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Sunday, February 01, 2009


By ROB BEASLEY, 31/01/2009
FRANK LAMPARD will walk out at Anfield today inspired by Chelsea’s ultimate “must-win” victory over arch-rivals Liverpool.

It wasn’t to win a League title, a Cup final or a Champions League semi-final — even though these two teams have enjoyed some epic encounters in such contests over recent years.

No, it was MUCH bigger than that. On May 11, 2003, Lampard lined up against Liverpool at Stamford Bridge knowing nothing but victory could save the club from oblivion.

The Blues were on the brink of going bust, sinking fast under £80million of debt. Their only lifeline was to win the £20m showdown with Liverpool and claim a Champions League place at their expense.

SAVING GRACE - Frank Lampard (right) celebrates the Marcel Desailly (centre) goal which helped Chelsea beat Liverpool in 2003, along with Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink (top) and Eidur Gudjohnsen

And they did it, coming from behind to win 2-1 with goals from Marcel Desailly and Jesper Gronkjaer.

And Lampard says the victory probably SAVED his Chelsea career — as well as paving the way for Roman Abramovich’s £140m takeover just two months later.

At the time City financial experts were predicting the club could go into freefall just like Leeds. And without the Champions League cash, Chelsea would have been a far less attractive proposition to the Russian billionaire.

Lampard recalled: “We weren’t challenging for the League back then — we were looking to break into the top four if we could So that Liverpool game sticks out as one of the very best because of the desperation of the club at the time.

“It was at rock bottom and threatening to go under. But we won the game, which kept us alive — so that’s right up there with the very best of feelings and achievements.

“Especially when you see the direction other teams went in similar circumstances. Leeds is a prime example where a great club crashed and that looked like it was possible for us.

“We were aware of that at the time, that the club could have gone a different way. And I think, if it had, they might have sold me.That’s what I heard from Trevor Birch, who was chief executive at the time.”

TWO GOOD - Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard

The stakes are not quite as high in today’s intriguing top-of-the-table clash but Lampard admits that a league title dream could still be destroyed this afternoon.

The sides are separated only by goal difference as they strive to keep in touch with in-form leaders Manchester United. But Lampard says whoever loses can forget all about being crowned champions.

He said: “It is imperative that we don’t lose but try to win the game to keep pace with United — especially having just had the boost of winning a few games and going above Liverpool in the league.

“But it will be very hard. Liverpool are a team that can put on a performance at any time, a team that can beat anyone. I have played against them enough to know that the games between us are normally tight.

“They are a clever team, a very strong team and they play very good football — but their game is based on their discipline.

“It starts with a strong back four that defend very well. In front there are the two holding midfield players and, obviously, up front there is the threat of Torres and Gerrard in particular.

“But it might be a good time to play them because they’ve dropped a few points lately. Having been a few points clear at the top they now find themselves down in third.”

Lampard intends to do all he can to add to Liverpool’s woes but he knows there will still be plenty of twists ahead as the title race enters the run-in.

He explained: “No one is going to go on a winning run right to the finish — it’s not that sort of league any more. So it’s all about how you respond when you have a slip-up.”

Chelsea have shown once again that they can respond to such setbacks. The Blues’ league challenge looked in serious trouble when they were thumped 3-0 at Old Trafford last month.

But Felipe Scolari’s side have bounced back with four wins in a row — two in the league, two in the FA Cup — and have now climbed above a faltering Liverpool into second place, just behind leaders United.

However, beating Southend, Stoke City, Ipswich and Middlesbrough is one thing — winning at Anfield is another. And Lampard acknowledges that if Chelsea perform like they did at United, they have no chance.

He said: “We let ourselves down with our performance at Old Trafford. It was nowhere near the level you need to produce against a team like Manchester United.

“To give a goal away just before half-time was a killer. And then we just folded in the second half. We can’t afford to do that at places like Old Trafford — or Anfield.

“You can’t afford to give goals away at big moments and we have to be much stronger in the way we bounce back after falling behind. Maybe that match will prove to have been the turning point for us.

“We certainly all looked hard at ourselves after that match. But we have reacted to it in the right way. We have jumped ahead of Liverpool on goal difference and now we have a massive game up there where we can try to pull clear of them.

“If we don’t play with the determination, belief and spirit which have been our trademarks over the years, we won’t win there. But if we go there and work hard, be solid and be brave we can get the right result.”

So it promises to be another highly charged collision between two teams who have become fierce adversaries after a series of high-profile matches.

Lampard added: “I think the edge between the two clubs has been created because we have played them so many times recently — in the League, in Champions League games and in the cups.

“There was also the Stevie Gerrard scenarios a few years back when it looked as if he was coming here. So there’s been a real connection between the clubs but I think that’s fairly healthy in football. It gets the fans ‘up’ for the game — and that makes sure the teams are ‘up’ for the game too.”

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