LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - JANUARY 21: (THE SUN OUT. THE SUN ON SUNDAY OUT) Mohamed Salah of Liverpool in ... [+] action during the Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Chelsea FC at Anfield on January 21, 2023 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by John Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)Liverpool FC via Getty Images
It was exactly twenty seasons ago that Chelsea faced Liverpool in a Premier League game that achieved legendary status. The final match of the 2003/04 season was a winner takes all clash that decided who would qualify for the Champions League the following year. Although an impressive 2-1 victory by the West Londoners will be remembered fondly by those of a Chelsea persuasion, it was what happened next which gave the occasion greater significance. We didn't know it at the time, but the Blues were drowning in a sea of debt from living beyond their means and in dire need of help. Fortunately, a Russian billionaire called Roman Abramovich had been considering buying a Premier League soccer team having recently settled in the UK.
Abramovich didn't just want a soccer team as a trophy asset, he planned to make whoever he bought a global powerhouse. Chelsea, he decided, was the team for him.
As soon as his deal to buy the club was completed he set about making his dream a reality.
Millions of pounds were lavished on new signings and continued as the trophies started rolling into the Stamford Bridge trophy cabinet.
But legend has it, were it not for Jesper Gronkjaer's winner vs Liverpool in May 2003, Chelsea's ascent to multiple Champions League winners would never have taken place. There are even suggestions Liverpool would have been the ones under Russian ownership had the result gone the other way.
Two decades on the sides met in far less auspicious circumstances. A drab bad-tempered 0-0 draw on Saturday, January 22 did little to help the two teams currently lying in 8th and 10th in the table.
As the season passes its halfway mark, Liverpool and Chelsea find themselves 10 points from the Champions League places, not an insurmountable total, but a great deal further away than either has been in the past few years. If it was just points the clubs need to make up that would be one thing, the trouble is both sides' form has been patchy at best this season.
"We cannot qualify for the Champions League if you play as inconsistent as we do at the moment.,' Klopp said back in October, 'we have to fix that and then we will see where we will end up. We know everything is possible, or a lot of things are possible. But for that, we have to win football games and we didn't do that often enough yet.'
But improvements have not been forthcoming, the Reds have struggled to string results together and teams weaker than Chelsea continue able to get the better of them.
Down at Stamford Bridge, the situation is worse, Graham Potter has been in the job a matter of months, but already there is talk of his position being in danger.
'There are always questions if you don't get results,' said Potter this month. 'I was under pressure after two defeats before the [World Cup] break, that's from the media. In terms of the board, I've had full support. They have been very reassuring. But I'm not naive and if anyone I work for thinks the problem lies with me they have every right to say: ‘Thank you very much but it's not working' and I accept that.'
In the boardrooms of both clubs, there will be nerves. Not only due to their own team's struggles but because the two new sides replacing them in the top four look like they're there for the long haul.
Arsenal and Newcastle UnitedLONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 03: Bukayo Saka of Arsenal and Bruno Guimaraes of Newcastle United during ... [+] the Premier League match between Arsenal FC and Newcastle United at Emirates Stadium on January 3, 2023 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Charlotte Wilson/Offside/Offside via Getty Images)Offside via Getty Images
It's remarkable to think only a few months ago commentators were still viewing Arsenal's results through the prism of whether it would also be beneficial for their Champions League qualification.
As the season enters its second phase the analysis is whether the Gunners can maintain the form required to deliver a first Premier League crown in over a decade.
A meltdown that would make last May's squandering of a substantial advantage over Tottenham Hotspur look like a slight hiccup would be required for Arsenal to somehow miss out on qualification now.
The 18-points Liverpool and Chelsea have to recover to catch the Gunners is an almost insurmountable task.
Looking further ahead, even if Arsenal fails to win this season's Premier League it's hard to imagine it having the exodus of talent that would suddenly make the team weaker next season or suddenly capitulating.
Given the age profile of the squad Arsenal, the rest of the Premier League should expect it to be a contender for the Champions League for the foreseeable future.
But a bigger problem for Chelsea and Liverpool long term is Newcastle United.
When the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia took over the Magpies in October 2021 many predicted the club would start to challenge at the top of the table.
However, with the club languishing in the relegation places, the feeling was it would take many transfer windows and several seasons before it was challenging for the top four.
This season the club has shocked everyone by transforming itself from struggler to genuine contender.
Fear at rival clubs comes from the knowledge that with the financial backing the club now has Newcastle will be challengers from now on.
"I think it was tough every year, to be honest," said Jurgen Klopp about Champions League qualification.
"We all knew that Newcastle would be a massive contender from now on and it's clear with Man United, Arsenal playing an exceptional season [and] City [being] City, all of a sudden you have four teams occupying [the Champions League], Tottenham fighting hard, Chelsea still there.
"We are back to a top six or top seven if you like, and only four can make it. We know that, we know that absolutely.'
The danger for both Liverpool and Chelsea is they find themselves at the bottom of those six or seven teams.