Disappointing Liverpool draw at lacklustre Chelsea
One of the most heated modern rivalries in the Premier League has produced some truly memorable moments over the years, both inside and outside the league in the last decade or so. From Gerrard’s own goal at Cardiff 2005 to Luis Garcia’s ghost goal at Anfield 2005 and to Frank Lampard‘s red card that never was, it’s pretty safe to say that Chelsea vs Liverpool has become one of the biggest fixtures on the EPL calender for the sides; a huge jump from being a mere footnote over a decade ago.
So when a resurgent Chelsea side met a faltering Liverpool team at Stamford Bridge, fireworks were expected. The onus was on Chelsea to claim all three points, their excellent form this season being heavily highlighted in all the news outlets (that little straggly Spanish chap in particular). Liverpool, while being aesthetically pleasing, have more often than not failed to build on Luis Suarez‘ exploits, having to contend with far less than what they deserve from a hard day’s work. On the other hand, recent history would point to a comfortable victory for the Merseysiders, who have beaten Chelsea in the last four games in the league, including the emphatic 4-1 victory at the tail end of last season.
John Terry returned to the Chelsea starting line-up after spending numerous games on the sidelines due to a combination of suspension and lack of match fitness following the suspension, while Chelsea lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Reds old-boy Fernando Torres leading the line, and being amply supported by the mouth-watering holy trinity of Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and Oscar.
Liverpool lined up with an unconventional 3-5-2 (or was it 5-3-2?) formation, with Jamie Carragher, Andre Wisdom and Daniel Agger serving as centre-backs, while Enrique and Glen Johnson played as wing-backs. Raheem Sterling had been shifted to a more central role, akin to that of a second striker/trequartista (?).
The game started off pretty slowly, with the visitors looking to keep a stranglehold on the ball and ease their way into the game. It was unproductive possession for Liverpool, as a crowded midfield didn’t help them in getting the ball forward, and Ramires didn’t give the likes of Allen and Sahin the time they needed on the ball. The wing-backs were also being stifled by the Chelsea rearguard, as the talismanic Mata looked to stamp his influence on the game. However it was Oscar and Hazard who combined to create the first real chance of the match, with Hazard setting the latter free, only for the young Brazilian to blaze over the bar in the 5th minute. The midfields looked dead-set on cancelling each other out, but Chelsea continued to have the better of the exchanges, with their dangerous trio opening up the defence, while the likes of Sterling and Suarez seemed unable to get a whiff of the ball.
Chelsea opened the scoring with a free Terry header from a Mata corner in the 20th minute, after Terry managed to break-free from Agger. The Dane got caught up with a few players, leaving space galore for the returning hero. An excellent comeback! But it was terrible communication from the Liverpool defence, as they should’ve organized themselves better, and you simply do not give a big centre-back that kind of space so close to the goal. It was too close for Brad Jones to do much about it either. After the goal, Liverpool found it increasingly hard to penetrate the home defence, with the likes of Ivanovic and Terry leading an easy life. Chelsea seemed content to let the Reds sit on the ball, and preferred to break on the counter, and it certainly seemed to be very effective. Sahin and Agger blasted hopeful balls from distance, only to see them go off the mark.
Then in the 39th minute, as Suarez found himself surrounded by a sea of blue, he was accidentally pushed on to Terry by Ramires, and fell awkwardly on the Blues captain. Pandemonium ensued among Chelsea supporters, as the skipper lay fallen on the floor, and the medical team rushed to his aid. A really upsetting sight for both teams, as Terry was stretchered off only 40 minutes into his comeback, and for what at first sight, looks to be a long time on the sidelines. As Gary Cahill replaced the skipper, normal action ensued. The rest of the half was pretty standard, with the exception of Mata’s spectacular miss in added time to put the Blues 2-0 ahead, something that he would later regret.
The second half started the same way the first ended, with Chelsea gaining a stranglehold on the game. Hated ex-Red Fernando Torres was at the heart of it, with his pace and running causing numerous problems for the away defence, and Jamie Carragher in particular. The Reds were being pegged back, their formation clearly gone awry, as the holy trinity began to impose their mark on the game, with Mata leading the pack as usual. After an excellent save from Jones off Torres from a free-kick, the striker got his leg awkwardly tangled up with former colleague Gerrard, resulting in play being stopped for a while in the midst of a Chelsea attack. Luckily, it was nothing serious, as the skipper was back on the pitch soon enough, with the young Spaniard Suso coming on for an offensively-ineffective Sahin, as the Reds thankfully reverted to a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Enrique now going on the left-wing and Sterling on the right.
As the Reds continued to push forward, the fluidity offered by the 4-2-3-1 was on show, as Enrique in particular was able to get forward more often. As the half wore on, Chelsea’s lead looked safe enough, with both midfields again cancelling each other out. Then out of nowhere, a rather quiet Suarez headed in a Suso corner after a flick from veteran defender Jamie Carragher to restore parity between the sides. Sloppy defending from the Blues for the set-piece, as Liverpool sensed their chance. Eight goals in nine games for Suarez this season, joint top scorer alongside Van Persie. So much for profligacy, eh?
The goal injected some much needed life into a sterile contest, with both sides showing a greater sense of urgency. Mid-week hero Victor Moses came on for a rather subdued Oscar, as Chelsea looked to avoid a fifth straight defeat to their hated rivals. Torres was also subbed out (happily cheered by Red supporters) for Daniel Sturridge. Suarez nearly won it for Liverpool in the 87th minute, after being played through by Enrique, only for the ball to be palmed away by Cech. A real escape for the Blues, as Liverpool finally started to make in-roads into the heart of Chelsea’s defence. Liverpool nearly won it at the death too, with Enrique unleashing a rather weak shot at Cech’s bottom left-corner, only for the keeper to easily make the save.
Overall, it was a deserved result for both teams. Chelsea lacked the conviction and the killer edge to finish the game off, as the likes of Torres and Oscar drifted in-and-out of the game. Liverpool, while they didn’t pose a sustained threat, deserved a point for their continued defensive excellence (apart from the goal) and this is their third draw in a row. They really need to start winning, while Chelsea need better options in the final third, as Torres and Strurridge don’t seem to be enough.