Liverpool v Chelsea Rivalry & History

Liverpool v ChelseaThey say that familiarity breeds contempt and this couldn't be truer of the rivalry between Chelsea and Liverpool football clubs. With these two sides being amongst the most successful in recent times, it's no surprise to find out that it's one of the most played fixtures in the English game over the last 20 years.

Whether it's Luis Garcia's infamous Champions League 'ghost goal' in 2005 or the Gerard slip which cost Liverpool their title chance in 2014, these contests have produced talking points that will live long in their supporters' memories.

Map of Liverpool & Chelsea Stadiums

Map of Liverpool & Chelsea Stadiums

About the Recent Liverpool v Chelsea Rivalry

Table Football with Red and Blue Players

Some footballing rivalries are easy to understand, with supporters of teams that are based in the same city disliking each other for reasons of geography as much as anything else, for example.

Other times it can be due to the success of the two teams, with any perceived rivalry coming down to the fact that both teams want to get one over on the other in order to be ‘top dog’; the mutual enmity of Real Madrid and Barcelona in Spain is a good example of that kind of rivalry.

Yet sometimes it can be a bit trickier to put your finger on why two sets of fans dislike each other or two club sides view the other as a rival. Such is the case with Liverpool and Chelsea, given that neither team were particularly successful at the same time as the other.

When Liverpool were the dominant side in English football during the 1970s and 1980s, the London club were bobbing around between the first and second divisions of the Football League, struggling to maintain any sort of long-term success. Likewise, when the Stamford Bridge club were taken over by Roman Abramovich and changed the face of the sport thanks to what some have referred to as ‘financial doping’, the Merseysiders was heading towards a state of civil war thanks to owners that seemingly wanted to bleed the club the dry for their own financial benefit.

How, then, did the rivalry that rather evidently exists comes about? As you’ll discover here, it has much more to do with the more recent exploits of each club than any real historical basis.

A Brief History of Each Club

In order to best understand how the rivalry of the two clubs has developed over the years, it’s best to first gain an understanding of the history of the two sides and where they fit in English football history. The manner in which the two clubs rose to prominence is as much a part of the rivalry as what has happened in recent times.


Statue of Bill Shankly
Gary Denham, flickr

Liverpool Football Club was founded in 1892, winning the Lancashire League in its first season in existence. The club soon joined the Second Division of the Football League and gaining promotion to the First Division as a result. They won the top-flight in 1901 and then again five years later, though life was mixed for the Merseyside club in the years that followed.

Though they enjoyed a degree of success, wining the First Division title a couple of times in the 1920s and once in the 1940s, for example, it wasn’t until the arrival of Bill Shankly as manager in 1959 that the clubs fortunes truly changed.

Considered by many to be the ‘father’ of modern-day Liverpool, Shankly transformed the club. He promoted Bob Paisley, who was considered to be a tactical genius, and established the ‘boot room’ culture that would remain part of the club for decades. He announced that he planned to make Anfield a ‘bastion of invincibility’ and also improved facilities at the club’s Melwood training ground. The changes he made began to take hold and the Reds won the title in 1964 an then again in 1966, also picking up their first FA Cup in the intervening year.

Shankly established a culture at Liverpool that would last through to the 1990s, with the side going on to win eleven more titles and three more FA Cups, as well as four League Cups and four European Cups between 1967 and 1990. The honours didn’t stop there, with the Anfield side being one of the most successful English clubs ever to play football. Though the side has yet to win the Premier League, their trophy haul reads as follows:

First DivisionFA CupLeague CupEuropean CupUEFA CupSuper Cup
18 7 8 5 3 3


Statue of Peter Osgood at Stamford Bridge
Greger Ravik, flickr (cropped)

The journey to the top for Chelsea is a significantly different story. The club was formed in 1904 when Gus Mears acquired what was then an athletics stadium named Stamford Bridge and turned it into a football ground. He initially offered it to Fulham but they weren’t interested, with Mears instead forming his own club and named it after the nearby London borough of Chelsea.

