UNBEATEN HOME RECORD EXTENDED FURTHER
Chelsea spurned a wonderful opportunity to close the gap on Manchester United in second place, after they lost the derby to City, by only drawing 0-0 with Liverpool at Stamford Bridge. Although it extends Chelsea’s unbeaten record at home even further, it leaves Chelsea three points behind Manchester United and five between Arsenal, who have a game in hand. Frank Lampard was a welcome return as he made his first appearance since Boxing Day, slotting into midfield alongside Ballack and Makelélé. Carvalho returned from suspension alongside the towering Alex, whilst Belletti and Ashley Cole were the fullbacks. With Mikel also back from CAN duty as a substitute, Wright-Phillips moved into the front three, accompanied by Joe Cole and Nicolas Anelka.
Liverpool, sans top scorer Fernando Torres, had to make do with what they had, including new defender Skrtel alongside Carragher at the back, and a not-very-lethal strikeforce of Peter Crouch and Dirk Kuyt.
For the first 15 minutes of the game, possession frequently switched between both sides, neither able to attack with any real vigour.
Peter Crouch had two opportunities, the first a shot wide, the second a header straight at Čech, both chances that he should have taken. The second chance in particular was well carved out by Steven Gerrard, the Liverpool captain taking the ball past Ricardo Carvalho before crossing to the giant England forward.
It was on 24 minutes that the most (only?) controversial moment of the match occurred. Joe Cole, using his trickery in an attempt to break through the Liverpool defence, was bundled over by a clumsy Javier Mascherano challenge. Chelsea appealed for a penalty, but well placed, the referee Mike Reilly waved play on. It was certainly worthy of a shout and Cole will feel harshly done by.
The match was lacking spark, and it was no surprise that at half time, the score remained 0-0.
It took until the hour mark for the second half to see any goalmouth action and it was Liverpool’s Dutch flyer (no, not Dirk Kuyt) Ryan Babel, that provided it. He cut inside of Juliano Belletti and shot for goal, yet the Brazilian fullback managed to deflect the shot out for a corner.
John Arne Riise picked up a yellow card for a foul on Lampard, before the ensuing ten minutes saw a raft of substitutions. Malouda replaced the quiet Wright-Phillips, whilst Mikel came on for the tiring Lampard in midfield. Rafa’s rotations continued with Jermaine Pennant replacing Ryan Babel.
With ten minutes remaining, Chelsea carved out the best chance of the game. John Obi Mikel’s delightful aerial pass found the onrushing Ashley Cole, who touched the ball into the box. Arriving was Ballack, who looked to cushion his volley into the far corner, the ball dropping less than a yard wide of Reina’s goal with the Liverpool goalkeeper scrambling. The most clear cut chance of a very drab game was wasted, almost expectedly.
Pizarro replaced Joe Cole with seven minutes remaining, but had little effect. Riise’s risky back header nearly caused problems for Liverpool, but Reina remained cool to collect.
After three minutes of stoppage time, the final whistle blew on a bore draw at the Bridge that neither team looked like winning. Cue hysteria in the Liverpool section. It wasn’t exactly title winning stuff, but it was far from a title losing performance. A win is needed to get the Chelsea bandwagon rolling again.
Chelsea (4-3-3): Čech; Belletti, Alex, Carvalho, A Cole; Ballack, Makelélé, Lampard (c) (Mikel 70); Wright-Phillips (Malouda 63), Anelka, J Cole (Pizarro 84).
Liverpool (4-4-2): Reina; Finnan, Carragher, Skrtel, Riise; Gerrard (c), Lucas, Mascherano, Babel (Pennant 70); Kuyt, Crouch.
Referee Mike Riley.