Chelsea 0-1 Liverpool
Sunday, 6th February 2011
A feeling of regret may just have been being to bite at Fernando Torres as he returned to his new London home on Sunday evening. Whilst the vociferous away following in the corner of the Shed End had done their best to leave him in little doubt over who was the bigger club. The Liverpool players had put in their best efforts to prove that the gap between the two clubs on the pitch, which the Spaniard had hinted at, may not be quite so clear cut.
The events which played out at Stamford Bridge on Sunday afternoon could have been plucked straight from a Hollywood script. The hero-turned-villain returning to face his former comrades, on whom he had recently turned his back and whom he no longer felt matched his values and ambition. Only to see all come back to haunt him, as his former colleagues triumphed at the conclusion.
All of the attention both before and during the match was predictably focused on Torres. But this was not a day to be concentrating on the past and allowing former acquaintances to take centre stage. This was a moment to look forward positively to the future and celebrate the immense turnaround which has taken place in the 28 short days since Kenny Dalglish’s return to the club.
This was a superb team performance. Full of guile, determination and effort. Not to mention some outstanding defending. Everyone – both playing and coaching staff – deserves credit for achieving a result which would not have seemed feasible just a few weeks ago.
And that without the firepower of recent big money signings Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll. Suarez was an unused substitute. Whilst Carroll continues to recover from injury.
Jamie Carragher and Daniel Agger were colossal at the back. Preventing a potentially lethal attacking trio of Didier Drogba, Nicolas Anelka and Torres from laying siege to the visitors goal mouth. So much so, that Pepe Reina was actually barely called into action for the entirety.
Match winner Raul Meireles, Steven Gerrard and Lucas Leiva outshone a Chelsea midfield, which has so often been the key to their success over recent years. Lucas, in particular, stood out. The Brazilian delivered another performance full of persistence and energy. Refusing the Chelsea midfield time on the ball and consistently retaining possession. Whilst Dirk Kuyt also deserves great credit for a tireless display as the lone-striker, occupying John Terry and Branislav Ivanovic and bringing others into play.
Meanwhile, in the dug out the majority of the praise has been reserved for Dalglish – who has clearly implemented a greater freedom of expression and more pleasing style of play. However the role of Steve Clarke in the turnaround should also not be overlooked. His influence on the defence in particular has been discernable. The Reds have now not conceded a goal in over 400 minutes of football.
The West Londoners were off-colour. However Liverpool also prevented them from playing and made Chelsea appear short on ideas and creativity. The home side seemed to be finding it more difficult than their counterparts to adapt to a new, unfamiliar formation.
Despite a couple of early scares – which were more the result of some uncharacteristically slack Liverpool passing, rather than incisive Chelsea play – the Reds were unflustered for the most part. This was a deserved victory. On a ground were Liverpool have a poor record over the last 20 years.
Torres was somewhat reminiscent of the striker which Liverpool fans had witnessed – and stood by – over the last 18 months. Largely ineffective, aside from a couple of first half cameos. Chelsea’s new man appeared to be taking time to adapt to his new surroundings and a new formation.
The former Red was very nearly gifted an opportunity in the opening 2 minutes, though. Maxi Rodriguez offered his friend a leaving present when his slack pass presented the ball to Torres 30 yards from goal. Yet Torres blazed his effort over the bar from outside the box.
Liverpool were again caught in possession. This time Lucas was out-muscled by Dider Drogba. The Ivorian feeding the ball through for Torres; only for Carragher to appear on the scene with a crucial block with Torres sensing his chance to strike.
But everyone in a red shirt barely put a foot wrong from there on in. And, having tempered the threat of Carlo Ancelotti’s men, Liverpool began to grow into the match.
Maxi really should have broken the deadlock before half-time. In fact the Argentine is never likely to get a better chance than this. Gerrard’s drilled cross from the left of the penalty area found Maxi, three-yards out and facing an open goal. However his first time effort somehow caught his shin and agonisingly struck the bar.
Liverpool’s delivery into the box from wide areas was causing some problems and confusion amongst the home defence. And it was from such an attack that Meireles struck the decisive goal. Gerrard’s cross – this time from the right – was not dealt with by Chelsea, with Kuyt loitering. And Meireles should great desire to make up the ground and fire past Petr Cech at the far post. His fourth goal in five games sending the travelling fans into delirium.
Chelsea were struggling for penetration and ideas. Torres had already been withdrawn to the delight of the away following. And Anelka, initially Chelsea’s main threat when operating from deep behind the front two, was no longer influencing the game.
Michael Essien had flashed a shot from distance narrowly over, before the opening goal. And Reina was required to save at his near post late on. Whilst Chelsea also had claims for a penalty, when Glen Johnson barged into Ivanovic when challenging for a header.
Yet, it was the Reds who came closest to increasing the scoreline on the counter-attack. Johnson went close with a shot from the edge of the box. Before substitute Fabio Aurelio out-foxed Terry and forced Cech into a fine save to keep it at one.
Liverpool fans continued to taunt their former striker up until the final whistle. And Torres was, without question, destined to make all the headlines, whatever the result. However the significance of this win and performance for those still at the club will not be lost on Liverpool fans in Merseyside and beyond.
Man of the Match
Immense in defence and great leadership on his return from injury. Just edges out the tireless Dirk Kuyt.