The Chelsea paradox continues.
After the riddles set his side by Wigan Athletic and APOEL Nicosia, Carlo Ancelotti could barely disguise his excitement at the prospect of encountering a familiar foe at Stamford Bridge.
Two Champions League finals against the Liverpool side of Rafael Benitez while he was coach of AC Milan first inflicted harrowing pain on the Italian, then brought him glorious redemption, leaving him with nothing to fear on Saturday afternoon.
So calmly did Ancelotti speak about Liverpool and their twin dangers of Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard that he was able to dismiss two poor performances and laugh off the presence of Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich at the club’s Cobham training ground.
‘I spoke with him but I didn’t ask him if he is worried,’ said Ancelotti.
‘He watched training today and said hello to the players. I think he’s happy because we are at the top of the Premier League and top of our Champions League group.’
For two years, Liverpool haunted Ancelotti.
Like Herbert Lom’s Chief Inspector Dreyfus to Peter Sellers’ Inspector Clouseau in the Pink Panther films, the merest mention of Benitez was enough to set the Italian’s eye twitching and his blood pressure soaring.
The 2005 Champions League final, when Liverpool retrieved a 3-0 half-time deficit to beat Milan on penalties, will forever be painted in glorious technicolour on Merseyside.
For Ancelotti, it was a living hell.
Milan’s triumph two years later allowed him to breathe again. He can even joke about it now.
‘I don’t remember 2005. If you want, though, I can remember 2007. For sure it was a difficult moment, but difficult moments can be good to improve from. Even though we lost that game, that final was one of the best matches Milan played in my experience.
'That final remains a memory for me. Not a positive one, but not so negative.
‘But 2007 was a match of destiny. To return to the final two years later, to have revenge over Liverpool was fantastic for us. Rafa and I are drawing now.
‘The teams of Benitez are well organised, above all defensively. They work well to win the ball. I like this kind of work. It’s difficult to play against Benitez’s team.
'I think he has watched a lot of matches from the Italian championship. I hope it will be easier in this match.’
Defeat to Wigan and a stumbling, narrow victory in Cyprus have shaken Chelsea’s early-season confidence.
Ancelotti studied both games and was happy yesterday to share the solution.
He said: ‘We have to improve the speed of our possession. We have to change only this.
‘We can win this game if we play better than we did on Wednesday. I’m sure we will.
'It’s important to have the courage to play. I would like to see Chelsea control the game with intelligence, read the situation and control it because Liverpool’s organisation is so good.
‘To block Torres or Gerrard it’s important to work together, to maintain a defensive line and a midfield line, keep it compact to avoid the easy pass for Torres or Gerrard.
‘We have been working this morning to improve and I think we will play better in the game.’