16 Conclusions on Liverpool 0-2 Chelsea

A lesson in resilience and stubbornness from the master to the pupil. Chelsea may well not win the league, but as Daniel Storey explains, they may have ruined Liverpool's party...

Last Updated: 28/04/14 at 10:13 Post Comment

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* "Attacks win matches, but defences win titles," is the clichéd quote. It may never have rung more true.

Chelsea arrived at Anfield understrength and as the underdogs, out of the title race and seemingly merely the visitors to a title party. They turned down the music, ripped down the bunting and poured the punch down the sink.

The intended 'narrative' (I hope we are all sick of the word) was that this pitched pupil (in Brendan Rodgers) finally taking over from his suffering master (Jose Mourinho), but in the end it was the Liverpool manager forced to learn the hardest of lessons, his side found wanting when it mattered most, crashing into a hurdle with the finishing line in sight. Liverpool's title challenge is not yet dead, but it suffered a near-fatal blow.

* Chelsea and Mourinho carried out their smash and grab raid with such perfection that they are deserving of immense praise. There is more than one way to skin a footballing cat, and whilst the neutral (as if such term ever applies) may prefer the flowing, attacking play demonstrated by Liverpool in recent months, there is much to be enjoyed in a team sticking to a plan with discipline and grit.

"The best team won," were Mourinho's words following the match, and it is difficult to argue. "No mistakes. Fantastic performance."

The Portuguese was right to be proud. The Sunday papers contained talk of a slipping crown after a week in which Mourinho has taken his prickly demeanour to the nth degree, but once again he had the last laugh, a scenario Jose has enjoyed too often for it to be considered fortunate. It may be billed as aesthetic beauty vs. the dark arts, good vs. evil or attack vs. defence, but the Premier League table is calculated only according to cold, hard points.

In fact, given the meticulous nature of Mourinho's plan, he perhaps completed his greatest achievement yet - he made the ugly seem beautiful.

* It was no surprise that Mourinho chose to leave out many of his first-choice starting line-up. With Chelsea's Premier League title hopes still out of their hands with a victory at Anfield, the Champions League had to remain the priority.

For clarification (because there still seems to be a degree of confusion), Mourinho and Chelsea were within their rights to pick almost any team they wished. The rules that saw Blackpool and Wolves handed fine and suspended fines respectively were amended in July 2011 with the introduction of the 25-man squad rule. Although not totally withdrawn (because the 25-man squad can be supplemented by any amount of under-21 players), even the weakest side touted in the media in midweek would have been permitted.

As it was, Chelsea still looked strong. Tomas Kalas was given his first Premier League start, but with Nemanja Matic and Mohammad Salah cup-tied and Frank Lampard and Jon Obi Mikel suspended for Wednesday, all started the match. This was no scratch team, that much is clear.

* The game started exactly as was expected. Chelsea visibly slowed down the pace of the match from the off, consistently taking the maximum time available in order to take set-pieces or allow play to resume, a deliberate ploy to curb any Liverpool momentum or impetus.

Any winding-up of a fervent Anfield crowd was a bonus, and almost instantly achieved. The home support was sucked into Jose's plan, spending far more time during the second half criticising Chelsea's antics than urging on their own side to success.

The strategy was almost laughably obvious. After just seven minutes both Steven Gerrard and Jon Flanagan had to visibly wrestle the ball back from Mourinho on the touchline, and Martin Atkinson was seen having a word with Frank Lampard after only 20 minutes over the amount of time-wasting. Luis Suarez's sarcastic applause of Mark Schwarzer taking his time to clear the ball during the first half simply indicated the frustration caused by the tactic.

You couldn't blame Chelsea for their approach, but it again invited a cloud of hypocrisy to surround their manager. Just a month ago, Mourinho publicly chastised a ballboy during Chelsea's defeat at Selhurst Park.

"The kids are educated to do this, but if a player hits a ballboy then the person who educates them disappears," Mourinho claimed. "I had a chance to get the kid and the kid was cute and I told him: "You do this, one day somebody punches you."'

There would presumably have been many in a queue at Anfield to offer something similar.

*Whatever the possible discussion over these 'darker' arts of the game, there is little doubt that the first half went perfectly according to plan for Chelsea. In February, Arsenal demonstrated exactly the risk of going to Anfield with a high line, and therefore Mourinho effectively starved the opposition of the chance to do what they do best. Sounds simple, really.

The cliché that springs to mind is that you can't win a match during the first half but you can certainly lose it - Chelsea's tactics may not have been pretty nor enjoyable, but they ruled out the possibility of the latter scenario.

