Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez stoked up a row over Didier Drogba’s theatrics after refusing to retract his claims that the Chelsea striker is a diver.
Benitez angered Chelsea boss Avram Grant by revealing he showed his defenders a video dossier of Drogba exaggerating fouls before last week’s Champions League semifinal first leg.
Grant hit back by accusing Benitez of making the tape public in an attempt to influence Italian referee Roberto Rosetti, who takes charge of the decisive return at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday.
But Benitez was unrepentant and repeated his allegation ahead of the second leg.
”I don’t agree. I think I was clear from watching a lot of games. Everyone can have the same conclusion and idea. Everybody knows when they see the games,” he said.
”Our centre-backs did a good job against him in the last game. The first thing is Drogba is a fantastic player, that is clear, but he falls down too easily.”
Benitez is worried that Rosetti could be influenced by the partisan atmosphere in west London. The Turin-born official has presided over wins for home teams in all but one of his European matches this season, and that solitary victory went to Chelsea at Valencia.
The Liverpool manager has extra cause for concern because Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher are one booking away from missing the final, as is Chelsea captain John Terry.
”This referee has had six games in Europe this season, five times the home team has won and the other was when Chelsea won in Valencia. Maybe that is curious,” Benitez said.
”The referee has experience, he is certainly not a bad referee. If he is strong at Stamford Bridge then things will be okay.
”The referee in the first leg was not good in virtually every decision but hopefully it will be different now.
”They have the same problem as well with bookings but our players have enough experience so we will manage.
”I don’t think it will be a question for them before the game. They can target Gerrard but if they are not in the final it doesn’t matter. They will think first to win the game.”
Liverpool’s hopes of reaching a third Champions League final in four years rest on their ability to end an eight-match barren run at the Bridge. The Reds have never scored at Chelsea under Benitez, and only a win or a high-scoring draw will take them through without the need for a penalty shoot-out.
Benitez is confident the likes of Gerrard and Fernando Torres will provide enough of a goal threat.
”Normally in these sorts of games the difference is world-class players face to face. In the last game Petr Cech came out on top, maybe this time it will be Torres,” he said.
”But we also have Gerrard, [Peter] Crouch, [Xabi] Alonso and other players who can score. We only need one goal, maybe that will be enough.”
Liverpool’s two previous semifinal successes against Chelsea were uninspiring affairs.
Now Chelsea are within a goalless draw of reaching the final it would be no surprise to see Grant’s side play cautiously on Wednesday, so Benitez, perhaps realising how hard that would make it for his side, was keen to emphasise the risks of that tactic.
”They need to attack, that is clear, because the supporters will be waiting for something special,” he said.
”You cannot defend at home and lose 1-0 because your supporters will not be happy. They have to attack and we have to attack so I think it will be an open game.”
Liverpool defender Alvaro Arbeloa is convinced those wins over the Blues in 2005 and 2007 could have an negative affect on Chelsea’s players.
”Maybe we have the psychological edge because Chelsea know that Liverpool are a good team and the last two times we won,” Arbeloa said.
”The key for us is to be strong in defence and take our chances. If we do that there is no reason why we can’t beat Chelsea.
”We have confidence in ourselves and we have players with quality who can score against anyone.” — Sapa-AFP