionally seen as one of the biggest matches of every season. The match comes after a week of international fixtures (due to the World Cup qualifiers) that has seen many club players in the line of duty. Big clubs like Liverpool and Chelsea have seen most of their players playing for their countries. Fernando Torres, Liverpool‘s main man, has been the major casualty. The prolific goal-scorer has been ruled out of Sunday’s clash due to a hamstring tear in his right leg while playing for Spain in their friendly match win over France. For Chelsea, striker Didier Drogba is out playing for Ivory Coast in the African Cup of Nations (though the team crashed out of the competition).

Liverpool have won at Stamford Bridge only once in the Premiership. That was back in January 2004, when Bruno Cheyrou scored the only goal of the match. That goal was the last to be scored by a Liverpool player at the Bridge, and the Reds have failed to score in their last seven visits in all competitions. Chelsea will look to keep the momentum going as the team has not lost a match after Avram Grant took over. Jose Mourinho’s departure seems not to have affected the team. On the other hand, Liverpool have been mightily affected by off-the-field activities – the club’s takeover by George Gillett and Tom Hicks, charges of financial debt, coach Rafael Benitez’s future with the club, and rumours of an apparent bid by fans around the world to try and take-over the club. This has seriously affected the players’ morale. However, a 3-0 win over Roy Keane’s Sunderland in the last match has restored some confidence in the squad, and it remains to be seen if the players can perform as a unit on Sunday.

This season has not been a good one for the Reds so far. After starting out in amazing fashion (when it even went on top of the league table, albeit briefly!), a series of draws followed with Portsmouth, Birmingham City, Tottenham Hotspur, and Blackburn Rovers. The lowest point was a 1-3 loss to Reading at the Madejski Stadium in December. Another set of disappointing draws cropped up, with the team being held by Manchester City, Wigan Athletic, and Middlesbrough. They could record their first win of 2008 against Sunderland, after three draws and a defeat in the league. Currently fifth in the table, Liverpool‘s race for the title is effectively over for another season. Injury blows to centreback Daniel Agger, forward Fernando Torres, Andriy Voronin, Fabio Aurelio and Alvaro Arbeloa, put together with Xabi Alonso’s suspension, will definitely cause Benitez some strain. The Reds are 17 points adrift of leaders Arsenal, having taken only 43 points from 24 matches.

On the other hand, Chelsea have had a good run, extending their unbeaten run at Stamford Bridge to 75 matches in all competitions. Frank Lampard, who was out with a thigh injury, is set to make a comeback. Even skipper John Terry is back in training with his fellow players. This has given a boost to the Blues squad, Terry being a highly-inspiring figure, a skipper who leads from the front. So the momentum, for the time being, seems to be favouring Chelsea, who have been pipped by experts to beat Liverpool.

If Chelsea win or draw on Sunday, it will be four years without a defeat for the club, a period of time which has seen managers like Claudio Ranieri, Jose Mourinho and Avram Grant. It would be a tremendous achievement for the club, which still cannot boast of a historic legacy or pedigree of the likes of Manchester United and Liverpool. Is it going to be a Blues triumph? Or a surprise victory for the Reds? Watch this space.

COVERAGE: ESPN, February 10 (Sunday)

Pre-match Coverage: 2000 hours IST

Kick-Off: 2130 hours IST

Moonmoon Ghosh

[Image Courtesy : http://www.flickr.com/photos/kohler/4441144/ ]