Dan Holland reports on Rafa’s return, remembering Anne Williams and hard earned point at Anfield.
Liverpool 2-2 Chelsea
How very poignant that it was a recent hero in Rafa Benitez that returned to Anfield so soon after the 24th anniversary of Hillsbrough, a man that was reduced to tears at a previous memorial, and the sad passing of a remarkable woman in the shape of Anne Williams.
It was on the way to Anfield that via Twitter I learned of the proposed minutes applause for a lady that has championed the march for Justice for over two decades and I honestly thought to myself what a shame there isn’t a 96th minute in the match so there can be a 2nd minutes applause to underline the work she has done! Even though I never had the pleasure of meeting Anne, it was somehow the most emotional minute’s applause I have witnessed. Even all Chelsea fans, players and staff joined in whole heartedly and thank you to them for that.
Before the minutes applause all eyes were on the tunnel and the dugout waiting for the return of Rafa. He was predictably given a rousing reception one that he was fast to acknowledge; this reception was deserved but to me once the referee had blown his whistle that should have been that. Instead the chanting of his name continued intermittently for the first ten minutes of the game, interspersed with chants of players and memories of his tenure. It took 13 minutes for us to remember that our current manager is Brendan Rodgers.
I know he and several of the squad still have their doubters but surely on a day when we wanted three points off a strong Chelsea side we should have given our vocal backing to those wearing red today. Players like Henderson and Downing in particular are obviously players who need confidence and would thrive off a song being sung with their name in it. During the first half only Luis Suarez and Jose Enrique had their names sung by the crowd yet Antonio Nunez, Momo Sissoko and Luis Garcia were given more ‘air time’, all that was missing were the strains of “Igor, Igor, Igor”.
I know we have a very proud history and recent history and that and yes that should be acknowledged but when your team is struggling to get a foot hold in the game they need our backing. I fully expect this to cause controversy and I’m ready to be shot at but a few Gerrard, Carragher, Lucas et al chants wouldn’t have gone a miss.
Right on with the game, as I’ve just mentioned it was Chelsea who started the brighter with the midfield in particular taking control. Now I have championed Lucas publicly on this site but for the first 20-25 minutes Ramires led him a merry dance couple this with Hazard and Mata causing problems between the lines, it was no surprise when Chelsea took the lead.
Whilst it was no surprise it was from another set piece, an area we have struggled with for far too long now. It was no giant that eluded his marker either, it was the 6 stone wet through Oscar who rose unchallenged at the near post to head past Reina. A frenetic first half continued with only one further goal mouth incident for both sides. Firstly a long range David Luiz free kick was spilt by Pepe Reina who recovered just in time to stop the ball crossing the line. At the other end Cech saved smartly from Luis Suarez after some good passing on the Liverpool right.
As the sides went in at half time, Chelsea had just about edged it with a number of Liverpool players seemingly below par. Until today Coutinho had looked immense but gave the ball away with alarming regularity and was matched for pace by Azpilicuta (I think that’s how it’s spelt!). Hendersons work rate as ever was unquestionable but lacked a bit of quality and was short of those around him in blue, Downing was in large parts not involved in the game and as previously mentioned Lucas was slow to start. The two stand out players in red to me were Jose Enrique and Jamie Carragher who continues to roll back the years this time winning an on-going battle with Torres.
Halfway through the interval saw the emergence of Daniel Sturridge all stripped and ready to go, following his half time warm up he was indeed introduced and it was no surprise to see him replace Coutinho. What an an impact the former Chelsea player was to have as well, however I witnessed a unique way of keeping jewellery in you whilst playing. Sturridge was appearing to fiddle with the drawstrings on his shorts, when I looked he was fastening a gold chain with a crucifix on to his shorts and tucked it in his ‘pants’. Should we now call him Goldmember!!!
Sturridge looked in the mood immediately, after only 13 seconds of the 2nd half he went on an impressive run before sliding in Steven Gerrard who brought out a great stop from Cech. Moments later another pacey run from Sturridge gave him the opportunity to shoot and from outside the box unleashed a venomous strike which struck the post. Liverpool continued to dominate with the midfield now on top as Chelsea were being pushed deeper by a Liverpool side now resembling more of a 4-4-2 formation. In the 52nd minute we struck a superb and deserved equaliser. A brilliant ball over the top from Carra found Downing who moved the ball inside exquisitely to Suarez whose ball across to Sturridge was equally as impressive and left the former Chelsea man the simple task of turning the ball past Cech.
Suarez then turned villain when he handled from a Chelsea corner giving the London side a penalty and the chance to retake the lead. It wasn’t the conceding of the penalty that disappointed me it was the lack of preparation and communication that resulted. Once the spot kick was given one of Brendans back room staff sprang into action with a clip board. After flicking through a few sheets he found what he was looking for, from my vantage point it appeared to show a goal and I presumed it to be where Hazards past penalties had been struck. It was decided that to the keeper’s bottom right was the likely destination of his spot kick. This information was relayed to Glen Johnson who then didn’t pass it on to Reina. Now for me this should have been known and discussed in the week leading up to the game but why did Glen not pass on the information? Did he not hear or did he misunderstand the information, either way it cost us dear as Hazard did indeed put it to the keeper’s bottom right.
Now the reds again had work to do, we reacted very well and were continuing to ask questions of Chelsea. Substitute Jonjo Shelvey should have equalised, Suarez danced across the edge of the box before firing straight at Cech and a number of other opportunities were thwarted by last ditch interceptions, blocks or tackles.
As Frank Lampard was introduced for the visitors, the referee’s assistant held up his board indicating six extra minutes which gave the crowd some hope, but it wasn’t until the 6th minute that we snatched a deserved point. This time Sturridge turned provider and Suarez the goalscorer. The goal was received with tumultuous applause and Brendan Rodgers was equally as pleased running to hug and high five members of the crowd below me in the Paddock.
A win would have been nice to put us hot on Everton’s heels and some would argue we deserved all three points but many a positive came out of today’s game not least the never say die attitude which has been witnessed at home to now Chelsea and prior to that Spurs.
Now the eagle eyed amongst will notice I haven’t talked about the biggest talking point coming out of the game today and that is because I didn’t see it and have only seen still images of it as I await Match of the Day 2 and reports via Facebook, Twitter and text. What I will say though is if what I am reading is true, it has no place in football and certainly at a great club like ours. Some say geniuses are flawed and this certainly seems the case with Luis. A talent for us all to behold but he cannot be allowed to get away with that and despite what the FA do, the club should make an example of him.