ANFIELD HEIST LEAVES REDS BITTER
It’s not often you’ll find this two bit journo praising the men in black, despite being qualified as one (yes, by all means put the hate mail in the post). Yet after yesterday’s escapades at the Scouse home of thievery, it was in fact the boys in blue who managed to steal a point, courtesy of the man in the middle, for once.
The match itself will forever be consigned to the history books as a 1-1 draw, however in many sense it was much more than that; this was the time when nancy boy Torres made his initial mark on the Premiership, when Alex finally made his debut for the boys in blue, and also the time we all got to see live on national television, just how much of a plonker Rafa Benitez looks with a David Brent style goatee.
The game started with a surprise as Essien was deployed at right back, possibly to counter the attacking threat of Riise, as well as the defensive deficiencies of Glen Johnson. Cech started in nets, Ben-Haim and Terry central, with Cole at left back completing the back four. Mourinho lined Chelsea up in a 4-4-2 formation with Shaun Wright-Philips looking to continue his early season form on the right, Lampard and Mikel in the middle with new boy Malouda on the left. Kalou sat alongside Drogba up front.
The early exchanges were as tetchy as a Scouser awaiting sentencing until the eleventh minute, when Essien was unfortunate to be booked after a tackle on Arbeloa, who produced a dive that Olympic judges would have been proud of. It wasn’t to be the last such moment of the match, either. A few moments later, media darling Steven Gerrard managed to place a ball into the path of Fernando Torres instead of the stands, the Liverpoo striker then cleverly skinned Tal Ben-Haim and allowed himself an angle to place a right footed shot past the onrushing Cech to make it 1-0.
Our first real effort came by way of the referees’ whistle in the 22nd minute when Malouda was fouled, after the ref finally decided to give something our way, however Drogba’s free kick was deflected wide and nothing came from the resulting corner.
The half petered out with a JT effort going agonisingly close to levelling the scores, as well as a customary booking for ex-con Pennant, now minus his home office tag, for gobbing off at the referee. There was also a note in Styles little black book for Stevie Gerrard after he clattered Jon Obi Mikel close to half time.
The second half started with a change for Chelsea as Kalou was replaced by Pizarro to give us a little more strength up front. The change almost reaped immediate dividends when Shaun Wright-Phillips, who’d had a quiet game based on recent performances, pinged a cross onto Pizarro’s head, but unfortunately the Peruvian could only steer his effort wide.
It was in the 61st minute that the referee’s afternoon went from bad to abominable. When the ball was played forwards, Malouda looked to dummy it to Drogba but in doing so was clattered by Finnan in the area. Styles, never one to make a hasty or incorrect decision, made the call that absolutely none of us were expecting and gave a penalty to Chelsea. Up stepped Lampard to send Reina the wrong way and Chelsea into raptures. 1-1.
The game continued with each side probing and testing the other, with neither really making anything of the time or space they created. Whilst Liverpool arguably had the better of the first half, Chelsea were definitely enjoying the lions share of the second. There were a few other yellow cards as Styles lost control completely, Ben-Haim, Lampard and Terry earning their names in the refs book, with the latter giving Torres a piece of his mind for going to ground a little to easily, a trait I expect to repeat itself throughout the course of the season.
Joey Cole replaced the out of sorts Wright-Phillips in the 76th minute as Chelsea looked to add some impetus to their attacking play, whilst Liverpool brought on Crouch to add some boredom to theirs. Alex was introduced into the fray soon afterwards to try and counteract the Crouch effect but with both sides cagey about conceding, neither really went for the winner.
The eventual final whistle, after nearly five minutes of injury time in a half that contained no injuries, was welcome respite to the supporters and players alike. The game was certainly no showpiece, and sadly again will be talked about more for the performance of the referee, than the players.
Liverpool (4-4-2): Reina; Finnan, Agger, Carragher, Arbeloa; Pennant (Babel 67), Gerrard (c), Alonso, Riise (Crouch 82); Kuyt, Torres.
Chelsea (4-4-2): Cech; Essien, Ben-Haim, Terry (c), A Cole; Wright-Phillips (J Cole 76), Mikel, Lampard, Malouda (Alex 85); Drogba, Kalou (Pizarro 45).
Referee Rob Styles