Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 April 2014

Mourinho's absence will be big plus for Chelsea

So here we go again then. Liverpool v Chelsea in the Champions League semi-finals - Part Three.

If Liverpool win again, they get to keep the Stamford Bridge outfit! That's the joke doing the rounds on Merseyside at the moment.

Confident Liverpool fans can't wait for their chance to make it a hat-trick whereas the Chelsea supporters I've spoken to are dreading the stick they would take should they Kop it once more.

While Rafa Benitez is seen as a messiah in European football by the Liverpool followers, poor old Avram Grant is considered a joke at the Bridge.

Having the Israeli in charge, however, for Part Three will actually work in Chelsea's favour.

It's not that I think Grant is some sort of unheralded tactical genius, although he is more shrewd than his detractors in the English media, who crave the charisma and soundbites of the previous Chelsea boss, would suggest.

It's more to do with the fact that with Grant in charge of the Blues, Jose Mourinho isn't.

Benitez of course played a massive role in inspiring his players, as did the Liverpool fans on two remarkable nights at Anfield when the Reds were roared to second leg victories, but the influence of Jose should not be underestimated.

Back in 2005 after Mourinho had magnificently led Chelsea to their first title in 50 years, he was ridiculously cocky ahead of the return leg of the Champions League semi-final.

That lack of respect spurred Liverpool's players and the fans on to superhuman efforts.

It was in evidence even more last year.

Some of Mourinho's comments before the 2007 semi-final clash were a disgrace.

He taunted Benitez and the Liverpool players and continually referred to what he saw as "the goal that never was" by Luis Garcia two years previously, which had sent the Kopites to Istanbul, where they won the European Cup for a fifth time in such dramatic circumstances.

When Dirk Kuyt scored the winning penalty in the shoot-out, Mourinho's comments were thrown back in his face by the jubilant home fans and even in post match interviews by the normally restrained Liverpool players, who had clearly been riled by what the former Porto boss had said.

At the weekend Grant may have suggested he would love Steven Gerrard at his club, but unlike Mourinho he's not one to show total disrespect or disregard for his opponents.

When the Liverpool players look over to the Chelsea bench, they won't see an arrogant man, who they are desperate to beat, they will see Grant, an awkward and at times laughable figure.

Of course, Liverpool will want to win - no question about that - but every little extra incentive counts, especially when games are tight and Mourinho gave Benitez's side that, not once but twice.

Another intriguing difference this time around is that unlike the previous two ties, the second leg is at the Bridge.

Tomorrow night Anfield will be bouncing with Liverpool fans making it inspiring for the home side and intimidating for the visitors. And the flags will, as always on big occasions, be out in force.

Liverpool fans bring their own. It's sad to say that Chelsea fans are supplied with them by the club. Mind you, the recent lack of atmosphere - years ago the Bridge with the old Shed produced incredible noise - hasn't hindered their home record, has it?

When the quarter-final and semi-final draws were made I tipped Liverpool to make it to Moscow, and I'll stick with that, but it wouldn't surprise me if Grant did something Mourinho couldn't and took Chelsea to the Champions League final.

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