After a week of unpredictability, topped off by a spectacular weekend of mostly unbelievable Premier League football, there was a grim inevitability about the way Chelsea surrendered all three points at home to Liverpool. Ultimately, a Raul Meireles goal mid-way through the second-half proved the difference between the two sides. With Manchester United and Arsenal failing to win their games on Saturday, Chelsea were given the chance to make some ground on the title frontrunners; in the end it was the Blues giving the gifts rather than receiving them, as sloppy defending and a blunt attack contributed to a 0-1 defeat.
All of the pre-match talk was of course focused on Chelsea new boy Fernando Torres, but the lack of creativity and guile within the Blues’ line-up during the course of the game must have given the Spaniard the impression that he was still plying his trade for Liverpool. Although he has become accustomed to feeding off scraps so far this season, familiarity does not necessarily bring comfort, and the striker cut an isolated figure for most of the match. At least Carlo Ancelotti proved he has a sense of humour, replacing the £50m man with Salomon Kalou just after the hour mark. Unfortunately for the constantly under-pressure manager, not many inside Stamford Bridge were laughing.
Although Ancelotti had been keeping his cards close to his chest before the match about whether or not Torres would make the starting line-up, when the teamsheet was announced a three-man attack was also revealed with the newcomer lining-up alongside Didier Drogba and just in front of the roaming Nicolas Anelka, so impressive in a similar role against Sunderland in a 4-2 mid-week win. Florent Malouda was again on the bench, where he was joined by another January signing, Brazilian defender David Luiz.
Liverpool were able to call upon Jamie Carragher again following an extended spell away from the team through injury, while Chelsea old boy Glen Johnson returned to Stamford Bridge as the Reds’ left-back. Liverpool’s own big money signings were left out of the starting eleven by manager Kenny Dalglish, with Andy Carroll injured and Luis Suarez beginning the match on the bench.
The game kicked-off with a sign of things to come, perhaps, as John Obi Mikel – who endured a torrid afternoon – fouled Steven Gerrard and picked up a booking, inside the first 30 seconds. If we were in any doubt about what kind of match it would be for Chelsea, Torres confirmed the pessimists’ worst fears by blazing a shot over the bar shortly after.
So often in the first-half the play broke down in the midfield, with Anelka either dropping too deep to receive the ball, while Michael Essien, Frank Lampard and Mikel seemed to be in competition to see who could give the ball away the most. When Torres did eventually receive the ball, he was often crowded out by Liverpool’s hard-working defence.
One Torres effort did get the heart-racing, after he latched on to a Drogba through-ball in the box and pulled the trigger, but a despairing lunge by Carragher blocked the shot. Shortly after, the best chance of the half fell to Liverpool, with Gerrard squaring across the six-yard box and finding Maxi Rodriguez a matter of inches away from an open-goal. Kalou would have been proud of the way the Argentinean struck the bar instead of tapping home, however.
A fairly dismal first-half it may have been, but if we had known what was to come, Blues’ fans would have welcomed a second-half shutout just like the initial 45 minutes.
Shots from range were all Chelsea could muster, with Anelka and Essien testing Pepe Reina from range, but the frustration continued with only half-chances being created. Torres was hooked for Kalou, and shortly after the world came tumbling down.
During a rare second-half Liverpool attack, Gerrard crossed into the box where Petr Cech should have easily claimed the ball. In the first-half, Cech and Branislav Ivanovic had argued over who was supposed to clear a loose ball, and it seemed as if there was another lack of communication in the box as Cech allowed the cross to bounce across him, where it made its way to the waiting Meireles, arriving late into the area and tucking the ball away. Sky cameras immediately cut to a forlorn looking Torres on the Chelsea bench.
As Ancelotti desperately tried to salvage anything from the game, Malouda was thrown on for the dismal Mikel, and the Frenchman threatened almost immediately as he shot from a tight angle, forcing a smart save from Reina. José Bosingwa was next to go, with David Luiz making his debut, switching to centre-back while Ivanovic moved to the right. If there was anything to take from the game, it would be Luiz’s eye-catching cameo, with the defender looking very Ricardo Carvalho-esque as he glided forward with the ball at his feet as Chelsea hunted for an equaliser.
Half-hearted Blues shouts for penalties sandwiched an Aurelio shot which Cech did well to parry away, but there were no real chances of note during the last few desperate minutes as Liverpool expertly repelled any forward movements by Chelsea. The away side held on for a 1-0 win to end a frustrating afternoon.
Chelsea now have to wait until Monday 14th February to make amends, with an away game against Fulham, but for now we are left with the bitter taste of defeat, a familiar feeling in a chequered season which twists this way and that without letting up. Personnel has changed, but on the pitch it seems, some things have stayed the same.