19 December 2007

Chelsea v Liverpool: Preview


Chelsea boss Avram Grant has been cheered by the return of midfielder Michael Ballack for Wednesday's Carling Cup quarter-final clash with Liverpool at Stamford Bridge.
Ballack has not played since last April after undergoing two operations on a damaged ankle.
But the Germany international is fit enough to be welcomed back into Grant's squad for the tie.
Grant added: 'Ballack is available. He's a good player and we miss him. He's available and has a lot of qualities. He'll be in the squad tomorrow (Wednesday).'
Chelsea will also welcome back Michael Essien, named in Ghana's 40-man preliminary squad for the African Nations Cup, after suspension.
One man who won't be playing against the Reds is John Terry who will be out for around six weeks after being injured by a tackle from Emmanuel Eboue on Sunday against Arsenal.
Eboue's tackle has been criticised in many quarters but referee Alan Wiley showed only the yellow card to the Arsenal player.
Now during a month when Chelsea admitted a charge relating to the behaviour of their players towards referee Andre Marriner during a match against Derby in November, Grant insists the debate over such incidents is taking precedence over the protection of players.
Grant declared: 'I would say, first, I don't think it's easy to be a referee these days.
'The game is a lot quicker and a lot more aggressive. I won't complain about the referees. I did that once, against Manchester United.
'But, also, I see the main discussion in the last two months is that if Chelsea sent three players or four players to the referee to complain about a decision.
'This is wrong. The main issue is to protect the game and to protect the players from bad injury. That has to be the main discussion.
'A lot of other clubs send more players - including last Saturday when a centre-half ran 50 metres to complain about the referee and nothing happened - than Chelsea do.
'If we are looking at the red card that Michael Essien got against Derby then other players have done more aggressive fouls but (have) not (been) punished.
'On Sunday look which players ran more up to the referee? Ours or theirs? It's part of the game. I don't think it's that important.
'The major problem in terms of discussion in the last few months has been that. That's the wrong message.
'The right message would be how we can better protect the players. There were bad fouls, that foul on John Terry.
'That's the most important thing.'
Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez is backing his side to bounce back after two successive defeats and progress to the semi-finals despite title rivals Chelsea being all but invincible at Stamford Bridge.
He claims his team have enough about them to banish the memory of losing to Manchester United and Reading, following a long unbeaten run.
Benitez insists that confidence has not been damaged despite that home defeat by Sir Alex Ferguson's side at the weekend.
He told liverpoolfc.tv: 'If you analyse Chelsea's home form you can see they haven't lost for a long time.
'So it's normal not to get too many good results there. They are really good in front of their own fans but we will try to change the situation.
'We have played a lot of games against Chelsea over the last three or four years. We know they are a top side.
'These games are very special and we seem to have a good record against them in cup competitions especially. We know if we play well then we can beat anyone.
'We are here to win trophies and so we want to get into the semi-final. We will fight until the last minute to get there.'
Benitez could be tempted to shuffle his pack with Xabi Alonso set for a run out after a ten-week absence with a metatarsal injury.
Steve Finnan remains doubtful because of a calf problem while Daniel Agger remains sidelined with a foot injury.
Benitez said: 'The key is to find the balance between the squad and the big names. It is not possible for players to play every game.
'Xabi is training normally and should be available for the match at Chelsea.
'We are going into a busy period with lots of games so it is important to have our best players available.
'I think Chelsea will rest some players because that's normal. But it will still be a good side.'

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