One might say that Kenny Dalglish embodies the Liverpool-Chelsea rivalry, given his end-of-season strike against the Blues as player-manager to bring home the league title back in 1989. It’s no coincidence that his 20 games against Chelsea as Liverpool manager have not brought a single defeat.
But this rivalry really exploded into fashion with the arrivals of Messieurs Benitez and Jose Mourinho in that fateful summer of 2004. Rafa might not have enjoyed much league success over Mourinho, but his Red underdogs always created a spectacle against Mou’s men in Europe.
No matter Chelsea’s recent form, a trip to Stamford Bridge is always daunting. Even if Andres Villas-Boas has so efficiently destroyed the once-impermeable “Fortress” tag applied so forcefully under Jose Mourinho’s tutelage, it is still home to one of the Premier League’s indisputable best teams.
Sunday night’s 2-1 win at Stamford Bridge was a Kenny special, sprinkled with a touch of Rafa.
The Redmen, enjoying less possession and with fewer shots on target, came away with a last-gasp 2-1 win. With Lucas shielding the back four in a Mascherano terrier-like manner, and with Charlie Adam providing passing impetus from the midfield a la Xabi Alsono, Liverpool started with a formation so familiar to the Rafa era, with Kuyt restored to the right wing, and Bellamy and Maxi Rodriguez playing “between the lines.”
In an alternate universe, Raul Meireles, in the continued absence of Steven Gerrard, would have been playing in support of Fernando Torres. In this one, both were only granted second-half substitute appearances, and even then they didn’t look anything like the players that once graced the Anfield turf.
Instead, the familiar figure of Didier Drogba provided a bulldozing outlet up front for Chelsea as he managed to both confuddle an entire stadium with a well-struck freekick and to pose a physical threat to Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger. But just as the Rafa and Jose years have come and gone, so have Drogba’s finest days, and he was the embodiment of a frustrated Chelsea attack, alongside Florent Malouda, who didn’t take advantage of their opportunities.
That sounds suspiciously familiar to Kenny Dalglish, though.
For a side that has been criminally wasting away their opportunities, Liverpool were surprisingly effective at the Bridge. Whether this was because the effervescent but profligate Luis Suarez was so well contained due to AVB’s tactics or because Maxi and Bellamy proved so adept at making incisive forward runs, we will never know.
The fact remains that Liverpool are still fantastic underdogs. True to the Rafa years, this Pepe Reina-led Liverpool team conjured a defensively solid performance (except for Daniel Sturridge’s goal) and scored on the counter-attack. (Much deserved credit to both Maxi and Glen Johnson for the two wonderful goals.)
But this was nothing new. Winning as underdogs has been a Liverpool staple for quite some time now. For Liverpool to get into the Champions League spots again, Kenny must find ways to inject some of the old Liverpool formula, the formula that he knew inside out: winning as favorites.