• Essien names Gerrard, Scholes as his toughest opponents

    Former Chelsea midfielder Michael Essien has mentioned Liverpool and Manchester United greats Steven Gerrard and Paul Scholes as the toughest opponents he has played against.

    The English duo attained legendary status with the Reds and Red Devils, respectively, making a combined 1,446 competitive appearances.

    They won a combined total of 36 titles, including the Champions League. Scholes won the bulk with 25, 11 of them being the Premier League.

    The rise to prominence of Chelsea as an English powerhouse which was partly made possible by acquisitions such as Essien, made Manchester United vs Chelsea and Liverpool vs Chelsea some of the most highly-anticipated fixtures in England.

    ‘It’s between Steven Gerard and Paul Scholes. Those two players were quite tough to play against,’ Essien said in an Instagram Live interview.

    ‘They were not only good on the ball but they could tackle really hard. They were really tough but the Premier League was much more tough compared to now.

    ‘Every team you come up against was difficult so you have to try to be tougher.’

    Prior to Essien’s move to Chelsea, he was a key figure with Lyon where he won back-to-back Ligue 1 titles in 2004 and 2005.

    His stellar performances in 2004-05, the season before he departed for Chelsea, earned him the Ligue 1 Player of the Year which he admits was a surprise.

    ‘I was not paying attention to winning individual awards because I only wanted to enjoy my football,’ Essien said.

    ‘I remember being invited to the Players Awards night but I didn’t want to go until Juninho [Pernambucano] came to talk to me. A few of my teammates were going, so I had to go with them and I was very surprised when I won it.

    ‘I didn’t know they had gone to Ghana to interview my mum and sisters. They only played the video to me when I was on the stage receiving the award.

    ‘I was a bit emotional but happy. Winning the best player in France at that time was huge.

    ‘I was in competition with my own teammate Juninho, who was a magician because he could do anything with the ball so to beat him to the award was quite an achievement.’

    Essien went on to play 256 competitive times for Chelsea, scoring 25 goals and providing 18 assists.

    He won nine titles at Stamford Bridge including the Champions League in 2012.

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