A look ahead at Chelsea vs Liverpool this weekend
It could almost be considered fate that Chelsea’s first opponents as the newly crowned Premier League Champions are Liverpool – the team whose first serious title challenge in two decades they so brutally exterminated a little over 12 months ago.
The home side will start as clear favourites but will it be just Steven Gerrard slipping on a banana skin this weekend?
Victory – albeit fraught and narrow and by a single, solitary goal – over London neighbours Crystal Palace last Sunday confirmed what many had suspected for a vast majority of the season. Chelsea are the best team in England.
And thus it marked the Blues’ fourth title triumph of the Roman Abramovich era, a trio of which have come under Jose Mourinho.
This one, however, was the first of his second coming at Stamford Bridge and will arguably rank as the most satisfying amid a barrage of accusations suggesting that Chelsea are “boring” and Mourinho is a manager who conforms to his identity as the antithesis of modern football for his “substance over style” approach.
So it was particularly amusing that Chelsea claimed their first title since 2010 with a gritty and methodical display that bore (excuse the pun) all the hallmarks of their manager’s win-at-all-cost formula.
Grinding out a 1-0 home win courtesy of a fortunate Eden Hazard goal, a clean sheet and six defensive-inclined players present on the pitch at the final whistle.
That was Chelsea winning a title the Mourinho way. Who says playing an aesthetic brand of football equates to success?
Play to strengths
Even without 20-goal top scorer Diego Costa and understudy Loic Remy to call upon in the last month – leaving a 37-year-old Didier Drogba to lead the attack – Mourinho has engineered near-infallible playing philosophy to utilise the strengths of the entire squad.
For that he deserves praise, not condemnation.
How then might under-achieving Liverpool, who will reportedly form a guard of honour to welcome the Blues onto the pitch at Stamford Bridge, gaze up at Chelsea with envy after fatally “slipping” up at this stage last season in their pursuit of Premier League glory?
It’s been a depressing campaign for the Reds with early exits from both the Europa League and Champions League adding further disappointment to an inconsistent Prem campaign.
Now, the main objective for Brendan Rodgers and his players is to secure a place in next season’s Champions League, with last week’s 2-1 win against QPR at Anfield closing the gap on fourth-placed Manchester United to four points with three games remaining.
Much of Liverpool’s problems have stemmed from Luis Suarez’s departure, the unavailability of Daniel Sturridge, substandard recruitment and Rodgers’ overriding reluctance to adapt beyond a predisposition for his team to play with “style over substance” – a philosophy that has seen individuals, like Philippe Coutinho, shine whereas the team as a whole has continually faltered.
It makes for an intriguing contrast between Irishman Rodgers and his mentor, Mourinho.
Mourinho is unlikely to relish losing to a former protégé or allowing his Chelsea side to be anything but ruthless in their remaining fixtures despite a pressure-free end to the season. That could spell bad news for Rodgers and Liverpool, who could be left feeling decidedly Blue once again come the final whistle on Sunday.