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Looking Ahead...

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Bit of a gut punch today watching United claw back to take all three points against Villa. It was about as good a reminder as any that Liverpool do not hold their title aspirations in their own hands. I can't say I watched the match as a neutral-obviously I was hoping that Villa would hang on for the win, but it wasn't to be. The emerging storyline from this is not that United take back the top spot, but that there is an impending hair gel crisis in the greater Manchester area with the emergence of Federico Macheda. Watching him and Cristiano Ronaldo celebrate was disgusting on many levels, the least of which was the violation of my own properly-coiffed sensibilities.

On to Wednesday, then. Chelsea travel to Anfield in the quarterfinal first leg in what has become an annual Champions League fixture. I haven't followed Chelsea much at all since Liverpool played them last, but I know they're playing better football under Guus Hiddink and are trailing Liverpool by 3 points in league. Chelsea battled through the first knockout round against Juventus, winning 1-0 at home in the first leg before earning a 2-2 draw at the Stadio Olimpico.

There's not much that's needed in the way of introductions, this being the 3rd meeting between the sides this year and the 23rd meeting since 2004/2005, when their European rivalry kicked off. Every witty asshole with a keyboard will be quick to remind you that these games are boring and these games will make your eyes bleed and these games would end with a negative score if they could. Here's one of the first! And they'd be mostly right. Unfunny and not creative, but right. The return leg at Stamford Bridge in last year's semifinal was the first European fixture between the two in which either side scored more than one goal, and even then it took an extra thirty minutes for that to happen. I'm of the mind, though, that this year will be different.

Why? Foolish hope mostly. But I also think the way Liverpool has played recently will change the way this tie will look. Rafa seems to have gained confidence in his side's ability to attack teams from the outset both domestically and in Europe; this confidence really kicked off when Real Madrid visited Anfield and left with their tails between their legs. Liverpool have scored 14 goals across 360+ minutes since kickoff that night, and while it was left late yesterday there was no doubt about Liverpool's attacking competence. This is not to say that I think Liverpool will put up a 5-spot on Chelsea-that would be ideal, but not likely. But I do think that Liverpool's recent willingness to attack early in the match could open things up and force the issue, something that has been severely lacking when these teams have met in European nights past.

As far as team news goes, Javier Mascherano *should* be the only absence after reaching the booking limit against Madrid last time out. And because I haven't found an answer anywhere, does anybody know why Fabio Aurelio was omitted from the squad against Fulham? Injury concerns?

Other Chelsea-related news:

Xabi Alonso and Frank Lampard, famous friends: This match-up has been one of the steamiest parts of Chelsea-Liverpool fixtures, probably due to the placement of Frank's hand in the picture.

John Terry nearing tears: Okay, maybe a slight exaggeration.