Grant adds spice to semi with praise for Gerrard
Avram Grant may have been almost monosyllabic after Chelsea beat Everton last week but his comments about Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard are sure to add some spice to their Champions League semi-final on Tuesday.sports Updated: Apr 22, 2008 11:31 IST
Avram Grant may have been almost monosyllabic after Chelsea beat Everton last week but his comments about Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard are sure to add some spice to their Champions League semi-final on Tuesday.
Liverpool meet Chelsea for the third time in four seasons with a place in the Champions League final at stake and the Chelsea coach was full of praise for Gerrard before the first leg against the five-times European champions.
"Gerrard is a great player and a great person," Grant was widely quoted as saying in British Sunday newspapers.
"For me, he is the player of the year in England, and maybe in Europe because of the influence he has on the team.
"I like him as a player very much and I know him, he is a nice guy and an example to others. He plays against me but he is still my favourite player and if you can bring him to me, I would be very happy."
Chelsea made two attempts to sign Gerrard under Grant's predecessor Jose Mourinho and the England midfielder was close to signing, first for 20 million pounds ($40 million) in 2004 and for 32 million pounds the following summer.
Chelsea also failed in two attempts to beat Liverpool at this stage of the competition under Mourinho, in 2005 when they lost 1-0 on aggregate and again last year when they went out on penalties at Anfield after being locked at 1-1 on aggregate.
With just three goals scored in their six Champions League meetings, another closely fought battle looks likely.
However, unlike the semis of 2005 and last year, Liverpool are at home in the first leg and will have to go for goals at Anfield because Chelsea are formidable at Stamford Bridge, where they have not lost to English opposition for over four years.
Going for goals at Anfield though, is one thing Liverpool do well, especially on European nights.
In November they set a Champions League record when they beat Besiktas 8-0 in the group stage and two weeks ago they beat Arsenal 4-2 in one of the greatest European games played at the ground.
Another factor in their favour is that they last lost at this stage in the hunt for the European Cup in 1965.
However, they will be up against Chelsea players who will be utterly determined not to suffer another semi-final defeat by Liverpool.
The London side gave a gritty, resolute performance on Merseyside on Thursday when they won 1-0 at Everton to keep alive their Premier League title hopes.
Their captain Frank Lampard, whose possible departure in the summer could facilitate the arrival of Gerrard, said they would not be motivated by revenge against Liverpool.
"The best thing we can take from those defeats is the memory of the feeling that hits you at the final whistle. It's the worst you can have," he said.
Chelsea will be without the suspended Michael Essien for the first leg with Michael Ballack expected to replace him in midfield, while Gerrard is suffering from a slight neck strain but should play.
Liverpool: 25-Pepe Reina; 23-Jamie Carragher, 4-Sami Hyypia, 37-Martin Skrtel, 12-Fabio Aurelio; 14-Xabi Alonso, 20-Javier Mascherano, 8-Steven Gerrard, 18-Dirk Kuyt; 19-Ryan Babel, 9-Fernando Torres
Chelsea: 1-Petr Cech; 20-Paulo Ferreira, 26-John Terry, 6-Ricardo Carvalho, 3-Ashley Cole; 8-Frank Lampard, 4-Claude Makelele, 13-Michael Ballack; 21-Salomon Kalou, 11-Didier Drogba, 10-Joe Cole
Referee: Konrad Plautz (Austria)