Q&A with Xabi Alonso and Pepe Reina
Liverpool and Chelsea are familiar opponents in the Champions League, having played against each other five times in five seasons, so both sides are fully aware what to expect when they meet again at Anfield on Wednesday night.
Last year, Chelsea had the upper hand and went through to the Moscow final after beating Rafa Benitez's side 4-3 on aggregate, after a thrilling extra-time win saw them overcome four previous years of footballing tedium.
And with Liverpool in flying form after a morale-boosting demolition of Real Madrid and Manchester United, and Chelsea finding their feet under temporary new boss Guus Hiddink, the signs are good for this season's Red vs. Blue clash.
ESPN's Spanish correspondent Martin Ainstein caught up with Liverpool pair Xabi Alonso and Pepe Reina to talk over the quarter-final and their season so far.
Q. Chelsea are familiar opponents for you - what are the keys to the game and do you have a feeling of revenge for last year?
Pepe Reina: As always, when we play them in any kind of competition, like the league or Champions League, the smaller things can make a big difference and it will be that way once again. We feel that we can win, that we can beat each other at any time because we've done it before - they did it last year, in the Champions League semi-final. It was painful for us, but we did it twice in the league this season so it's going to be a tough game. I think there will be quite a good atmosphere in both of the stadiums and we have to enjoy it as players, it's one of the biggest games you have to play.
Xabi Alonso: I prefer not to think about revenge, I think that it's another chance that we have to go through to the semi-finals. We are going to face a very good team, we know each other very well and because of that we don't have many secrets. It's a bit strange that in five seasons we have played against each other five times as well, and because of that it can add a little bit more motivation - but it's going to be an exciting tie of course.
Q. What has Chelsea gained with the appointment of new boss Guus Hiddink?
PR: I think to be honest, they play more consistently now. They are more reliable now and, of course, Chelsea had before, and continue to have, one of the greatest squads in the Premier League and in Europe; so no matter who the manager is, the Chelsea squad will be strong anyway.
XA: It's a new face, he has brought his new methods; but I think overall the team is the same, and has the same players. Because of that it's going to be as tough as it has been in the past and they are very compact and very strong side.
Q. Who are the players that will have the biggest impact for Chelsea?
PR: To be honest, he's one of my favourite players and when the people ask me about which was or who was the most dangerous striker or who was really pain in the ass, I always say Didier Drogba. I think in a way he's becoming stronger and stronger, he's been having some injury problems in the last months but now he's scoring goals, he's scored four or five in the last six games or something like that and, anyway whoever plays in front like Nicolas Anelka or even Drogba, it will be difficult to stop them.
XA: Now they have the strength of Michael Essien, it is a great addition for them. We know that playing with Obi Mikel, Michael Ballack and Frank Lampard, they have strong and powerful people that are in the middle of the park; but we are going to try and bring our qualities and we have a great balance with the three of us in the middle and hopefully we will win that battle.
Q. What would you say about Fernando Torres as a player.
PR: Magic. I mean, he's one of our key players, he's one of the best strikers - if not the best - in the world and for us, he's a really important player at the moment.
XA: Fernando, he has been a great signing for Liverpool so far. He has scored so many goals, this season he has to cope with injuries, but as long as he has been fit he has been very important for us.
Q. And what about Steven Gerrard. Is he the best midfielder in the world?
PR: No doubt about that. He's been great this season, I think this has been one of the, or probably the best, season of his career and I feel really proud and really lucky to play alongside him.
XA: Of course, Stevie is the icon, he's the captain, he's a great representative of Liverpool and he's a great ambassador for Liverpool in the world. He brings those qualities of tradition, to be proud of the city of Liverpool, and that's very important for the club and for the supporters as well.
Q. What has changed in the last weeks - beating Real Madrid and Manchester Untied emphatically, when just before, it seemed like you were going through a tough patch.
PR: For the whole season, it's almost impossible to play on the same level. Probably at the time we were good sometimes, but bad in other occasions with too many draws at home. Now we have probably the best momentum of the season, but we still we have won nothing at all, just three games. We are still one point behind Man Utd [in the League] and with a game in hand it will be four if they win; while in the Champions League, against a top opponent like Chelsea, it is going to be difficult.
XA: Yeah, we were struggling, especially in February the results weren't as good as we hoped; but the Champions League tie against Real Madrid was a very big challenge for us. To go through as we did, to play as well as we did, it was a boost for our confidence and since that the momentum of the team has been improving and now we are in a good run of form.