Salomon Kalou insists Chelsea can take a decisive step towards the Premier League title with victory at Liverpool on Sunday, a clash he says will always carry added spice because of the Champions League history between the clubs.
Chelsea twice went to Anfield under José Mourinho for Champions League semi-final second legs, only to lose to Luis García's infamous 'ghost goal' in 2005 and on penalties in 2007. Kalou featured in the latter tie and experienced the full force not only of the Anfield crowd but the grudge match feel to the fixture too.
Chelsea gained revenge in 2008 when, under Avram Grant, they beat Liverpool 4-3 on aggregate in the Champions League semi-finals, and a year later, under Guus Hiddink, in yet another meeting in Europe's elite club competition, they triumphed 7-5 on aggregate in the quarter-final.
"I wasn't at the club [for the 2005 semi-final]," said Kalou, who arrived from Feyenoord in the summer of the following year, "but I have heard the story of it in the dressing room many times. When Chelsea go to Liverpool there is always an edge. I think it started from Mourinho and [Rafael] Benítez. Every game between the two clubs is a tough game."
Kalou has set Chelsea the target of extending their five-point advantage at the top of the table over Manchester United before Christmas and he recognises the galvanising potential of a victory at Anfield.
"When you go to a stadium like that and win, it gives you a big boost to win the title," he said. "Liverpool have had a bad start but you can never give up on them. They are still a big club with big players. It doesn't matter about league positions. We have to be ready for a battle."
Chelsea have eight Premier League fixtures before Christmas – the final one against United at home – and Kalou is happy that his club have wrapped up qualification to the Champions League last 16, which will allow them to concentrate on the league. Chelsea made it four wins from four Group F ties last night when they beat Spartak Moscow 4-1 at Stamford Bridge.
"If we can be at least five points ahead of Manchester United by the festive period, it will be a good step towards the title," Kalou said. "The goal is to be even further ahead by Christmas. There will be other teams challenging but we still see United as our main rivals."
The Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech, a veteran of all of the Champions League meetings with Liverpool, described Sunday's game as "massive" for the Merseyside club. "If they want to compete for the top four, then they need to start winning games against the strong teams," he said.
"There are a lot of things off the pitch and on the pitch [for Liverpool], so it's for them to work on them. When you have such a bad start, everything becomes more difficult and they will have to chase all the way."