Chelsea just about football, despite pontifications

Posted by guest on November 10, 2012, 07:11:42 PM

A forced aggrandising feels unavoidable when Chelsea meet Liverpool - as unavoidable as the two teams themselves it seems, with 30 meetings between the two since 2004. They are two clubs ideologically opposed, two clubs that supposedly believe in different values, the Zeus and Hades of the English football's Mount Olympus with the role of the cellar-dweller dependent on which set of fans you talk to. Opposites clearly attract. Black versus white; good versus evil.

It isn't, of course. It's simply football. But condescension and hyperbole reign as discourse about money, history and class are perpetually emphasised. With each slow motion shot of the splendour of Fulham Road, of Liverpool's five European Cup victories, of Rafael Benitez, Jose Mourinho, London buses and Liver Birds, this fantastical rivalry intensifies. Make no mistake, a rivalry exists, but it is not the rivalry; it is a rivalry that should be no different than Arsenal, Tottenham or Manchester City, the Merseysiders' hors d'oeuvre to Everton or Manchester United.

But there is a pressure in the modern game to add narrative to sport and construct a compelling sub-plot to the drama on stage. It really isn't necessary here. Luis Garcia's goal prompted one of Anfield's proudest nights; his strike 11 months later, in the FA Cup semi-final, was the final draw of the sword in Liverpool's coup d'etat of Old Trafford. For Chelsea, Stamford Bridge sparkled like never before as they eliminated Liverpool from the Champions League in 2008 and 2009, their FA Cup win last season that little sweeter for being against Kenny Dalglish, their tormentor since 1986.

This fixture should never be about the dichotomies so cliched and contrite. It is not about Labour, Conservatives, the establishment, anarchists, the north, the south, the rich and the poor. It should be about player-manager Kenny Dalglish's majestic volley in 1986, an ornate exclamation point on a remarkable title-winning comeback; it should be about Gianfranco Zola's FA Cup masterclass in 1997, dragging his side from 2-0 down with deft ruthlessness. It's a fixture where football alone should suffice.

But it isn't. It has manifested into something more. Perhaps it was inevitable given the frequency of meetings between the two, if not for Chelsea's desire to acquire a rival that mattered on the world football stage. Liverpool's mocking of Chelsea's lack of history needled at the Londoners' inferiority complex, while Chelsea boasting of their recent trophy-laden fortune tapped into Liverpool's fragile psyche. Though neither side will admit it, jealousy abounds. In an era of financial woe, threats of administration and the airing of dirty laundry in public, how Liverpool wish for the financial clout of Chelsea. And how Chelsea wish for Anfield's trophy cabinet, one which contains more silver than Buckingham Palace.

The sociological aspect is to be embraced, of course - the link, constantly strained but never broken, between the players, fans, city and football club of Liverpool is what makes it such a global phenomenon. But its rivalry with Chelsea is a hollow one in reality, founded on whimsical jealousy and a natural ideological confliction, much like Leeds and Nottingham Forest in decades gone by.

It tells with contrasting fortunes over the past few years. No longer is the fixture one that can dictate the pace in a title race, nor is it one played under the glaring floodlights of a Champions League night. For Chelsea, it's an opportunity to herald their new-found dominance; for Liverpool, a chance to show they are still capable of producing results against the division's better sides. For when emotion and sociological analysis of the fixture subsides, that is what remains: a struggling Liverpool side seeking a result at a title-chasing side that have played prodigious football at times this season.

Perhaps that will suit Brendan Rodgers. Removing any semblance of occasion from the game, no matter how forced that occasion may be, could be Liverpool's best chance of a result. It is a game where Rodgers must worry about the opposition before he tries to worry the opposition, exhibiting the pragmatism shown against Everton and Anzhi. Pride comes before an away drubbing. The three of Juan Mata, Oscar and Eden Hazard are the league's sharpest trident and must be blunted.

There is then the wildcard of Fernando Torres. Perhaps focusing on the football won't be on the agenda, after all. His unceremonious departure from Anfield was heart-wrenching and head-scratching, as Liverpool fans struggled to comprehend how one of their own could join a club with such an opposing dogma. He would go on to receive dog's abuse, and has ever since. Proof, if any, that those are things that matter to supporters alone.

Chelsea and Liverpool, whether at Stamford Bridge or Anfield, has produced many great footballing moments, irrespective of pontification over political affiliation and disposable income. Rodgers will be hoping for one from his own Liverpool side on Sunday. Not because it's Chelsea, but simply because a positive result for the Reds would show tangible evidence of progress under his management. It is something he could do with as winter approaches.


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