Two of TheHardTackle‘s resident authors Akarsh Sharma and Sanish Fernandez meet up, over a cup of coffee, to discuss the Super Sunday clash between their clubs Liverpool FC and Chelsea FC. What is always an interesting clash promises to be even better this time around, with Chelsea making the ultimate raid on The Kop at the end of transfer window and coming off with Fernando Torres among their spoils of war. Understandably, Liverpool supporters are furious at the manner of the transfer, and at having lost their spearhead. The Reds, however, have brought in timely replacements in the form of the quick footed Luis Suarez as well as the powerful Andy Carroll and are headed down to Stamford Bridge to exact revenge.
In the interest of personal safety, both participants have agreed to have had their hands chained to the foot of the table – lest either of them be tempted to throw scalding coffee in the other’s direction. And in a scene, not seen very often, both resident authors now rely on sipping the world’s favorite drink through straws.
The conversation seems well and truly underway; SF, Chelsea fan, is struggling with the straw a little bit and AS is tapping his fingers waiting for him to complete his first question.
SF: Sorry about that. Where was I? Oh yes! Let’s start with the obvious – Do you think Liverpool have a plan in place to deal with Torres in the upcoming game, despite the relatively short notice of his departure? And does this plan include Carragher hacking Torres at the ankles?
AS: I don’t think Kenny Dalglish will have any more or less of a plan to deal with Fernando Torres, than plans to deal with the likes of Drogba or Lampard. Unlike at Liverpool, Torres will be one of many world-class talents to take the field at Stamford Bridge. This will help him in two ways. Not only will he receive better service from Chelsea’s midfielders, but he will never be marked out as the team’s only major threat. This means less attention, more space and more freedom for him to play. Liverpool’s opposition used to double-up on him, knowing very well that to keep him quiet is half the job done against the Reds. The one thing I can hope for is for Liverpool’s defenders to utilize the fact that they know Torres better than any other defenders in the world, having trained with him every day. They would also know he can easily get rattled in a game and thus, ankle-tapping will be a common feature in the game. Kung-fu kicking ‘the Drog’ could be another unsaid plan.
SF: Suarez is unproven in the EPL, and by all accounts Carroll isn’t exactly thrilled at the prospect of leaving NUFC. How does the story-arc of Dalglish presiding over a Liverpool renaissance fit in with the current instability at the club?
AS: I believe the instability at the club has disappeared now. After NESV’s take-over, we have been moving in the right direction. There are a lot of positive vibes coming out of Liverpool football club since the takeover. There is a clear reason behind the new signings, though. Andy Carroll is just twenty-two years old and Luis Suarez is just twenty-four. While one of them is a really hot prospect in England, the other was one of the best players at the World Cup. The owners see them as long-term investment for the club and thus, were ready to splash out a large amount of money. If these signings pay-off, it will go a long way in reviving Liverpool.
Kenny Dalglish sees them as exciting prospects to help transform Liverpool back into a top-four side in the near future. Although Suarez is unproven in the EPL, only time will tell if he becomes another Fernando or turns into a Cisse. Andy Carroll, on the other hand, is the closest thing to the old-fashioned centre-forwards. He may not be best pleased at leaving Newcastle, but becoming a Kop legend instead of a Geordie legend is a whole new thing. I am looking forward to the partnership of the two which has all the makings of becoming a great pair. What are you doing?
SF: I’m trying to get a bite out of this donut…. and I’m having second thoughts about being chained to furniture. Never mind… We’re hearing reports of shirt-burning back in Liverpool Land. I understand the passion involved and so I have to ask, will your club’s faithful be booing Torres’ every touch on the ball? Should we expect a reaction akin to that of the Gunners to Ashley Cole?
AS: There is always one silly fan to ruin the reputation of the whole community. Although, it has been a major disappointment to see Torres walk out of the club, one can understand the reasons he did it for. He simply deserved a better team, a better set of players and a club playing at the top-most level of Europe. Supporters are often silly in their demands. They feel that their support should be enough to convince a player to stay. Unfortunately, life is not that easy. A player has to make certain decisions from the mind and not the heart.