The new side was promoted to the First Division in its second season, but struggled to establish itself and moved between the top two divisions of the Football League in its early years. In fact, it would take until the arrival of Ted Drake as manager in 1952 before they began to see major success on the football pitch.

Much as Shankly had done at Liverpool, Drake did his best to modernise life at Chelsea, improving the setup that dealt with youth players and changing the training methods. Despite the club’s previous reputation of being willing to spend big on buying in players, it was a series of clever signings from lower and amateur leagues that led them to their first top-flight title in 1955.

Though the club challenged for honours throughout the 1960s and early ‘70s, winning the League Cup in 1965 and the FA Cup in 1970, they failed to capitalise on their title win and by the time the ‘70s turned into the ‘80s there were numerous problems rearing their heads.

As well as relegation, the club had hoped to redevelop Stamford Bridge and this out them in a period of financial instability. Players were sold and the reputation of the supporters took a hit thanks to a growing hooligan element with ties to white nationalist groups in the 1980s.

In 1982 Chelsea was bought by Ken Bates for £1, with Stamford Bridge having been sold to property developers. Gradually, under the ownership of Bates, the club began to re-establish itself in the First Division and by 1992 he’d been able to regain the freehold of its home ground from developers. After the appointment of Ruud Gullit as manager in 1996, they won the FA Cup, picking up the League Cup, UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup UEFA Super Cup under Gianluca Vialli.

Even so, it was unquestionably the arrival of Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich in 2003 that changed the face of both Chelsea’s fortunes and football itself. He acquired the club for £140 million and then spent £100 million on players, eventually replacing then manager Claudio Ranieri with José Mourinho, the Portuguese boss who had won the Champions League with Porto the season before.

From then on, the amount of money spent on players by clubs around Europe rose exponentially, boosted further by the arrival of Sheikh Mansour at Manchester City in 2008. For a traditional club like Liverpool, this new form of ‘financial doping’ was the antithesis of how things should be done, which was the start of the two clubs’ modern rivalry.

Familiarity Breeds Contempt

Liverpool Player Steven Gerrard at Stamford Bridge
Steven Gerrard by @cfcunofficial (Chelsea Debs), flickr

The arrival of Mourinho at Stamford Bridge coincided with the appointment of Spaniard Rafael Benitez at Anfield, with the two men taking an immediate dislike to each other. That may, in part, have been down to the fact that Mourinho had himself been keen on becoming Liverpool’s manager but the board of the Merseyside club didn’t think he was the right personality to fit in with those traditions that Shankly had put in place all of those years before.

Despite not having the financial might of the London club, Liverpool did well in the League Cup and Champions League in the 2004-2005 season, though it was at the expense of their league form. Whilst Mourinho’s Chelsea ended up running away with the Premier League title, the Reds finished below their Merseyside neighbours Everton and finished thirty-seven points shy of the champions.

The lack of form in the league was only a side-story to what was to happen elsewhere in Liverpool’s season, however, with Chelsea being one of the clubs that would play a big part in the campaign. The two clubs ended up facing each other five times, with the two league games matched by two Champions League appearances and the League Cup final.

The 2005 League Cup Final

In the latter competition, the Reds took the lead after just one minute before an own goal from Steven Gerrard eleven minutes before full-time saw the tie head into extra-time. Chelsea went on to win the match 3-2, leading to the first silverware for Mourinho since his arrival in the UK.

Perhaps the most important point of the match from the point of view of the topic of this piece was the moment that Mourinho made a ‘shush’ gesture towards the Liverpool fans after Gerrard’s own goal, getting sent to the stands as a result but also earning the dislike of the Merseysiders for the rest of his career.

