Jose Mourinho is set to name a much changed side on Sunday as Chelsea face title rivals Liverpool at Anfield. With a tough second leg against Atletico Madrid to come, they move from the Portuguese manager signals that he has decided to prioritise success in the Champions League over trying to win a third English league title.
For Mourinho, the Champions League is the one that got away from his previous spell in England. His reasoning for wanting to lift Europe’s greatest prize is clear, but relinquishing the title to Liverpool could have a huge effect on Chelsea’s future success in both Europe and the Premier League.
Two years ago the victory over Bayern Munich in the Champions League final helped them land Belgian superstar Eden Hazard. The Blues finished sixth in the league and without that victory in Munich; they would have finished out on any European football. Hazard was set to join either of the Manchester clubs, but Chelsea’s qualification to the group stage put them back in the running and the Lille star saw a future where he could blossom in London with the chance to experience top European football.
This season Liverpool have come on leaps and bounds under Brendan Rodgers, and the Reds are set to make a return to the Champions League next season, but a win on Sunday would see them more than likely return to Europe as the Champions of England. And it is that title alone that would see the Liverpool name almost instantly back amongst the elite of European football.
As soon as Liverpool are crowned English champions Brendan Rodgers list of transfer targets receives an instant upgrade. Players will want to come and play for the English champions and it will give Rodgers the chance to severely reinforce his squad for next season.
There is no doubt that the likes of Raheem Sterling, Jordan Henderson and Jon Flanagan have performed exceptionally well this season, but as Champions they can go and target the next level of stars, players that would bring both quality and European experience, something that will be vital in helping Liverpool cement their return as one of England’s best teams.
Their performances this season have exceeded expectations, with Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez playing the best football of their careers. There is a chance they might not be able to hit the same heights next season. There is no doubt that Rodgers needs to bring in a number of players to challenge on two fronts next season.
Winning the Champions League at Chelsea would be a great individual achievement for Mourinho, but watching Liverpool progress as Champions of England could jeopardise their chance of lifting the Premier League title for the next few years, and once you fall out of the that elite position - as Liverpool have shown – it’s hard to force your way back in.
Victory on Sunday for Chelsea would put immense pressure on Liverpool, a pressure none of these players have ever felt before.
They would still be the favourites, but with football played within the smallest of margins, it could make all the difference. Manchester City could then close the gap, Chelsea could come second and Liverpool would have to recruit new talent as the third best team in England.
They will obviously still play in the Champions League, and that will always attract high-class players, but there is something about that tag of being “Champions” that could make all the difference in the resurrection of Liverpool.
Much of that power is in the hands of Jose Mourinho.