Ovation for Steven Gerrard at Stamford Bridge stands out in 1-1 draw
Liverpool's season effectively came to an end with a draw against newly crowned champions Chelsea on Sunday. A superior goal difference all but secures a Champions League spot for Manchester United, currently lying in 4th. In a match that was fairly patchy, with neither side managing to sustain a period of great pressure, the standout moment was arguably Steven Gerrard receiving a surprising standing ovation from all sections of the Bridge.
Brendan Rodgers' side greeted Chelsea, possibly rather reluctantly, with the traditional guard of honour, and it seemed to have influenced the teams' mentalities early on. Liverpool were known for their explosive starts to matches last season, but they’ve been accused of failing to get out of the blocks on numerous occasions this season. Indeed, it took just 4 minutes for Chelsea to find the breakthrough as John Terry rose above a stationary Rickie Lambert to nod home the opener following a corner taken by Cesc Fabregas.
Fabregas, arguably rather fortunate to remain on the pitch beforehand, provided his 18th assist since his return to the league, following a full-blooded tackle on Raheem Sterling within the first minute. Strangely, Andre Marriner initially produced a red card towards Mikel John Obi, only to later correct his decision by penalising Cesc with just a yellow.
The goal meant it was Terry's 39th in the Premier League, the most scored by any defender in the top-flight. It was also the 9th ?goal scored by a defender in the league to accentuate a typically fruitful season in front of goal for Mourinho's back four.
It was Liverpool's captain who equalled the feats of the opposition captain by scoring in a similar fashion late on in the first half. Some nifty footwork by Adam Lallana provoked Branislav Ivanovic to make an unnecessary foul near the corner flag, with Gerrard peeling off his man from the resulting free-kick, to direct a free header at goal. The talisman, so often the hero for his childhood club, scored to temporarily silence the torrent of abuse he often receives from Chelsea fans after rejecting a move to the West London club in 2005. Mourinho praised the club legend, calling him a “dear enemy”, stating the chants were just a form of respect by the home crowd, whilst praising the ovation.
Liverpool had more at stake and as much was apparent after the restart. Sterling ran directly at the Chelsea defence and managed to lose the attention of Filipe Luis to find Coutinho in space in the box, only to squander the chance but hitting the side netting. The Brazilian was at the heart of most of Liverpool's attacks, which has been the case for much of the season, and the number 10 also came close toward the end of the match with a deflected attempt nearly catching Thibaut Courtois off-guard. Chelsea showed their strength on the counter, with Willian coming close on a few occasions, with a shot fired just past the post from a tight angle being Chelsea's best chance of the half.
Mourinho’s next challenge at Chelsea has been sounded out to start bringing through a few academy players, who have been making waves with their achievements at youth level. Ruben Loftus-Cheek made a decent impression in the hour he featured, before Nemanja Matic was brought on to regain more control of a midfield in which Lallana and Coutinho were starting to find space in between the lines. Players such as Nathan Ake, Izzy Brown and Dominic Solanke have all also been touted by the manager to be in contention to feature before the end of the season.
Rodgers also handed Jerome Sinclair his Premier League debut, almost 3 years on from becoming Liverpool's youngest debutant in the league cup. Jordon Ibe's introduction was followed shortly after, and while Sinclair was busily occupying the defence and Ibe caused Chelsea a few concerns neither were able to effect the outcome of the match. Rodgers may also look towards the youth in Liverpool’s two remaining matches, possibly with a view towards their inclusion in the Europa League next season.
This may not have had the fiery contest we often associate between the two clubs, it often had a pre-season feel to it after a bright start to the match, despite Mourinho stating otherwise. Both clubs will take a different approach to the transfer window in the summer, with both facing a different challenge for the new season.