Rafael Benitez last night warned his Liverpool players against pursuing vendettas when they renew acquaintance with their bitter Champions' League rivals Chelsea in the FA Cup semi-final at Old Trafford tomorrow.
The clubs have a history of hostility, several of their nine games over the past two seasons being characterised by bad blood. Benitez admitted that he has broached the subject within the Liverpool camp, but stressed the importance of remaining calm with a place in the final at stake.
"We have talked about this, and I've told the players that we need to forget about these things and take it as a new game," Benitez said. "The boys understood that. This is another competition and another referee. Everything will be different. We don't need to think about the past. What we need is to stay cool."
When Liverpool and Chelsea collided a year ago to contest a place in the Champions' League final, Jose Mourinho and his team angrily disputed the validity of Luis Garcia's winner at Anfield. Mourinho still appears determined not to acknowledge either the goal or the defeat.
For their part, Liverpool were incensed by a melodramatic tumble by Eidur Gudjohnsen which led to Xabi Alonso being booked and banned from the second leg. The antipathy resurfaced when the sides were reunited in the group stages of the competition this season. Chelsea's Michael Essien injured Dietmar Hamann by planting his studs in his right knee, a wild challenge that was punished retrospectively by a Uefa ban.
In the Premiership tussle at Stamford Bridge in February, the Chelsea winger Arjen Roben collapsed holding his face after Pepe Reina raised a glove to him. The goalkeeper was sent off. Benitez said: "We don't need to use such incidents to motivate us. We're motivated enough already."
Chelsea's attempt to prise Steven Gerrard from Liverpool 18 months ago also caused friction between the clubs. The England midfielder has been the subject of transfer talk again this week, but Benitez insisted that his captain would not be going to Real Madrid, or indeed anywhere.
"I know a lot about the Spanish press and how they need to say something [to sell newspapers]," the former Valencia coach said. "In this case, I am really clear: Gerrard is not for sale. I don't want to waste my time talking about it. We are focused completely on the FA Cup semi-final, not on things like that. Steven feels the same.
"The two of us have had many discussions. I believe there is no one in the dressing-room who is more committed to Liverpool than Steven Gerrard. Maybe during the summer there will be further speculation, but he is a good player so that is to be expected."Reuse content