Chelsea moved closer to their first premiership title in four years as they produced a professional display to overcome the Anfield hurdle. Goals from Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard ensured that Chelsea can win the title with a win at Wigan next weekend.
The visitors started off well, keen to avoid the problems that plagued them in their loss to Tottenham, but it was Liverpool that showed the greater intent and menace up front. The first chance of the game was off a Liverpool corner when Kuyt missed a chance to nick the ball with greater purpose past Cech. As Chelsea counter-attacked, Kalou went down in the penalty box but Alan Wiley showed little interest in the Ivorian’s claim. The Blues seemed to be playing to a plan at exposing Mascherano’s frailties as a stand-in right back, and Kalou was key in running circles around the hapless Argentinian.
As Liverpool pressed on forward, Drogba crumpled under a challenge apparently bothered by an injury to the neck. As the powerfully built center-forward trudged back gingerly onto the pitch, after some anxious moments on the sidelines, Liverpool produced their best moment through Aquilani’s super long-range strike that kissed the top edge of the goal post as it sailed into the stands.
An apprehensive Chelsea were being severely tested by Liverpool playing an attractive brand of offensive football. As Chelsea’s fraught nerves began to show Malouda received a yellow card for a high challenge on Carragher. An impressive Aquilani then missed an incredible chance to send the Reds ahead under pressure from Ivanovic, who put in a crucial well-timed tackle.
As Chelsea’s attacks began to falter, and Liverpool clearly dominating around the half-hour mark, a moment of madness swung the balance in favour of the Blues against the run of play. A horrible back-pass from Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard found its way right into Drogba’s feet. A visibly pleased Drogba side-stepped a flailing Reina and slotted the ball into the net, to send the Chelsea supporters into joyous delirium.
Gerrard’s assist to Drogba sent Chelsea on their way
Liverpool tried in vain to put the pressure back on the visitors, when Gerrard successful invited a clumsy foul from Michael Ballack. The subsequent free-kick missed Kuyt ‘s head by mere inches. However, the visitors now leading by a solitary goal, seemed to shake off their early nervous start and pressed on forward looking for a second as Liverpool lost formation in the post-goal confusion.
A brilliant opportunity for Lampard, from the distance he typically scores from, ended in the vice-captain shooting just wide of the Liverpool goal posts. Anelka too would soon be guilty of wasting another golden chance to give Chelsea a more comfortable lead, as the Frenchman fluffed his chance under pressure from Kyrgiakos. Ballack soon saw yellow for physically obstructing Gerrard, as the Liverpool skipper deftly made his way past the German.
Liverpool spirits were dampened even further, when one of their better players on the pitch, Maxi Rodriguez had to be taken off for Babel after developing a niggle. Saloman Kalou made life even harder for Liverpool’s back four as he cleverly raced into the box, only to be clipped by Lucas. Kalou managed to stay on his feet, but almost immediately went down after stumbling on his own leg. Alan Wiley was well positioned to deny Chelsea’s appeals for a penalty, with the usually phlegmatic Ancelotti showing how irate he was at the decision as the clock ran down to the half-way mark.
Chelsea started the second half, clearly the more confident of the two sides, winning a free-kick from a Yossi Benayoun handball. In a sign that the balance of power had clearly shifted in favor of the West Londoners, the ever-threatening Saloman Kalou conjured a pass that grazed the face of goal begging agonizingly to be knocked in.
Frank Lampard would finally provide the second goal Chelsea were looking for, with a delicate touch off a brilliant pass from Nicolas Anelka. Liverpool’s misery only increased as Carragher walked off, adding to the injury list at Anfield, An unprepared Ayala had to be rushed in as a replacement, but not before the Reds faced another few anxious minutes with only ten men on the field as he warmed up for his entry.
A mistake from Terry at the other end looked like it would be punished, but Babel shot wide. Chelsea, with their lead intact, made little excuse for their attempts to run down the clock. Frank Lampard walked along nonchalantly to take a corner, inviting a chorus of boos from the irritated Liverpool faithful.
Michael Ballack, in one of his positive contributions to the game threaded a solid pass for Ashley Cole who played in Anelka but the striker could only manage a weak shot that was parried away by Reina’s feet. Malouda would however tested Reina’s reflexes even more, with a long range effort that had the Spaniard diving full-length to block successfully.
Any chances Liverpool had at clawing their way back in, would be extinguished when Aquilani was subbed for Ngog. Around the 80th minute as Chelsea broke in true counter-attacking style, with the numbers heavily stacked five against three in their favor, Reina incredibly managed to hold off a persistent Kalou.
Towards the end of regular time, with Liverpool embarrassingly yet to have one shot on target, Agger fluffed his shot wide and Mascherano managed to get yellow-carded capping a miserable day at the office for him. Ashley Cole provided some unintended comic relief, with a cringe-worthy attempt at running down the clock by calmly tying his bootlaces in a bid to keep play from progressing.
Dirk Kuyt did manage to send a shot at Cech, but the Blues’ keeper was more than comfortable in handling it. Though even if he hadn’t, it would’ve been too little too late for the Reds to recover.
TheHardTackle’s PLAYER OF THE MATCH
Saloman Kalou (Chelsea FC)
Turning in a spectacular performance today, even if it did not result in a goal directly, was Saloman Kalou. While Chelsea’s attacks were expected to materialize on the left, nobody would’ve expected Saloman to pose the bigger threat on the left flank – in comparison to his more illustrious compatriots Ashley Cole and Florent Malouda. He ran Mascherano ragged throughout the entire length of the game, and was a relentless spot of bother for Liverpool’s backline. The effort needed to keep him at bay, proved costly as Liverpool’s attention got drawn away from eventual goal scorers Lampard and Drogba.
TheHardTackle’s REFEREE REPORT CARD
Name: Alan Wiley
Grade: B+ (Good)
In all fairness, Wiley did not have a lot of tough calls to make. Reruns would prove that he was right not to award Kalou a penalty. He was firm, but even-handed in his approach to the game. And Ballack, Malouda and Mascherano can have no complaints for receiving yellow cards.
LIVERPOOL 0-2 CHELSEA
Venue: Anfield, England
Liverpool line-up: Reina, Kyrgiakos, Carragher (Ayala 57′), Agger, Mascherano, Lucas, Gerrard, Kuyt, Aquilani (Ngog 77′), Benayoun, Rodriguez (Babel 42′)
Manager: Rafael Benitez
Sent Off: None.
Chelsea line-up: Cech, Terry, Alex, A. Cole, Ivanovic, Ballack, Malouda, Lampard, Kalou (Zhirkov 88′), Drogba, Anelka (J.Cole 90′)
Manager: Carlo Ancelotti
Cautions: Malouda, Ballack
Sent Off: None
Scorers: Drogba (33′), Lampard (54′)