In fact, although Liverpool had 71% of possession during the first half, the opening 45 minutes contained just two shots on target - and both of them came for the away side. Frustrating an opponent in frightening form, this was mission accomplished before the break - Liverpool failed to score in a half for the first time in the Premier League since February 2,

* Chelsea even got a glorious bonus, provided by a sucker punch almost on the stroke of half-time, delivered in triple amounts of something approaching irony. Firstly was the timing, coming in three added minutes that resulted only from Chelsea's own time-wasting tactics. It wouldn't have shocked anyone too much if Jose had tried to claim an assist.

The second was the style of the goal, coming from a huge error from Gerrard, a player rejuvenated in the holding role in midfield this season. The slip was unfortunate, but only came after Gerrard had allowed the ball to roll under his foot - that owed little to fortune. Wind back four years, and it was Gerrard again whose short backpass allowed Didier Drogba to score and effectively wrap up the Premier League title for Chelsea ahead of Manchester United.

The final part of the irony trilogy stemmed from Liverpool's 3-2 victory over Manchester City just a fortnight ago. Delivering a stirring team talk after the game, Gerrard insisted: "This does not f*cking slip." In first-half stoppage time, it appeared that it was in literal danger of doing so.

* One can understand Gerrard wanting to atone for his costly error, but he ended up costing his side just as much during the second half through his desperate attempts to make amends.

Gerrard has averaged just 1.9 shots per match in the league this season, but during the second half seemed intent on doing so at every opportunity, clearly seeking that 'Olympiakos' moment in which he grabs the match by the scruff of its neck.

He had eight shots alone after the break, all but one from outside the area. Four were on target and saved easily by Schwarzer, whilst another three flew more than five yards wide when a pass into the feet of a team-mate may have enabled a more dangerous situation to have been created.

It is difficult to blame Gerrard. This is a man hugely anxious to grasp an achievement on which he had given up hope, and he will be deeply critical of his own role in conceding the first goal. However, the best individual performances stem from the ability to judge each scenario on its individual merit, and Gerrard let his mistake enter his psyche.

It's not the making of errors but your reaction to them, as the old tale goes.

* Perhaps just another indication of his status as the heartbeat of his side, Gerrard's fruitless effort was reflective of Liverpool's toiling as a whole during the second half - they failed entirely to get under Chelsea's skin.

Even more so than the first period, this became a lesson in attacking efficiency. Liverpool attempted 17 shots after the break, but the fact that all but two came from outside the penalty area showed how comfortably Chelsea were able to get men behind the ball and irritate. That Chelsea had more shots from inside the area than Liverpool in the second half is a testament to the fabulous resolve demonstrated by a largely makeshift defence.

* And then came the final insult, the punch to send Liverpool sprawling to the floor and supporters cursing a missed opportunity. With just seconds remaining and the home side desperately piling forward, Chelsea hit them with an attack that ridiculed the term 'counter' - Willian and Torres, both substitutes and therefore with freshened legs, broke clear on a helpless Simon Mignolet.

Whilst it may have seemed fitting for Torres to seal victory at the scene of so much career happiness before a now terminal regression, it was left to his team-mate to run the ball into an empty net. The only thing missing was the Brazilian kneeling down to head the ball over the line to complete the pantomime nature of the victory, but Mourinho provided that with his celebrations towards a jubilant away support.

Not for the first time, Jose played the role of the A-Team's Hannibal: He loves it when a plan comes together.

* Whilst his loss at Norwich was counteracted with another early attacking blitz, a fixture against Chelsea demonstrated the damaging loss incurred by Jordan Henderson's late red card against Manchester City.

In his place Lucas was selected, but looked totally inept as a viable replacement. Liverpool's success this season has relied on dynamism and verve in midfield, but the Brazilian instead offers little of either characteristic. Henderson bridges the gap between midfield and attack, and was sorely missed.

* Perhaps at the perfect time for England ahead of a summer meeting in Brazil, Luis Suarez's form seems to have taken a noticeable dip.

Against Chelsea, Suarez drifted in and out of proceedings, noticeably frustrated at the time-wasting of the opposition. Such displays against gamesmanship from the Uruguayan perhaps ring slightly hollow given his past actions.

Normally so keen to hassle and harry the opposition, Suarez failed to make a single tackle against Chelsea and gained possession just three times, less than half those of the markedly less physical Philippe Coutinho. He took five shots at goal, but could direct just two on target, a total matched by Joe Allen.

Whisper it quietly (I can't take the grief), but are we able to label Suarez with that most unwanted of tags, the 'flat-track bully'? It's now seven games this season against the rest of the top four without a goal.

Whatever the cause, a poor performance arrived at the worst possible time. This week the striker spoke of his surprise that Liverpool found themselves in such a position. The disbelief on Sunday was that on the day Suarez will surely be named the Player of the Year, he was found wanting when needed most.

