Sat, May 10, 2003 - Page 20 News List

Liverpool, Chelsea face off in battle for top Euro spot


There's no trophy at stake. But with a Champions League spot worth a potential £20 million (US$32 million) on the line, tomorrow's season-ending game between Chelsea and Liverpool is virtually a cup final.

The two teams are battling for fourth place in the Premier League behind newly-crowned champion Manchester United, runner-up Arsenal and third-place Newcastle.

More importantly, the winner gets into the qualifying round of the Champions League and the chance to earn millions in prize money and TV revenue.

A four-time winner of Europe's most coveted trophy, Liverpool hasn't won it since 1984. The Reds did win the UEFA Cup two seasons ago.

Chelsea, whose last European triumph was the Cup Winners Cup in 1998, goes into the game at Stamford Bridge as favorite.

As well as having home advantage, Claudio Ranieri's players need only a tie to hold onto fourth because they have a superior goal difference. They also haven't lost at home to Liverpool since 1989-90 and have won their last six meetings at Stamford Bridge.

On the other hand, no team can match Liverpool's record of nine wins on the road this season.

"We do well away from home and we know if we win at Stamford Bridge we qualify," Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier said. "My players like cup finals. We win them, so we can win this last game."

Michael Owen scored four goals in Liverpool's last away game at relegated West Bromwich Albion to take his total to 30 for the season and will be the biggest threat to Chelsea.

Czech midfielder Vladimir Smicer is out with a calf strain and German midfielder Dietmar Hamann is doubtful because of a shin injury, but England star Steven Gerrard has recovered from a hip problem and will face the Blues.

John Terry could return to the heart of the Chelsea defense after recovering from injury, although Ranieri may decide to continue with Marcel Desailly and William Gallas to keep Owen quiet.

The manager also has to decide who should team up in attack, with Eidur Gudjohnsen, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Gianfranco Zola the candidates.

Midfielder Mario Stanic believes Chelsea would be foolish to aim for a tie.

"On paper, we are in a better position than Liverpool but that doesn't mean anything when the game starts," the Croatian international said. "If someone scores early, all your tactics and work during the week is gone. I'm sure that we will have to score to reach the Champions League. I don't think it will be 0-0. So we have to play to score and win the game."

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