If things had been different, Steven Gerrard could have been receiving a hero’s welcome when he hosts Chelsea at Villa Park on Boxing Day.
The Liverpool legend’s relationship with the Blues has been such a tumultuous one that once again, like his return to Anfield recently, Gerrard will have been at pains to underline how this game isn’t about him.
Blues fans will no doubt be lining up to taunt Gerrard once again about the slip that all but cost Liverpool the Premier League title in 2014. But Gerrard has demonstrated more than enough as a manager already to prove the sense of occasion is not something that will filter into his thinking for this game.
Aston Villa manager Steven Gerrard reignites his rivalry with Chelsea on Boxing Day
Gerrard received a standing ovation from Chelsea fans last time he played at Stamford Bridge
But Gerrard’s most infamous moment with Chelsea is his slip in the 2014 title showdown
And one reason why Chelsea love trying to antagonise Gerrard is because he so nearly was one of them.
In 2005, days after inspiring Liverpool’s dramatic Champions League comeback win against AC Milan in Istanbul, Gerrard handed in a transfer request amid a breakdown in communication with his boyhood club and a Chelsea transfer looked to be a formality.
Jose Mourinho was then the Chelsea manager, at a time when his charisma was at its highest. He made no secret of his admiration of Gerrard and the Liverpool captain’s head was turned.
In the League Cup final in 2005, Gerrard scored an own goal against Chelsea for Mourinho’s men to equalise after Jon Arne Riise had given Liverpool an early lead. Chelsea went on to win the trophy in extra-time.
As Liverpool’s players lay strewn on the turf at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium, Mourinho went and greeted each one individually. Forever the showman though, the Portuguese pointedly saved the best until last in going up to a gutted Gerrard.
Jose Mourinho, in his first spell as Chelsea manager, went all out to try and sign Gerrard – here, he is consoling the Liverpool midfielder after their 2005 League Cup defeat
Later that season though, Liverpool beat Chelsea in the Champions League semi-finals
After Gerrard won the Champions League, he pledged his long-term future to Liverpool
A little over two months later and Gerrard was celebrating his best night yet in a Liverpool shirt as Luis Garcia’s controversial ‘ghost goal’ put the Reds into the Champions League final at the expense of Chelsea.
Mourinho’s interest in Gerrard hadn’t subsided and there was growing scrutiny over his Anfield future after the final. When he hauled Liverpool off the canvas from 3-0 down to Milan to a penalty shoot-out victory, Gerrard proclaimed: ‘How can I leave after a night like this?’
But a breakdown in communication over a new contract prompted Gerrard to hand in a transfer request in the belief Liverpool wanted to cash in while his stock was at its highest. Chelsea had an offer rejected before Gerrard u-turned, committing his long-term future to his boyhood club.
The following year Liverpool won the FA Cup and in 2007 reached the Champions League final – at the expense of Chelsea again – where Milan avenged their defeat two years earlier.
That run to the final overlapped with the takeover of Liverpool by Tom Hicks and George Gillet, which nearly ruined the club and coincided with an on-pitch malaise that saw many of Gerrard’s so-called peak years pass without a trophy.
In 2012, Gerrard and Liverpool lost the FA Cup final against Chelsea at Wembley
Two years later, Demba Ba’s goal after Gerrard’s error killed Liverpool’s title hopes
Gerrard tried desperately to make amends but was thwarted by Chelsea and old foe Mourinho
In 2010, with Chelsea and Manchester United going full-throttle for the Premier League title, Chelsea defeated Liverpool 2-0 at Anfield. An under-hit backpass by Gerrard allowed Didier Drogba to pounce for the opener in a key victory for Chelsea, who went on to win the league. Liverpool fans and Gerrard would be forgiven for finding that the lesser of two evils.
Under the guidance of Kenny Dalglish, Liverpool won the League Cup in 2012 but were defeated by Chelsea in the FA Cup final later that year.
Gerrard’s most recent visit to Stamford Bridge actually ended with a touch of respect. With it already public knowledge that Gerrard was leaving Liverpool at the end of the season, he scored in his side’s 1-1 draw with Chelsea.
He was substituted off in the 79th minute for Lucas Leiva and received some applause from the home crowd as he left the pitch. Mourinho, back in the Chelsea dugout, applauded his fans for the gesture.
‘I think it was a special moment, I am so happy with that,’ Mourinho said. ‘The negative song Chelsea fans sing for him is respect, it is just respect for an old dear enemy that fought so much against us in every competition.
Gerrard was clapped off in his last game at Stamford Bridge but afterwards said Chelsea fans ‘slaughtered’ him all game and that ‘it was nice of them to show up for once’
Gerrard and Mourinho headed down the tunnel together at the end of that game at Stamford Bridge
‘After that, the standing applause I think is amazing. To get it at Anfield, he gets that every week, year after year but away from home shows a lot. I am happy for him, I am happy for my people at Stamford Bridge. I think moments like that make the English game special.’
Gerrard, however, was less enthused as Mourinho.
‘I was more happy with the ovation from the Liverpool fans,’ he said. ‘Chelsea fans have shown respect for a couple of seconds for me but they slaughtered me all game so I’m not going to get drawn in wishing the Chelsea fans very well. it was nice of them to turn up for once today.
‘When you get a standing ovation from a stadium it’s always nice but what is important to me is the reception from the Liverpool fans. They have been with me since day one.
‘I’ve got huge respect for Jose Mourinho, he’s the best manager in the world for me. I would have signed for him three times if I weren’t a Liverpool fan and Liverpool weren’t in my heart. He’s the reason why my head was turned on a couple of occasions but he understood why I couldn’t do it.’
If Gerrard pulls off a win on Boxing Day, the Liverpool fan in him will allow a wry smile. It’d be a big help for Jurgen Klopp, too.