Continental drift brings old adversaries to home front

After sharing the European spoils, Benitez and Ancelotti meet in the Premier League.
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The Independent Football

The surrounds of Stamford Bridge will make for a rarefied occasion when Liverpool and Chelsea meet in what many will see as the season's first clash between prospective top three sides, though Rafael Benitez and Carlo Ancelotti may consider it a walk in the park compared with their only two previous encounters in football.

Those others were both Champions League finals, in Istanbul in May 2005 and Athens two years later, and Ancelotti was keen to steer conversation from the former to the latter, as he discussed Benitez yesterday. "Now I have to speak of 2007..." Ancelotti said, grinning, after talk had somehow drifted away from Istanbul – scene of Liverpool's extraordinary turnaround from the 3-0 half-time deficit – to Stamford Bridge, without lingering anywhere near the Acropolis. "For me, that was destiny. To return after two years and have revenge against Liverpool was, for us, fantastic. We were always sure to win that game."

Predictably, 2005 was more of a blur. "I don't remember," he said. "Maybe Rafa could answer about 2005 – and he wouldn't remember 2007. But there's no pain to remember that game. In football, difficult moments can be good and help you improve. It was a difficult moment, for sure, but if you lose in a final you must remember that you got [there]."

Benitez, never one for emotional recollections of any occasion, drew minimal energy from talk of either, launching into one of his classic tactical reprises of how the first final was won. The Spaniard's imagined half-time team talk on that Turkish evening has been committed to film in the short 15 minutes that shook the World. Benitez has seen it and, unlike most Liverpool fans, appears to be impressed. ("Very funny, I think it's good.") There is obvious mutual respect between the two managers, Benitez's garnered in part from three days he spent in Milan, watching Ancelotti's side and, briefly, meeting him. "I have some friends in Italy and AC Milan and they tell you what he is like," Benitez said. "I think I have a very good relationship with all of them at Chelsea – Avram Grant, [Luiz Felipe] Scolari, [Jose] Mourinho at the beginning – it changed a little bit when we started beating them, though that wasn't my decision. I think [Ancelotti] is a different type of person [to Mourinho]."

The Italian's relationship with the Spaniard certainly seems destined for less of the rancour than characterised those Benitez has shared with Mourinho and Sir Alex Ferguson, Ancelotti agreeing that perhaps there is something of the Italian coach in Benitez and the sides, based on defensive strength, which he has built. "He's watched a lot of matches in the Italian championship. Beating Liverpool, playing Liverpool, was very difficult. They didn't concede opportunities with the defence he had built," Ancelotti said. "I hope it will be easier on Sunday. They don't change that kind of play in Europe or England."

But Liverpool's defensive frailties in Florence on Tuesday night, and the unprecedented scale of the rocket which Fabio Aurelio says Benitez gave his players, has prompted comparisons with the team talk which, to borrow from Benitez's favourite new film, shook the world. "Fabio obviously wasn't there [for] some of my half time [team talks], because I have been angrier than [in Florence]," Benitez said. "You have to offer advice and I don't think I was shouting that much. I was angrier in Florence [than] in Istanbul because in Istanbul it was different – you were in a final in the first year and 3-0 down so you cannot be angry. You have to be positive." He just hopes he will feel the same when the sides march in for a break at 4.45pm tomorrow.