The game at Stamford Bridge was billed to be much more than just a Premiership clash between two rivals, because of a player who had dared to do the unthinkable – he had actually given up a chance to become a legend at the most successful club in English football, to play for a team actually competing for top honours in football. Rightfully or not, he was labeled a traitor who had betrayed his ilk. Shirts were burnt before the match, and abuses were hurled during and after it. However, away from all the drama, there was a game to be played, and Kenny Dalglish was ready for it.
Fernando Torres – what he did, what he didn’t and what he should do
Fernando stepped onto the pitch amidst intense pressure, eager to meet the huge expectations of the home fans and looking to ignore the taunts from the away fans. The last week had not been easy for him, and tonight he was far from his best. To be fair to him, he also didn’t receive any kind of support from his new team-mates.
As early as in the 1st minute, a misplaced Maxi Rodriguez back-pass was intercepted by the Spaniard, but his resulting shot sailed way over the cross bar, much to the delight of the away stand. His second involvement in the game was courtesy a Daniel Agger jab on the face. Then before the hour mark, he made a fine run to get behind the Liverpool defense and receive a through ball from Didier, but his weak shot was blocked by a diving Carragher.
The forward was replaced at the hour mark, after Ancelotti decided to tweak the system. Hereafter, Fernando should relieve himself of all the extra baggage and work on developing a better understanding with his team-mates. He should remember, his time will come.
Team selections and tactics
Carlo did the expected, he redeployed the 4-3-1-2 diamond but replaced Kalou with Chelsea’s new number 9 Fernando Torres, to play upfront with Didier Drogba. On paper, the Chelsea FC team looked dangerous, the forward line looked capable of instilling fear even in the hearts of the most fearless of defenders. However, matches are hardly played on paper.
Kenny Dalglish also stuck to the same formation, which he had used in the last game against Stoke City. If Carlo Ancelotti had used the Sunderland game for a dry run, so had Kenny.
A diamond is a formation which is narrow in the middle, and the team using it has to solely depend on its full-backs for width. Liverpool took the field in a 3-5-1-1, with Kuyt playing upfront and Meireles just behind him. Three centre-backs were used at the back, two to man mark the Chelsea forwards, and the third as an added cover. Johnson and Kelly were used as wing-backs to act an as anti-dote to Bosingwa and Cole, and they did just that.
After Liverpool had scored, Chelsea switched to a 4-3-3 to stretch the play to wide areas, but Kenny’s wing-backs were now content to stay back, as they had a lead and the five-man defence proved difficult to break down for the Blues.
Where the home team lost
With the full-backs wary of Johnson and Kelly playing further up-field, the onus fell on the Chelsea midfielders Lampard, Mikel and Essien to feed their forwards, but they couldn’t. Gerrard, Lucas and Maxi were charged up for the occasion and they didn’t give their opponents even an inch. Lucas, in particular, delivered an assured performance in the centre of the pitch. He remained close to Anelka and prevented any Sunderland-esque destruction from the Frenchman. Mikel, probably skeptical due to an early card, was lackadaisical in his display, while Lampard and Essien failed to stamp their authority in a crowded midfield. The passing was wayward from the entire team.
In the closing moments of the first half, both Ivanovic and Cech, rightfully attacked a ball to avert the danger, and unintentionally collided. Thereafter ensued a brief altercation between the two, and Liverpool must have drawn inspiration after witnessing such an incidence. Ironically, in the second half, Gerrard delivered a tempting ball from the right, which passed Cech and Ivanovic, to present an opportunity for an industrious Meireles to slot the ball home. This time, with the first half incident fresh in their minds, neither cleared the ball.
Referee erred, but delivered a right result
Andre Marriner, the referee for the game, failed to spot a hand-ball from Lucas in the second half, and ignored calls from the home players for a penalty. It was a 50-50 call which could have gone either way, and it went in Liverpool’s favour. However, the second appeal was a stone-wall penalty. Ivanovic was blatantly shoved to the ground by Johnson, but again Marriner denied the penalty-claim. Ergo, by erring twice, the referee actually delivered a fair result – a Liverpool win.
The Merseyside team was more determined, and was set-up perfectly to subdue Carlo’s formation, which it did quite brilliantly. The Chelsea team, after the reinforcements, is a work in progress and it will take some time for Ancelotti to make his players grow into their new roles.