Champions League Semi-Final 2005

The good news for the Liverpool supporters was that they would get the last laugh when the two clubs were drawn to face each other in the semi-finals of the Champions League. The first-leg was at Stamford Bridge and was a cagey affair, with neither team getting on the scoresheet and the tie heading to Anfield for the second-leg.

Controversy struck after four minutes when Liverpool striker Milan Baros raced towards the oncoming Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech, with the latter wiping out the former and putting the referee in a situation where he might have had to send him off and award a penalty. Instead, the ball broke to Luis Garcia for the home team and he prodded it towards the net.

Despite Chelsea protestations that it didn’t cross the line, a goal was given that Mourinho would go on to refer to as a ‘ghost goal’. Liverpool progressed, eventually winning the final against AC Milan on penalties.

The Rivalry Continues

It was the start of a running battle between the two sides that would rage on until Benitez departed Merseyside by ‘mutual consent’ in 2010, starting in the 2006-2007 season when they went head-to-head in another Champions League double-header that Liverpool won again.

Benitez’s Portuguese counterpart left the London club three years before him, but that didn’t stop the two clubs facing each other regularly in the biggest competitions. Another semi-final in the biggest competition in European football came around in 2008, this time seeing Chelsea progress to a final that they would eventually lose to Liverpool’s bitterest of rivals Manchester United. It wasn’t going to be the last time that the two clubs would clash in the modern era.

Transfer Wrangling, Cup Matches and the Return of Mourinho

Football Manager Jose Mourinho
Jose Mourinho by katatonia82

Though José Mourinho left Stamford Bridge in 2007, his lasting legacy was as much the dislike that Chelsea and Liverpool had for each other as it was the silverware that he was responsible for arriving in West London.

Supporters of the Merseyside club were already disapproving of the billions of pounds ploughed into Chelsea by Roman Abramovich even before their own club was sold to two Americans named Tom Hicks and George Gillett in February 2007. The arrival of the pair was supposed to herald a new era of success at Anfield, but it soon became clear that anything but that was the truth of the matter. They used loans rather than their own money to buy the club, soon saddling it with debt and leading to fan protests.

Pursuit of Steven Gerrard

In amongst all of this, Chelsea continued to make overtures towards Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard that first began in the wake of the 2005 Champions League final. He’d actually handed in a transfer request that summer, eventually changing his mind and remaining at Anfield but on less than sparkling terms.

The interest in him from the London club never waned, though, and the lack of major success for Liverpool meant that his head continued to turn with wonder towards Stamford Bridge. In the end the captain would stay, but another fans’ favourite would be tempted away amidst the turmoil and disappointment of life on Merseyside.

Fernando Torres Switches for a Record Fee

When Benitez left the club in 2010 he was replaced by Roy Hodgson, a man who never quite understood the culture of Liverpool. He asked his players to go long towards the cultured Spanish forward Fernando Torres, a tactic that would never play to his strengths.

Torres’ disillusionment eventually led to his departure from the club, with Chelsea paying a British transfer record of £50 million for his signature. Tensions between the two clubs went up a notch, though it was mostly from the Liverpool supporters who were looking at the Blues with jealous eyes.

2012 FA Cup Final & Dalglish's Departure

The following year the two clubs met once more in a cup final, this time the FA Cup. Kenny Dalglish’s side had already picked up the League Cup but were denied a double thanks to Chelsea’s 2-1 win, which may have inadvertently lead to the Scottish club legend losing his job that summer.

The Suarez Bite

He was replaced by Brendan Rodgers a year before José Mourinho returned to the Stamford Bridge dugout, who watched on horrified during the 2012-2013 league fixture between the clubs when Luis Suarez bit the arm of Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic, eventually receiving a ten match ban for the action.

Gerrard's Anfield Slip

In 2013-2014, which was the Portuguese boss’s first season back in England, Liverpool mounted an unlikely title challenge. Fired on by the aforementioned Suarez after he returned from his ban as well as Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling, the Reds went toe-to-toe with Manchester City and would have won the title if they’d gone unbeaten in their three remaining games.

