Liverpool 2-0 Chelsea
Two weeks may have passed but the events at Anfield on Saturday were pretty much the same as the Arsenal FA Cup Third Round game a fortnight ago. One side harassed the opposition whilst not in possession and passed the ball round well and never looked in real danger against another side whose passing game was all over the place and whose side looked uninterested. Thankfully for the Reds the roles were reversed as we beat Jose Morinno’s side for Rafael Benitez’s first win this season over the media-proclaimed ‘œbig four’.
Benitez may have had a disjointed (And that’s saying the very least) Chelsea back line to consider whilst selecting his side, but with Ballack, Drogba, Robben, Wright-Phillips (On as an early sub), Lampard et al to contend with, his selection was inspired. Playing John Arne Riise in front of the excellent Fabio Aurelio (Who both swapped in the second half half) ensured that Riise, whose been poor this season, didn’t have to be positionally flawless, an area he has been found wanting in more than a few times lately playing at left back. Jermaine Pennant’s selection made sure that the right wing was as equally covered as he was a major factor in the win, both attack wise and defensively.
The player’s came out to a full Anfield to the usual Premiership/Sky bullshit (How shite is that crap at the start?), and even Steve Finnan realising that it’s him we’ve been singing about pre-match for the last three months!
And what a start it was. Dirk Kuyt took an excellent touch past the hapless Â£12.8million bargain (No laughing at the back) Paulo Ferreira and slammed past Petr Cech into the Anfield Road goal. Whilst it was celebrated wildly round the ground, the feeling was that it was far too early to ensure a win, as a side who cost a quarter of a billion would give us a game of it. As it turned out, we should have been celebrating a rout in the pubs round Anfield that evening rather than just a convincing win.
Riise’s inability to use his weaker foot (A crime for a professional footballer) saw him tamely shoot straight to Cech when it seemed easier to score. But with just under twenty minutes gone, Essien’s (Â£24m) weak header went straight to Pennant, who, despite waiting what seemed an eternity for the ball to fall to his feet, wasn’t closed down and launched the ball over Cech and into the net. It was good to see Pennant get his first goal, but equally impressive was the way he seemed to stroke the ball in rather than twat it in (That’s the technical term for it anyway).
After that the game ground to a halt as Chelsea tried to get their passing game going, failing miserably. The feeling downstairs at half time was that we needed another to really relax, but the Chelsea backlash failed to materialise.
Riise’s thirty yard yarder that smashed against the Kop woodwork wasn’t converted on the rebound by Peter Crouch, although Ferreira’s challenge gave Rob “What Day Is It” Styles something to think about (Or not).
After that not much of note happened. Dirk Kuyt could’ve got a goal but his shot never had the power he’d have hoped from a Pennant cross, whilst Ballack and Drogba combined to execute a superbly worked set piece.
While Pepe Reina had little to do shot wise, his positioning, mainly being straight out when the ball went past the back line was better than spot on. His return after the cup games has shown us just exactly what he brings to the side – more than most others in Europe do for their respective sides Daniel Agger was composed all game, bringing the ball out whilst in possession rather than hoofing it in true Mikel Essien style.
Jamie Carragher was immense, doing what so many have failed on and marking Drogba out of the game. Rather than taking two yards off him, which resulted in his spectacular goal earlier on in the season, Carra stuck to the Ivory Coast international like glue all game. ensuring he had no space to turn with the ball in. Alongside him, Finnan and Aurelio were superb, both my first and second choice as man of the match respectively.
In midfield, Jermaine Pennant enjoyed his best game in a red shirt as he went at Ashley ‘œI’m not gay but my boyfriend is’ Cole from the start, also honouring his defensive duties. Xabi Alonso was everywhere all game; tackling, passing and bringing the ball forward at all time. Whilst foreign players get stick for not being used to the English game and a lack of fighting spirit, Alonso played as though he’s been born and brought up in Leather’s Lane rather than San Sebastian, and I’m sure his excellent passing game and willingness to keep on going after his injury (His eagerness to get back on the match was particually good to see) would mean he would not look out of place on the Hollies on a Sunday morning.
Riise was excellent going forward, and never left Aurelio wide open behind him, nearly scoring a certain ‘˜Goal of the Season’ in the process. Steven Gerrard’s anonymous first half was more than made up for with his second half performance, where he seemed to have the bite and passion of the Gerrard we all know and love.
Peter Crouch was, at times, disappointing, although he could never be accused of not working hard for the side. His partner, the all action fan favourite ‘œDiggler’ Dirk Kuyt was superb, never stopping for breath and seemingly enjoying every minute of it. We live in an age were footballers are lambasted for their lavish lifestyles and snobbish behaviour, but Kuyt is a player you can see loves the game and our club for what it is rather than his weekly wage. His name also bounced round the ground for the first time since his move from Feyernoord.
The atmosphere in the ground was also good, with ‘œRafa’s the Special One’ and ‘œBye, Bye Mourinho’ the pick of the day, whilst there was great support for Rafa all the way through. The Chelsea fans, bar a few renditions of their highly original ‘œChelsea, Chelsea, Chelsea ..’ chant, were, just like their side, largely anonymous.
And as we filled Sam Dodds, the Sandon and the Oaky post match, the mood compared to just a couple of weeks before couldn’t have been more contrasting. Whilst back then we were humbled, on Saturday it was our team that gave the expensively constructed Champions a humbling.