* It seems harsh to single out any Chelsea player for particular praise given how well each performed their individual role to benefit the team. In 90 minutes Ba may have earnt himself a new deal with a wonderful demonstration of the lone striker role, whilst Nemanja Matic further highlighted the lunacy of a man with such talent ever being permitted to leave Stamford Bridge.

Plaudits are also deserved for both Lampard and Ashley Cole. The elder statesmen of Chelsea's team may have been forced into more bit-part roles this season but performed admirably in Mourinho's 90 minutes of need. Lampard covered more ground than almost any player on the pitch (Matic ran 100m more) despite being 35, another stick with which to beat his stupid 'Fat Frank' tag, whilst Cole has combines dependability with an unerring ability to make goal-line clearances. Both are still firmly pushing for places on the plane to Brazil.

However, the final word must go to Tamas Kalas. A full Premier League debut at Anfield, against the league leaders and alongside not John Terry or Gary Cahill but Branislav Ivanovic. Kalas was utterly superb, never looking ruffled in thwarting the league's most potent attack. Expertly guided by the rock-steady Ivanovic, the Czech lost possession on just one occasion during the entire game. No other player did so fewer than four times.

Kalas may well firmly remain Chelsea's fourth or fifth-choice central defender, but with the sort of ability and nerve displayed against Liverpool, that place in the queue will soon change. He looked every bit the long-term replacement for John Terry.

* Whilst both Rodgers and Gerrard have consistently preached the danger of complacency, did the Anfield crowd fall guilty of believing just too much?

The build-up to every Liverpool fixture has contained an element of nerves and excitement, every one of the 12 consecutive wins celebrated with a slight tinge of disbelief. There is a crucial difference between "It's going to be our year" and "It's not going to be out year, is it?"

However, on Sunday there seemed to be a triumphant air around the ground. . Liverpool's team bus was due to arrive at Anfield at 12.30pm, but by midday fans swarmed around the waiting for the arrival of their heroes. The atmosphere looked like one of congratulation even before a ball had been kicked. Whilst that epitomises the pride that supporters have taken in Liverpool's remarkable run of wins, it did seem slightly off-kilter. One suspects Mourinho had his team talk easily written.

* After the game, Brendan Rodgers was left markedly unimpressed by Chelsea's tactics. "We just couldn't find the breakthrough," he said. "I think there were two buses parked today, never mind one." 2-0, Brendan. Two. Nil. That's all that really matters.

Of course one feels sympathy for a manager being interviewed shortly after having the rug dragged from under his feet but, in hindsight, one hopes that Rodgers instead looks at the deficiencies of his own side's performance rather than criticising the opposition.

Liverpool and Rodgers must have known what to expect from their opponents. They were never likely to make this a free-flowing spectacle of football, and must surely have worked on plans to attempt to counteract that. It did not show.

With Chelsea planting two distinct banks of four in front of Schwarzer, it was always unlikely that the home side would be able to operate on the counter-attack, and yet Liverpool seemed to have no grand plan in order get in behind. Raheem Sterling managed to run at Ashley Cole once or twice during the opening half-hour, but as the game wore on too often long balls were played into the box. That was music to the ears (and heads to the ball) of Chelsea's defenders, who kept Liverpool at arm's length.

Much has rightly been made of Rodgers' tactical fluidity this season, his propensity to utilise different formations according to their opponents' expected style earning him deserved praise, but the best football managers are able to combine both proactivity and reactivity.

The latter involves the requirement of the clichéd 'Plan B', a new idea to be used when the tried and tested fails to cut the mustard, and it is here where Rodgers and Liverpool were found lacking against Chelsea.

* Although this was a day of huge satisfaction for Mourinho, there must surely be a sense amongst manager, players and supporters that Chelsea should have had this title put to bed by now.

Mourinho's side have now taken an astonishing 16 points from their six games against the rest of the top four. That should be the backbone of a triumphant league season, but despite the victory at Anfield they are still the third favourites to lift the trophy at 16/1.

The celebrations after the final whistle were notable and determined, but this was merely a victory in the battle. The war was lost against Crystal Palace, Sunderland, Stoke and Aston Villa.

For now however, the victory in battle will be celebrated nonetheless.

* And so, despite all of their recent excellence, Liverpool must now rely on others to do them the favour unnecessary at kick-off. In one of those quirks of fate that football seems to so often throw up, it is city neighbours Everton that Liverpool supporters must now side with.

Next Saturday, Liverpool will be a city with bizarrely split loyalties. Liverpool will desperately want Everton to win, and Everton may want their own side to lose. The blue half of Merseyside handing the title to the red half - it would be a remarkable end to a truly fabulous season.

Daniel Storey - Follow him on Twitter.

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ilarious, thanks for that. But if I may, I do suspect the reason of your partners' ire is not Tottenham, but most probably all the compusilve gambling :)

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