If Liverpool desperately needed to win this game, they certainly didn’t show it in the way they started. It was Chelsea that dictated most of the game, right from the start, by showing the greater hunger. The Blues were afforded so much space, it was almost like they had discovered a whole new continent.
If the champions-elect were expected to engage the Reds in a cagey encounter at Stamford Bridge, the players seemed to have ignored those instructions. The game was refreshingly open, with Fabregas playing a more advanced role, with Mikel staying back. Hazard was his usual irrepressible self, and Willian showed his willingness to track back to bolster a Mikel who looked out of sorts. Ivanovic looked heavy-footed too and would concede the foul that would peg Chelsea back, just when they were riding high.
Chelsea’s biggest concern, apart from the early yellow to Fabregas, was Zouma’s injury and subsequent taking off. That would prove to be telling, as Chelsea could have done with his natural doggedness to prevent Gerrard from breaking free in the dying moments of the first half. When Gerrard finally scored, against the run of play, in a manner similar to Terry’s opener, Liverpool finally found the impetus they has spent the first half searching for.
Chelsea may have seemed the more settled team, but it was shaky Liverpool that had the momentum going into the second half. Credit for that switch in balance must go to Lallana who was spectactular in the first quarter of the second half, in sharp contrast to the heavy-legged approach of Lambert. Emre Can was at his imperious best and Ibe excelled on the unfamiliar left.
When Steven Gerrard was taken off, he was saluted by the entire crowd including the Chelsea faithful. Liverpool didn’t seem to lose any intensity after his departure and the Blues seemed up to the task, tryng to stifle the game to a creditable draw for both sides. That would not be an acceptable result for Liverpool, and surprisingly it seemed neither for the Chelsea faithful who were looking for more. Courtois seemed a bit sub-par, and not just by his usual stellar standards. The Belgian’s clearances and goal-kicks left a lot to be desired, in contrast to Mignolet and his back three.
Liverpool’s failure to find a way past a resolute Blues defense marshaled by John Terry, easily the man of the match, was the tale of the game. The Reds threatened to steal a goal with a typical late flourish, but a series of well-time tackles, and a fortuitous missing of chances by the away team.
Gerrard in the post-match interview seemed a bit forlorn, and was not entirely charitable to the Chelsea faithful “who turned up for the first time”. He did admit his head was turned by Jose Mourinho, whom he called the greatest manager in the world, but chose to stick on at Liverpool in a display of loyalty uncharacteristic of this age.
The game, overall, was characteristic of both the arch-rivals’ seasons. Chelsea starting off with a flourish and then keeping their heads screwed firmly on their shoulders for the rest of the course, while Liverpool threatening to impress but falling short in the final third – of the season, and the pitch.
Making a habit of doing what was needed, was Chelsea who walked off with their 16th unbeaten game, and Terry enjoying the plaudits of being the highest scoring defender in the league, well on course to seeing the Blues rack up a 90-point tally again. Liverpool walked off the pitch with the same game-end result, but a universe away, with only the present-day commiserations and promises of a better tomorrow guiding them into the tunnel.