It fell to John Terry to issue the rallying cry for Chelsea yesterday ahead of tonight's cauldron-like Champions League semi-final first-leg against Liverpool. "We have enough strength, enough character, enough big players to go and win the game," the Chelsea captain declared. "And we are coming here to win the game. We are not coming here to shut up shop. We are coming here to score and put the pressure on Liverpool."
His bristling positivity was in marked contrast to the continued beleaguered approach of Avram Grant. Clearly having been coached beforehand to push the line that Chelsea "can make history" the manager repeated it, as if on a loop, and to such an extent that it was obvious it was something he had been schooled to say. At least there was more than the monosyllables that characterised Grant's last visit to Merseyside when Everton where defeated last week.
Making history? Grant is, according to sources close to owner Roman Abramovich, pretty much history. Abramovich will be at Anfield and he was in the stadium in 2005 and last year when Chelsea fell at this stage. Terry was also there and is one of six Chelsea players to have experienced defeat in both ties.
"Forget the past," he said when reminded of those harrowing experiences – defeat to Luis Garcia's so-called "phantom" goal and, then, on penalties. "This is an opportunity which we have to take. We don't look back." Not that the previous experiences have been erased. "Don't get me wrong," Terry said. "That burning is still there when we've lost to Liverpool on the two previous occasions, and that will never go away, but one thing that would ease that would be winning the trophy."
Liverpool host Champions League press conferences in the Anfield trophy room, which meant Terry had to walk past what his previous manager Jose Mourinho called the "beautiful trophy with the big ears" – which Liverpool got to keep for good after winning in Istanbul, their fifth success in Europe's ultimate prize. "I've just walked past it by the door here and it's something I want to get my hands," the central defender explained. "We want to go down in history. It'll make it extra special to do that in Moscow."
For Abramovich, also. And while Terry was dismissing the stories over Grant's future and dressing room unrest as "laughable", insisting the squad was "totally behind the manager", that appears to be more of a front than a reality. A clear-out, headed by Didier Drogba, is expected to take place this summer as the owner spends big, again, and re-shapes his squad under new management. The big guns will play tonight not least because, as he is under so much pressure, Grant would think it foolish not to field Michael Ballack and Frank Lampard if they declare themselves fit.
Grant was quizzed, again, on his future and whether or not, if Liverpool are defeated, he will be able to banish the ghost of Mourinho who failed to succeed at this stage. "I don't need to speak about myself or justify it," Grant said. "The results speak for themselves. We are in a semi-final. I do not need to justify things [or talk about Mourinho].
"We lost here two times, but that belongs to history. Now we can create history. When you have an opportunity to make history for this club, you can talk a lot about the past, but what's important is this game, the next one and the chance to make history. Nothing else."
A statement made in hope rather than expectation? What is clear, however, is that despite Liverpool being stronger than in the previous two meetings, Chelsea, strangely, have more advantages than before. They are not favourites for a start, which is something Terry said may liberate them, while, crucially, the second leg is at Stamford Bridge. But then, as both men acknowledged, Liverpool are "experts in the Champions League". "I don't know whether it will be too tactical," Grant, who claimed he wanted an open game, said. "When it is tactical, everything depends on mistakes." He certainly can't afford a slip-up if he is to survive. Or maybe, as appears likely, that decision has already been made.Reuse content