At the Bridge, Liverpool supporters are unlikely to boo Fernando Torres. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if they sing the Fernando Torres song, which has been popular at the Kop end. Perhaps, it will be sung as a reminder of what, or who, he has left behind.
SF: We’ve played some legendary games in the past. Is there one particular one you’d like your team to draw inspiration from when they clash with us at Stamford Bridge?
AS: 14 April, 2009 – Chelsea 4-4 Liverpool in the 2nd leg of the Champions League quarter-final. After losing 3-1 at home, the enormity of the task to be accomplished at the Bridge alone would demoralize the most optimistic of supporters. The task was doubly difficult without Steven Gerrard and Liverpool, rightly so at the time, were not given a sniff of a chance to pull off an upset.
Although the Reds couldn’t pull off a win in the end, that day Chelsea found out what Liverpool were made of. To score four goals at the Bridge in a Champions League match was an amazing feat. It was an extraordinary show of spirits. It was a day when the Chelsea faithful were almost completely stunned, a day when “You’ll Never Walk Alone” could be heard in the 92nd minute at a quiet Stamford Bridge and a day when Liverpool football club took on “mission impossible” and almost re-defined the meaning of the phrase, yet again.
SF: I want to go all Freudian on you. Is it possible that Liverpool FC, despite your obvious disdain for us, is secretly willing to shoot itself in the foot just to give Chelsea an upper hand against your biggest foes Manchester United? Do you folks secretly subscribe to the ‘an enemy of my enemy is my friend’ school of thought? Last season, Gerrard gifts us a season-defining backpass. This season, you sell us your best striker. I’m just saying … <chuckles>
AS: The theory of deliberately shooting ourselves in the foot is ridiculous! I am resigned to the fact that United will take us over very soon, be it this year or the next. It is time the club and its supporters focus only on Liverpool and its revival. There is not an iota of doubt that the players on the field will try to win the game and the supporters would hope for nothing less. The hatred for United should never exceed the love for Liverpool.
SF: Lofty sentiments there. Didn’t believe a word of that last answer! I’m done. Your turn.
AS: Thank heavens! For a moment there I was worried you weren’t going to stop. Here’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you – What’s going to happen to the multi-club man Nicolas Anelka, now? We all know he has a reputation of sulking and although he has put in some delightful performances for Chelsea, he has surely been knocked down in the pecking order. Do you see this being a problem in the latter half of the season?
SF: My personal opinion is that Anelka, his odd flash-in-the-pan brilliance notwithstanding, is on his way out of The Bridge. There are rumors that he might look for a move to the Major League Soccer division in the United States a la Thierry Henry. Nicolas is a fantastic striker and poacher beyond compare, however the pace of his heyday seems to have deserted him. These days, he can often slow down the pace of play up front and ends up cutting a frustrated forlorn figure if it’s not his day. Personally, I was surprised Anelka survived the mass culling at Stamford Bridge after last season’s double.
AS: From a neutral perspective, and I’m probably going to kick myself later for admitting this… I believe the move for Fernando Torres is a brilliant one by Chelsea’s think-tank. Drogba is hardly an ageless beauty. How many years do you think does the big man from Ivory Coast have left in him? Do you see him fading away in the near future?
SF: You know… Didier Drogba is one of those mercurial stars, capable of sulking just as much as Anelka does. Drogba’s powers have been on the wane this season after the bout of malaria, but so it has been many times in the past. In the Scolari era, when Nicolas had replaced Drogba as top dog, then too I was pretty certain Didier was on his way out. However, he seems quite adept at rejuvenating himself just when everyone’s written him off. Torres, as a point man, seems destined to be Drogba’s replacement and is therefore a good purchase provided he stays fit. Drogba’s departure will depend on how well he can collaborate with Torres. If the Ivorian sees himself increasingly play second fiddle to the Spaniard, we might just see him join Mourinho at Real Madrid next season.
AS: What are you expectations of the game? Do you see still see this game as “the big one”? It would be fair to say Liverpool are no longer the threat they once used to be. So, would this have been taken as just another match, if the Torres saga is kept out of the equation?
