Chelsea v Liverpool: Ref has to take a strong line to keep Drogba on his feet

By Ian Rush on Apr 29, 08 12:22 PM in Columnists

MIND games are part and parcel of football, so I wasn't surprised to see Rafa Benitez highlighting the need for a strong referee ahead of tomorrow night's meeting with Chelsea.

The Liverpool manager focused on Didier Drogba's play acting, and he was right to do so because that is one of the biggest threats to his team making it through to the European Cup Final for the third time in four years.

Like everyone else, I'm a big fan of Drogba as a player because he is big, strong and powerful, and he clearly knows where the goal is.

But there is this other side to his game where he goes down far too easily. which leaves a really nasty taste in the mouth.

If he does it tomorrow and gets away with it then it could make a big difference. Chelsea are always a threat from set pieces and free kicks awarded against Liverpool on the edge of their own box could be crucial.

There is also the factor of both Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard being just one booking away from being suspended for the final should Liverpool get there.

It would be bad enough missing the final for being booked for a genuine foul but imagine what it would be like if you ended up being banned because one of your rival players had employed a bit of gamesmanship.

That's why Italian referee Roberto Rosetti has to be strong.

He has to clamp down on any play acting and make it known from the outset that he will not tolerate any player trying to gain an unfair advantage by cheating.

The stakes are so high now and this tie is likely to be decided by the narrowest of margin - the players will have to be at their best and so will the referee.

Benitez will have told his team to be wary of Drogba and the tricks he uses and I thought in the first leg Jamie Carragher and Martin Skrtel handled him really well.

But Drogba was still awarded several questionable free kicks in dangerous areas of the pitch - and that was at Anfield.

The Chelsea fans will be right behind their team and will be looking to influence every decision the referee makes because that is what supporters do, especially in such a big game.

But if the referee stays strong and only gives free kicks when he knows there has been physical contact, then Benitez's worst fears will not be realised.

This kind of game should be won and lost according to which side is the better, not by a refereeing mistake or a bit of gamesmanship.

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