CHELSEA 1-2 LIVERPOOL
Premier League, Sunday 20th November 2011
The two men who had scored the winning goals in victories for Liverpool over Chelsea in the previous season were again in attendance at Stamford Bridge. Though, bizarrely, this time around both Fernando Torres and Raul Meireles were adorned in blue and watching on from the Chelsea bench.
Much attention had been focused on the re-acquaintance of the two Liverpool old-boys with their former teammates. Torres and, to a lesser extent, Meireles were sure of a frosty reception from the travelling fans. Yet it was an old boy in a different guise who stole the headlines and returned to punish his former suitors.
Glen Johnson’s outstanding 87th minute solo effort won the game for Liverpool. But it was a performance born of hard work and perseverance that will have been similarly as pleasing to Liverpool fans and was equally as influential in achieving a standout, and much-needed, victory.
Once upon a time this was a notoriously tough, and often unforgiving fixture, for any Liverpool team. But the Reds have now constructed an impressive run a results against the men from the Kings Road. This being the third Liverpool victory from their last four visits to Stamford Bridge. As well as the clubs third victory in succession, following that double triumph over the same opposition last season.
Following some disappointing results at Anfield to date, and with the visit of league leaders imminent, Liverpool had placed themselves under some perceptible pressure to achieve a result ahead of their trip to Stamford Bridge.
It was an alteration of personnel and of shape which allowed Kenny Dalglish and his team to gain the upper hand in the first half and laid the foundations for victory.
Dalglish reverted to type and to the kind of setup which had gained significant success in the second half of last season. The reintroduction to the starting XI of both Maxi Rodriguez and Craig Bellamy – at the expense of Stewart Downing and Andy Carroll – provided Liverpool with a fluidity and direction which had been so lacking in recent games.
True, the Reds do appear to be far better equipped to succeed against the top sides rather than when necessity dictates that they take the game to the opposition. But the tactical tweaks instigated by Dalglish proved that Liverpool due have the players at their disposal capable of adapting their approach.
The early signs were positive for Liverpool. The high pressure, fluid football negated by the presence of Bellamy and Maxi alongside Luis Suarez and Dirk Kuyt was a constant menace to an unusually susceptible Chelsea rearguard.
Suarez and Bellamy threatened to escape beyond the home sides high defensive line on more than one occasion.
Though, it was the hosts who came closest to breaking the deadlock. First, Juan Mata flashed a shot across the face of compatriot, Pepe Reina’s, goal. Before Didier Drogba had the home fans on their feet when his free-kick rippled the back of the net. Fortunately for a stranded Reina the ball had been stuck narrowly the wrong side of his right-hand post.
But Liverpool finally had the opening goal which their first half performance warranted on 33 minutes. When Jon Obi Mikel received a short goal-kick from Petr Cech on the edge of his own penalty area, he surrendered possession under immediate pressure from Charlie Adam.
Adam teed up Bellamy to exploit a gaping hole in the centre of the Chelsea defence. The Welsh forward showed great composure to exchange passes with Suarez in the box before working an opening for Maxi to slot beyond Cech.
Maxi has had to wait patiently for limited opportunities since the influx of summer arrivals to Anfield. But the Argentine has clearly got a knack for a goal which goes beyond purely luck – this being his 8th strike in 5 Premier League starts. Whilst his all round play when selected this season proves that he is still able to add an extra dimension to Dalglish’s squad.
Liverpool were well worth their half time lead. But Villas-Boas’ side awoke from the slumber after the interval. Buoyed by the introduction of Daniel Sturridge and even more so by the decision to switch Mata to a more influential central role. Chelsea began to pose some questions to Liverpol which would been expected from the off.
In fact, the game was level early in the second half. Florent Malouda was allowed the opportunity to cross from the left. And when Sturridge escaped the attentions of Jose Enrique at the far post, his task to finish beyond Reina was a fairly simple one.
Chelsea crafted openings for the winning goal themselves. Reina produced an outstanding save low to his left from a glancing Branislav Ivanovic header shortly after the equaliser. Whilst Malouda also fired across goal and wide when he should have found the target.
But, for the most part Liverpool defended resolutely against a limited Chelsea threat.
The two main protagonists of the day – Torres and Meireles – had been confined to warming the bench. That was until they were introduced as substitutes for the final 10 minutes; as Andre Villas-Boas looked to capitalise on Chelsea’s increasing ascendency during a second half were Liverpool often found themselves on the back foot.
Yet, the pair of ex-Reds found themselves with too little time to make a difference. And it was left to Liverpool – and right-back, Glen Johnson – to deliver the decisive blow.
Kuyt squandered a fine opening moments earlier when he rather scuffed a shot in front of goal with his right foot, when opting for his left may have been more advisable. But Johnson had the winner in emphatic fashion before time was up.
The increasingly influential Adam demonstrated great vision to release Johnson down the right with Liverpool on the counter-attack. The England full-back took possession in his stride, cut inside Ashley Cole and just kept on running, as the space opened up in front of him. Before placing the ball beyond Cech and a helpless John Terry on the line. Sending the Liverpool players into delirium.
Not a bad way in which to set the record straight after some disappointing results of late. And also set the Reds up nicely for a 30th meeting in just seven years with their old foes in the Carling Cup quarter final at Stamford Bridge in little over a week.
Man of the Match: CHARLIE ADAM
Influential in midfield and released Glen Johnson with impressive vision and execution for the winning goal. Perhaps his best performance in a red shirt to date.