Liverpool vs Chelsea: 'It's one of the massive, crucial games for us,' says Blues' defender Branislav Ivanovic

The match kicks off on Saturday at 12.45pm

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The Independent Online

The margins can be slim in Champions League football. On Wednesday night in Slovenia Chelsea were 18 minutes from their most disastrous night in Europe since being dumped into the Europa League in autumn 2012. Barely ten minutes later they were a converted penalty-kick away from securing their place in this season’s knock-out stages with two matches to spare. In the event they neither suffered ignominy nor enjoyed qualification, the 1-1 draw with NK Maribor leaving them still in control of Group C, but not yet progressing from it.

Aside from his annoyance that there is still work to be done in the Ruhr later this month, when Chelsea’s next tie brings them face-to-face with former manager Robbie Di Matteo’s Schalke 04, Jose Mourinho will also be unhappy that Maribor extended his team for the full 90 minutes. Mourinho will have wanted to have settled the tie inside an hour enabling him to rest key players ahead of tomorrow’s lunchtime kick-off at Anfield. However, a lethargic performance meant he was instead forced to send Diego Costa and Oscar into the fray at half-time rather than being able to withdraw the likes of Eden Hazard and Cesc Fabregas.

Nevertheless Branislav Ivanovic insisted Chelsea will not be disadvantaged by having 24 hours’ less rest than Liverpool, who fielded a team stuffed with understudies in Madrid on Tuesday.

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While his manager may see conspiracies in every fixture list the Serbian defender said: “We still have two days to recover, this is usual and it’s not our first time to play that. We know and we are professional, and we have to do a lot of things to be ready for that game. It’s one of the massive, crucial games for us and for this kind of game you always have to find extra motivation - it’s not about the tightness or fitness.”

However, Wednesday’s travails showed that for a club with such a theoretically strong squad Chelsea remain surprisingly reliant on their ‘first XI’. For the second midweek in succession squad players such as Andre Schurrle and Felipe Luis failed to convince.

 

That said, their second half rally, inspired by Hazard but not fully rewarded thanks to the Belgian missing the third spot-kick of 30 in his career, ensured Chelsea maintained an unbeaten run stretching back to April when they lost the second leg of last season’s Champions League semi-final against Atletico Madrid.

That meant they have now gone 16 matches unbeaten since the start of this season, equalling the club record, but Ivanovic admitted the performance was unsatisfactory. “We didn’t perform how we know. With the penalty we should have won but, to be honest, maybe we didn’t deserve to. We have to play every game 90 minutes. If we play against Liverpool like we did against Maribor it’s not possible to win.”

Last season Chelsea’s approach at Anfield was criticised as negative, not least by Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers after defeat shattered Liverpool’s title hopes. But Nemanja Matic, Chelsea’s scorer in Slovenia, dismissed Rodgers view that ‘it is easy to coach a team to defend’.

“Many teams this season tried to park the bus in front of the goal against us, but we win,” said Matic. “It’s not easy, if you defend you have to know how to defend. In that game we showed we have quality. Nobody’s happy when you lose a game and they weren’t happy. Now is a different story, we play a different way. We are ready, we are first and we want to stay there.”

“I am surprised Liverpool are where they are this season, of course. They have a good team and I didn’t expect that they will be in that position. I am sure they will improve, but I hope they don’t improve on Saturday.”

Tomorrow’s game, added Ivanovic, was very different to last season: “It was three games to go, they were fighting for the title and they wanted to win – they struggled in a must-win. Now it is different, we are top of the table. We know it’s difficult at Anfield, but also our team knows how to win there, we know what we have to do.”

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