Chelsea will be honored as the Premier League champion at Stamford Bridge Sunday, but manager Jose Mourinho has paid tribute to Steven Gerrard as the Liverpool captain prepares to take on Chelsea for the last time. Gerrard will depart Anfield this summer after a 17-year career that has seen some of his most indelible moments involve the club he will face this weekend. The 34-year-old was on the verge of signing with Mourinho’s Chelsea in 2005, while he was at the heart of a series of intense Champions League duels between the clubs during the Portuguese manager’s first spell in London.
Some of Gerrard’s lowest points have come against Chelsea, too. There was the own goal in the 2005 League Cup final, and, surely most painful of all, his infamous slip that let Demba Ba in to score at Anfield last season and hand Chelsea a victory that cost Gerrard the chance to win an elusive Premier League title. Still, while Liverpool will perform a guard of honor for the newly crowned champions Sunday, Mourinho was keen to pay his respects to one of the most memorable opponents in his managerial career.
“Speaking about Liverpool and speaking about honoring champions, it is my time to honor Steven Gerrard and to say that because of opponents like him I am the manager I am,” Mourinho said, according to Chelsea’s official website. “I learn with my players, and I also learn with my best opponents because of the problems they give me, the way they make me think and analyze them and study the best way to play against them.” He added:
“Steven Gerrard is one of my favorite enemies, with all the good feeling I can express with that word in football. To try to stop him has been very difficult. I tried to bring him to Chelsea, Inter and Real Madrid, but he is always a dear enemy. I want to honor him and I hope Stamford Bridge has the same feeling I have -- that we need people like him as opponents.”
The fierce rivalry between the two clubs continued this season during a tense two-legged semifinal for the Capital One Cup, which Chelsea won thanks to an extra-time goal by Branislav Ivanovic. A particularly fractious second leg saw Diego Costa earn a suspension for stamping on Emre Can, and the striker could be back to lock horns with the Merseyside club Sunday. Costa, who has missed Chelsea’s last five matches, was expected to be given the rest of the season off to rest a persistent hamstring injury, but Mourinho suggested he could feature.
The news is not nearly so positive regarding Liverpool’s leading striker. After a season blighted by injury, Daniel Sturridge will now be out until at least September following a hip operation.
“With Daniel, unfortunately for him and his career, it’s been ongoing in terms of injuries,” manager Brendan Rodgers said, according to Liverpool’s official website. “He’s had a number of issues this season which aren’t related to the operation he’s had. We feel now, hopefully this can cure a lot of the problems he’s had, and I’m sure he’ll work over the coming months to get back fit.”
According to Rodgers: “Everyone has seen that when he is fit and playing, he’s an outstanding player. He has been a big miss to us this season, but let’s hope he can get back fit and help contribute for the club.”
Liverpool could have Mario Balotelli available for what is a vital fixture in their faint hopes to clinch a Champions League berth. Manchester United’s win over Crystal Palace Saturday means Liverpool now trails it by seven points and has to get at least a draw against Chelsea to maintain any chance of claiming fourth place going into the final two games.
Kickoff time: 11 a.m. EDT
TV channel: NBCSN
Live stream: NBC Sports Live Extra