SF: Of all Chelsea’s rivals, Liverpool FC has been the biggest thorn in The Blues’ side. I’m not trying to flatter you guys. Personally, I’d feel a lot more confident taking on Arsenal or Manchester United because both those clubs can be relied on to play by the script. With Liverpool, you never know which team is going to turn up – the potential champions and top-4 team or the relegation threatened, mid-level munchkins. This is certainly Chelsea’ biggest game primarily because both clubs have a relatively similar style of playing and both have played spoilsport to each others European ambitions in the past. There’s a powerful rivalry between the two sides dating especially back to the Mourinho-Benitez era. With Torres having ‘betrayed’ the Kop, I expect to see a tense, cagy encounter between two superbly matched sides.
AS: Five losses on the road this season for you lot. It is quite an extraordinary figure for a club which has come to be known as “the club that specializes in finishing off games like professionals”. What went wrong? Do you think injuries are a valid excuse for a club that has the best squad in the league and has repeatedly shed out millions?
SF: Chelsea FC are like a well-oiled machine. When they’ve got all their parts in, and working to the best of each of their individual capacities, the team is nearly impossible to beat. Take one part out, however, and the whole outfit just falls to bits like a house of cards. It certainly seems unforgivable that a professional squad could have so little stomach for a fight when the chips are down – but that’s got a lot to do with the structural make-up of the squad. Chelsea’s wages for the first team are skyrocketing, which is understandable. But Chelsea’s well-paid substitutes are hardly in the same league as the first-teamers they hope to replace. And there in lies the tragedy. It’s enough to make you feel blue, pun intended.
AS: I tried not to bring this up but Chelsea has had the luxury of Roman’s unlimited millions. Whether they continue to have that in the future is irrelevant, but money has certainly been the impetus to put Chelsea on the football map. Personally, I didn’t want an Arab sheikh to pump Liverpool with money, even if money is a necessity to survive in today’s world. I am proud of the fact that we built success, not through money, but through a tradition of great football. I would like that to continue. Is there a little corner deep inside you that is slightly put-off by this fact? Wouldn’t you have preferred the rise of Chelsea football club without the millions? Does it take away some of your pride?
SF: It does concern me a little bit when people claim the millions Abramovich spends on the squad is the sole reason for the success of the Blues, because as the Manchester City experiment will prove money simply does not win you trophies. Would I have preferred that we managed to win trophies without a billionaire’s backing? Sure, that would have made for a romantic story where the underdog comes up trumps against all odds. But in the real world, it takes a lot of money to back up a team’s hard work and team-ethic to get things going your way.
It’s not like Chelsea went and bought the best player in the world for each position, after Roman came in. There are some incredible minds that have determined which player would fit the bill, or play the part, regardless of star quality. Plus we had Jose Mourinho mould us into a champion side. If you want the best talent, and if you want to retain the ones you’ve got, you’re going to need a lot of money. For a side like Chelsea that were the ‘glorious glamorous losers’ of decades past, the financial impetus Roman provides is necessary till we reach self-sufficiency.
AS: Finally, do you genuinely think United are within your reach? If yes, why do you have the confidence that Chelsea will not drop points over the next 14 games? If no, is it because you have faith in United to keep up their good run or lack of faith in your own club’s ability to put a fine run together?
SF: Football is not a game decided on paper. A side may be sitting pretty at the top of the league, but the ultimate champions are the ones who can carry the momentum with them into the tricky end of the season. United are deservedly on top, but have not been convincing enough to be undisputed champions. If any of the top few teams were to put in an unbeaten run for the next ten games, the league might look altogether different at the end of that stint. Make no mistake, 99 times out of a 100, United will walk away with their 19th league title come season end. But the rest of us, waiting to spoil their party, have to believe they will slip up. While that may not be in our hands, conjuring up an unbeaten run and swinging the momentum back in our favor certainly is. And while…
AS: Hold on a second, why is the cafeteria closed? Where is everyone? How long have we been having this conversation?
SF: Jeez… look how time flies when you’re with a Scouser! Wait a minute… who’s going to unchain us? This was a terrible idea.