Monday, 5 October 2009

Chelsea 2 Liverpool 0

Premiership Match report
Reporter: The Main (Stand) Man

After the woeful display in Florence during midweek, Steven Gerrard had challenged himself and his Liverpool colleagues to ‘react’ in the correct way against a Chelsea side looking to capitalise on Manchester United’s slip up against Sunderland (and as an aside, why hasn’t the word ‘rant’ yet been applied to the old tramp-in-a-suit from the other end of the East Lancs following his outburst against Alan Wiley on Saturday?). What transpired at Stamford Bridge, in truth, was a game that could easily have gone either way but unfortunately ended up with three points for the home side.

Benitez had the return of Mascherano to bolster a midfield that had looked weak against Fiorentina, the Argetinian replacing Aurelio who was not even able to displace Emiliano Insua in the favoured right back position. There rest of the team was, for a change, fairly predictable, with Gerrard supporting Torres and Riera and Kuyt on the wings. Daniel Agger was also included in the squad although he had to settle for a place on the bench with Carragher and Skrtel ahead of him in the pecking order thanks to their match fitness.

Liverpool started the brighter of the two teams, with some sharp passing movements causing some problems for Chelsea in the first five minutes. With Cech suspended following his sending off at Wigan last week, the reds decided to try and test replacement Hilario early on, and several moves down the left hand side proved fruitful in the first five minutes. John Terry and co. however were able to assist their keeper in clearing any danger that Liverpool crosses posed, and the home team seemed to take heart from this as they began to establish some dominance in the midfield.

The first quarter of an hour passed without clear chances for either team, though, and as is so often the case in these games, neither side was looking likely either to concede or to create enough to seriously trouble the opposing defence. The nineteenth minute brought the first controversial moment of the match, when Essien decided to undertake his usual stamping manoeuvre on Javier Mascherano (I’m sure we all remember the challenge on Didi Hamann several years ago which could have left him crippled), and fortunately for Mascherano he failed to connect with the shinbone. Unbelievably, however, the referee simply told Mascherano to get off the floor and stop faking, a move which he seemed strangely unable to replicate later in the match when terminal grass-muncher Drogba was flinging himself to the ground at every opportunity. The ball eventually fell for Riera whose well hit left foot shot was drilled just a couple of yards over the bar.

The Liverpool rearguard was still looking comfortable after 25 minutes, however, when Chelsea created their first real chance of note. A cross from the left found Drogba and Ballack both looking to head home, and Drogba’s eventual header was ill-advised as he took it off the head off Ballack who was better placed. Anelka soon went close for the London club with a free header having evaded Insua’s marking at the back post, before a free kick from Gerrard went disappointingly high over Hilario’s crossbar. Some good keeping from Reina then denied Essien when the Chelsea man fired in a low shot following a corner.

Nearly 40 minutes were on the clock when Liverpool created their best chance of the half. Dirk Kuyt found himself in space on the right with Gerrard and Torres making their way into the box. A neat forward run in between the centre-halves enabled the Spaniard to create a yard of space, but his header lacked the necessary power and direction to seriously trouble the Chelsea keeper. The final five minutes of the half were played out with Liverpool having almost able to break the deadlock. Essien was booked for a late challenge on Lucas, and the resultant free kick was fired in low towards the back post by Riera. Hilario reacted extremely late, possibly expecting a touch from a Liverpool runner, and in the end he could only divert the ball round his post with a last ditch dive. Liverpool had a clear penalty appeal turned down from the resulting corner as Drogba impeded Skrtel from getting to the ball.

At half time, Benitez would have been a lot happier with his side’s performance than at a similar point during the midweek fixture, but it was proving a tight affair with chances hard to come by. Mascherano was the player of the half for me, slotting seamlessly back into the heart of the midfield and breaking up play in his usual combative manner. Only Insua had a particularly poor first half, too often being left by markers or failing to win the ball in the challenge, which is uncharacteristic of the youngster’s performances so far this season. The vocal reds support had been given a decent display with the potential promise of leaving the ground with at least a point to show for their side’s efforts.

The second period began in much the same way as the first had ended, with the tight midfield tussle immediately resuming. A long-range effort from Gerrard was the only real moment of note in the first five minutes but he sent the ball fizzing over the crossbar from 25 yards. Chelsea soon began to get into their stride, however, and Reina had to be alert as Essien again drove the ball towards goal. As the ball moved in the air, the reds stopper did well to get down as take the sting out of the shot to prevent a rebound opportunity for any of the attackers bearing down on him.

Again, though, neither team was looking particularly like opening the scoring, with the majority of the play being conducted in the middle third of the field, although there was a growing sense that just one goal may be enough to take the three points. On the hour mark, Chelsea found another gear which proved good enough for the first goal of the game. Mascherano, excellent until this moment, was caught dawdling on the ball by Lampard whose challenge directed the ball into the path of Essien. He passed to Deco who followed up by sliding the ball in front of Drogba’s run down Liverpool’s right hand side, and his cross found Anelka in space. Whilst not making the cleanest of contacts, the Frenchman diverted the ball past the helpless Reina from less than six yards having again lost Insua earlier during his run.

