Chelsea 1-1 Liverpool - Two Corners, two goals.
Chelsea, having suffered four league defeats in a row to Liverpool, came into the game having been outpassed by Shakhtar Donetsk despite the win. Di Matteo though, fielding an expected lineup, with both Cahill and Luiz drops out for John Terry and Branislav Ivanovic, who moved into his preferred centre-back position. Ryan Bertrand continued to deputize for injured Ashley Cole, with Cesar Azpilicueta at rightback.
Brendan Rodgers started with an unusually reactive lineup from the onset, with five defenders on the field, defending deep and hoping to break quickly through Suarez, a system with which Kenny Dalglish had won at Stamford Bridge. Glen Johnson made a comeback from injury while Martin Skrtel missed out with a virus.
The game started on a relatively low tempo, as Liverpool, with their three cultured midfielders and spare defenders, enjoyed the bulk of the possession (64% first half), while Chelsea were quite happy in dropping off without pressing. Chelsea took the lead against the run of possession play, when Terry headed home from a Mata corner after Daniel Agger lost his man in the crowd. Despite the possession, Liverpool were struggling to influence the game through the center of the pitch where Chelsea’s midfield duo of Ramires and Mikel made more tackles and clearances (six and four) than the Liverpool duo of Allen and Sahin in the first half.
Sahin consequently was pushed further ahead to support Gerrard, which made Liverpool more susceptible to breaks through the midfield. Joe Allen had a poor game, and it became increasingly easy for Chelsea’s attacking trio to play around him. Liverpool were missing the presence of Lucas Leiva, who could have stopped Chelsea breaking with relative ease and prompt better transitions in Liverpool attacks. The final chance of the half fell to Juan Mata who blazed his shot over the bar after Carragher and Agger got in each other’s way. Chelsea went into the break having missed glaring opportunities to put the game beyond Liverpool.
Brendan Rodgers took until 60 minutes to make his first change; Suso Fernandez came on for Nuri Sahin with Liverpool changing back to an orthodox back four with Suso playing off Suarez, Raheem Sterling on the right wing. Liverpool immediately had a better foothold on the game. Suarez and Sterling ran in the channels behind Chelsea’s defence, receiving more penetrative longer passes compared to the first half where most of the passes were in front of Chelsea’s back four (a consequence of Gerrard moving into a deeper midfield position). Suarez’s goal from a poorly defended corner came as a sucker punch after a foray of missed chances to increase the lead by Chelsea.
Di Matteo brought in Victor Moses, to add more directness along with protection for Azpilicueta, who became increasingly overwhelmed by Johnson and Enrique’s combination after Liverpool’s change in formation. Suarez could have had a second after being put through on goal by Enrique, only for Cech to come off his line and save Chelsea’s blushes. Sterling, who does tend to work hard off the ball, surprisingly let Bertrand go past him on numerous occasions. Azpilicueta and Bertrand attempted nine crosses (22 by Chelsea, 7 successful) with only two of reaching a teammate; one would argue a case between poor crossing and the lack of a center forward.
As the game closed to a draw, Chelsea’s missed chances eventually had bite them. Liverpool struggled for most of the game and would consider themselves lucky to leave with a point. Fernando Torres did have one of his better games in a Chelsea shirt, as his movement was excellent despite having been marshalled by three centre-backs for most of the game. There was purpose and intent in his runs, and he tested Brad Jones on a couple of occasions. Therefore, one would question Di Matteo’s decision to bring in Sturridge, for he only had three touches in his 15 minutes on the field.
If indeed the Theo Walcott rumours are true, Chelsea would be more than willing to let Sturridge go, as Walcott being cup tied in the Champions League would give some breathing space to Mata, Oscar, Hazard if and when needed. Didier Drogba, a spectator at the game, reminded the Chelsea fans again that he didn’t have to score to have a good game; Torres despite his decent performance has to score to have one.