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23 Apr 2007 12:03
Chelsea are the odd club out in the Champions League semifinals—they have never won a European title.
The Blues host Liverpool in the first leg on Wednesday—a repeat of their 2005 semifinal. Liverpool emerged victorious then and went on to win their fifth European Cup.
Manchester United host AC Milan on Tuesday in the other first-leg semifinal.
United are on course to repeat their 1999 treble of Champions League, English FA Cup and English Premier League titles, while AC Milan are the only non-English club left.
Milan are also the only club in the final four that made last season’s quarterfinals.
AC Milan won their sixth European title in 2003, beating Juventus on penalty kicks.
Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti led his team past United in the second round of the 2005 tournament, but he’s more worried about the Premier League leaders this time, particularly after the Red Devils thrashed AS Roma 7-1 in the quarterfinals.
“Playing at Manchester is hard,” AC Milan defender Alessandro Nesta said. “Roma allowed seven shots and conceded seven goals. Those are the evenings on which everything goes well.”
United haven’t got past Milan in three attempts in Europe—also losing in the 1958 and 1969 semifinals. The Red Devils suffered a setback to their English title charge on Saturday when they drew 1-1 with Middlesbrough.
“It is a difficult time,” Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson said. “The players have achieved so much this season. Now they need to re-group and galvanise themselves.
“This is not a time to start feeling sorry for ourselves. We are still ahead in the league and we still have the ability to get a result on Tuesday.”
United defender Rio Ferdinand sustained a groin injury that will sideline him for two weeks, ruling him out of the return leg at the San Siro on May 2. United are already without Gary Neville (ankle), Nemanja Vidic (collarbone) and Mikael Silvestre (shoulder) in their defensive line.
Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti watched United’s last game and wanted a Red Devils victory.
“I wanted them to win because this result could give them a lift and the more motivation for the match with us,” Ancelotti said. “We will need to go to the Old Trafford to impose our game just like always, because this is the key to the game.”
Milan rested several key players for their 3-1 win over Cagliari in the Serie A on Saturday. Both goals were scored by Ronaldo, who is ineligible to play in the Champions League because he played for Real Madrid in the competition earlier this season.
Milan goalkeeper Dida was rested with a shoulder injury and is doubtful for the trip to United. Zeljko Kalac will play in his place if needed.
Liverpool defeated Wigan 2-0 at Anfield through two goals by Dirk Kuyt. Manager Rafa Benitez decided not to start captain Steven Gerrard in a league game for the first time in year, instead inserting him for the last 30 minutes.
“This was the ideal situation,” Benitez said. “We wanted a good game, a good result, to score a few and control the game. We wanted to rest some players like Steven Gerrard and we didn’t want any injuries. In the end it was almost perfect.”
Jose Mourinho cannot say the same about his lead-up to Wednesday.
The Chelsea coach had the chance to close the gap on Manchester United in the English league to one point if they defeated Newcastle on Sunday. Chelsea drew 0-0.
United have 82 points and Chelsea 79 with four games left in the season.
The two clubs play in the FA Cup Final on May 19 and could meet again in the Champions League final four days later.
Despite losing appeals for two penalty kicks, Mourinho was happy with the draw.
“If you ask if Chelsea deserve to win this game, I don’t think so,” Mourinho said. “Newcastle were fresher and were dangerous on the counter-attack.”
Liverpool have beaten Chelsea twice this season—in the pre-season Community Shield and in a 2-0 league win on January 20.
Chelsea won 1-0 in the league at Stamford Bridge on September 17.
“All of our players are ready,” Benitez said. “We do not fear Chelsea, but we have respect for them and also confidence. In a competition like this, everyone is motivated—it will be a tough game for everyone.”
All four coaches in the semifinals have won a Champions League title—Alex Ferguson with United in 1999, Benitez with Liverpool in 2005 and Ancelotti with Milan in 2003. The fourth coach, Chelsea’s Jose Mourinho, won the Champions League with FC Porto in 2004. None of them are English.—Sapa-AP
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