Liverpool looked for an immediate response, a run from Lucas into the area being stopped only at the last moment by a challenge from Carvalho. The rest of the match was to be effectively ruined, however, by the ridiculous play-acting and diving of Didier Drogba. This was something that, having watched the game back on the television, was not only picked up on by the constant reds-basher Andy Gray, but even the Chelsea skipper John Terry was seen to give his team-mate a few harsh words at one point. The text messages I received following the match all had the same theme, that if the man is not stopped from undertaking this practise match after match, then the game as a whole will suffer for it as others see him profiting. Perhaps a montage of his activities needs to be created and sent to the F.A. for review, although undoubtedly this would only lead to a rebuke for the sender trying to show the game being brought into disrepute. I want Liverpool to win every game we play, and whilst I can see the funny side when we get a decision which we clearly should not have, if I ever see a Liverpool player behaving anything like Drogba, who possesses undoubted talent with his strength and pace, then that individual may well find themselves without my support until it stops.

Enough rambling for now and back to the game!! The second half continued with Liverpool in fact looking the more likely to provide the game’s second goal. Chances for Kuyt and Johnson went begging, the latter in particular really should have done better when left in space just outside the Chelsea penalty area, and Gerrard was stopped only by a last second challenge from Ashley Cole. The Liverpool captain then found himself in the referee’s notebook for a challenge on England team-mate Frank Lampard, and Drogba went close with the freekick although Reina seemed to have the ball covered at his near post.

Chelsea began to sit back on their lead, conceding more possession in the centre of the park, and this almost proved fatal as Liverpool looked to take advantage. A flowing move led to the ball at the feet of Gerrard in the box. John Terry came out to block his effort but the ball ricocheted towards Torres, but the ball bounced just a little too high and the number nine could only connect with his shin and the effort went wide of the left upright. Aurelio came on to replace the ineffective Insua, with Benayoun having replaced Riera and Babel coming on for Lucas earlier on as Benitez encouraged his side forward. Aurelio had an immediate impact, getting forward on several occasions and providing decent crosses into the area, but on each occasion it was a blue shirt that reached the ball first. As the clock ticked onwards, Chelsea were looking only at counter-attacking to bring them out of their own half, and unfortunately the ‘sucker punch’ came in the third minute of time added on. Drogba served to highlight his earlier antics with a superb show of strength to hold off challenges from both Aurelio and Carragher, and as he reached the byline he cut the ball back for Malouda to finish the game off. The question remains why Drogba goes down so easily when he has the ability to stay on his feet under such pressure if he feels he has the opportunity to head towards goal.

There was still time for Liverpool to go close, however, as Benayoun missed easily the best opportunity of the game for the reds. He brilliantly controlled Aurelio’s cross after Cole missed his header, and after feinting to shoot and putting Hilario on his backside, he inexplicably dragged his shot inches wide of the left post. Gerrard stung the palms of the Chelsea keeper with a crisp shot from the edge of the box, but this was the last attempt as the referee blew the final whistle shortly afterwards.

A game, then, with plenty of talking points, but a final word about the post-match thoughts from the television commentators. The claim that Drogba had ‘won the battle of comparisons’ with Fernando Torres is a frankly misguided way to interpret the overall contributions that each had made on the day. True, if we look solely at the footballing efforts of each on the day, then Drogba, having been heavily involved in both Chelsea goals, must be said to have had more of an impact. There is a dangerous precedent being set, however, by this interpretation. If the blatant and repeated attempts to con referees into awarding freekicks by Drogba continue, and are rewarded with the desired result, then games will be dominated by players who pick up on the benefits of following his example. This is a contact sport, and Drogba’s efforts will only serve to hinder games from flowing as they should, which cannot be good for the national sport. Liverpool will go to the Stadium of Light following the international break looking to embark on a run of victories to close the gap between themselves and the top two, as well as hopefully distancing themselves from pretenders for the champions league spots such as Tottenham and Manchester City.

Match time and date: KO 16:00. 4 October 2009
Goals: Anelka 60, Malouda 90
Yellow cards: Chelsea Essien; Liverpool Gerrard.
Referee: M Atkinson (Leeds).
Attendance: 41,732.

Chelsea (4-1-3-2): Hilario; Ivanovic, Carvalho, Terry, A Cole; Essien; Ballack, Deco (Malouda, 76), Lampard; Anelka, Drogba. Substitutes not used: Turnbull, J Cole, Zhirkov, Kalou, Sturridge, Belletti.

Liverpool (4-2-3-1): Reina; Johnson, Carragher, Skrtel, Insua (Aurelio, 83); Mascherano, Lucas (Babel, 76); Kuyt, Gerrard, Riera (Benayoun, 67); Torres. Substitutes not used: Cavalieri, Agger, Kyrgiakos, Ngog.

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