One of them was, of course, against Chelsea and the Blues turned up at Anfield determined to frustrate. A draw was good enough for Liverpool, but as half-time approached Steven Gerrard slipped and allowed Demba Ba to race through on goal, giving the away side a 1-0 lead. The home team continued to knock on the door, but Chelsea made it 2-0 in the dying moments of the game and killed Liverpool’s hopes of lifting the title.

2015 League Cup Semi-Final

Another semi-final came around the year after, with Liverpool losing in the League Cup tie to Chelsea but being wound-up by the behaviour of the London club’s striker Diego Costa. The Brazilian-born Spanish international received a suspension for his antics, which annoyed his manager no end. It was just another chapter in what is a very modern rivalry, taking in Champions League matches, transfer wars and title challenges. All of which has led to one of football’s most petty, bitter and enthralling exchanges.

Ain’t They Got History?

When Liverpool and Chelsea go head-to-head nowadays, you’ll often hear a chant of ‘you ain’t got no history’ emerging from the Liverpool end, but is that entirely fair? It’s an obvious reference to the London club’s position as the nouveau riche of football, enjoying significantly more success than the Merseysiders since the arrival of Roman Abramovich and his wealth.

The trophy count of the two clubs since 2003 alone is an indication of how much more successful Chelsea have been than Liverpool, with the Reds suffering a period of instability both on and off the pitch at the same time that their rivals have picked up every major trophy going. Yet the song is somewhat misleading, considering that the two clubs enjoyed some ding-dong battles long before the Russian could even spell ‘Stamford Bridge’.

The Billion Pound Game

Even in just the most immediate history, there’s an argument that Abramovich might have put his wealth elsewhere if Chelsea had lost to Liverpool in the final game of the 2002-2003 Premier League campaign. The Russian knew that he was going to invest in an English club but wasn’t sure which one, with both Tottenham Hotspur and Everton on his list of targets.

When Chelsea beat the Merseysiders at Stamford Bridge in the last match of the season, however, they qualified for the Champions League at the expense of Liverpool and made themselves an attractive proposition for the oligarch. It came at just the right time for the Blues, too, given that they were reportedly close to defaulting on a £75 million loan at the time. That would have plunged them into a financial quagmire that they might not have escaped from, but instead they’d won the title within two years and the rest was history.

FA Cup Clashes Through the Years

Looking further back in the record books will provide you with more evidence that the Londoners do indeed have some history, including with Liverpool. The two teams went up against each other in the FA Cup semi-final in 1965, for example, with Chelsea having printed a brochure that gave supporters details about their appearance in the final before the match had even been played. Bill Shankly was given a copy of it and he stuck it to the dressing room wall, riling up his players and sending them out to a 2-0 win.

The following year the two sides met again in the third round at Anfield and won the match, leaving the Reds disappointed. Bill Shankly was replaced in the Anfield dugout by Bob Paisley, a man who would go on to be one of the best managers of all time, picking up three European Cups and six top-flight titles in just nine years. The one trophy that evaded him was the FA Cup, with Liverpool twice losing to Chelsea during the north-easterners reign.

Liverpool and Chelsea’s history together always seemed to involve the FA Cup, including when Roy Evans’s side went to Stamford Bridge in the fourth round of the competition in 1997. The Reds had beaten Chelsea 5-1 at Anfield already during the campaign, so when they were 2-0 up at half-time it seemed like it was job done; that was especially the case when you looked at the record books and saw that Liverpool hadn’t lost a game when being two goals clear since doing so against Blackburn in the 1960s.

Top of the table Liverpool simply couldn’t cope with Chelsea in the second-half, however, as Mark Hughes helped them score four and knock them out of the cup. It also had repercussions in the league, with the Reds shorn of confidence and ending up finishing fourth. Chelsea went on to lift the trophy, which was their first piece of silverware worthy of the name for twenty-six years.