Monday, 11 May 2015

Champions League chase over despite credible Chelsea draw

Liverpool’s already extremely faint top four hopes were all but extinguished yesterday afternoon, as they could only draw 1-1 at Stamford Bridge, leaving them six points behind fourth placed Manchester United, whose goal difference is also far superior to the Reds’.

However, there were plenty of positives to take from the match against the newly crowned Champions. One of only four teams to take points off Mourinho’s men at the Bridge this season, Liverpool looked the better side, particularly in the second half, and, if there was going to be a winner, it would have been the Merseysiders. Unfortunately, as is the story of their season, they lacked a clinical front man.

The Reds’ lined up as a 4-2-3-1, as Gerrard and Henderson sat deep in midfield, while Lallana, Sterling and Coutinho buzzed industriously and productively behind lone striker Rickie Lambert. Glen Johnson also put in one of his best performances of the season at left back, but it’s difficult to understand why he’s still being picked when everyone knows that he will leave at the end of the season. Surely Javier Manquillo, who at least might have a future at the club, deserves a game.

After Liverpool gave a humiliating guard of honour to Champions Chelsea as they entered the field of play, the match began quickly and controversially. 

This must have hurt
Only a minute in, there was massive confusion as referee Andre Marriner accidentally showed Jon Obi Mikel a red card and then a yellow card following Fabregas’ horrendous tackle on Sterling, which was worth of a red. Eventually Mikel pointed out the error to Marriner, who promptly booked Fabregas instead. The silky Spanish midfielder was relieved it wasn’t a red.

Then, on five minutes salt was rubbed in the Reds’ wounds as Fabregas, who should have been in an early bath by this stage, sent in a right wing corner which Terry headed home to open the scoring after all too easily beating Rickie Lambert in the air. 

This was a poor goal to concede
Chelsea’s defence have scored more goals between them this season than Liverpool’s four main forwards, which is a sobering statistic revealing the gulf in quality between the two teams.

The rest of the first half was a much quieter affair, but Liverpool did come back into the match, Johnson striking into the side netting after marauding down the left wing and Coutinho forcing Courtois into a save. For Chelsea, Fabregas was by far and away their best player, making Mignolet punch clear on the half hour mark, but he was also lucky to avoid a second yellow after pulling Sterling back by the shorts.

Liverpool eventually got a slice of luck, however, on the stroke of half time when some shoddy Chelsea defending allowed Gerrard to respond to his critics by equalising. Ivanovic picked up a silly yellow for a foul on Lallana on the left hand by-line, giving Henderson the opportunity to dink the ball into the box.

All it took for Gerrard to escape the attention of Mikel was a bit of movement, creating space for him to deftly head home unmarked at the back post. His subsequent celebration was muted, but Gerrard must have loved silencing his Chelsea critics, who were of course out in full force again yesterday.

Gerrard's response to scoring was restrained
That equaliser was the harbinger of better things to come, as the Reds built on the platform that it gave them during the second period, in which they were much the better side. Soon after the restart, Lallana unfortunately scuffed a shot across goal after neat work between Gerrard and Henderson, while Coutinho also had a great chance after being set up by Sterling, but shot agonisingly narrowly wide with Courtois beaten.

Willian responded with a couple of threatening strikes for Chelsea, but Mourinho was so concerned that he chose to replace 19-year old Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who’d put in an accomplished performance on his Chelsea debut, with the far more experienced sitting midfielder Nemanja Matic on the hour mark.

Liverpool, meanwhile, made a couple of changes of their own. First, Jerome Sinclair was brought on for Rickie Lambert to make his Premier League debut. He did quite well, replacing the ineffective Lambert, who was responsible for Chelsea’s goal and made little impact on the match, managing only 15 touches during an average performance that failed to add credence to claims earlier in the week that Chelsea are interested in signing him to replace the departing Didier Drogba.

Then, with just over ten minutes left, Steven Gerrard was replaced by Lucas. Initially, he was booed by the Bridge, but those jeers soon turned into cheers as the whole of the ground promptly followed the lead of the Liverpool fans and Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho to honour one of the Premier League’s best ever players. 

The Bridge honours a legend for a few seconds before returning to mercilessly mocking him
Gerrard’s dismissive response, saying it was “nice for Chelsea fans to turn up for once”, was classic Stevie.

The final minute of the match almost saw Coutinho grab a dramatic late winner as the Brazilian’s deflected effort nearly wrong-footed Courtois. Unfortunately, he reacted quick enough to avert the danger and ensure that the Blues got a point that they arguably didn’t deserve on the balance of play.

At the end of the day, it’s disappointing to have the final nail hammered into the coffin of our Champions League hopes, but most Kopites knew it was already over. Moreover, it was pleasing to see the Reds put in a decent performance at a difficult venue where few teams come away with anything. Gerrard scoring one last time against his arch enemies Chelsea was also great.

Let’s hope he and the rest of the team can now give us something to cheer about by putting on a bit of a show in the Reds’ final two matches at home to Crystal Palace and away to Stoke City.


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