Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool limped to a 1-2 loss at home to Chelsea on Saturday, and Jack Lusby outlines where the Reds failed and, rarely, succeeded.
Liverpool 1-2 Chelsea, Anfield. Saturday 8 November.
Another day, another miserable performance.
Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool side continued their 2014/15 struggles on Saturday with a 2-1 loss at home to Jose Mourinho’s rampant Chelsea.
An early goal from German summer signing Emre Can offered the loyal Kop optimism, but this was soon cancelled out with a scrambled effort from centre-back Gary Cahill and, of course, a decisive winner from Spanish behemoth Diego Costa.
The game was marred by two controversial decisions after handballs from Cahill in the Chelsea penalty area, but Rodgers can have no real complaints after such a poor performance from his side—the Blues were well worth the three points.
A truly eventful encounter, there are many talking points to be drawn from this Reds display, both negative and, perhaps surprisingly, positive.
So, where did the action take place, and where was this game won?
Simon Mignolet and Dejan Lovren: Terrified in Possession
Goalkeeper Simon Mignolet and £20 million centre-back Dejan Lovren were significant talking points following the mid-week loss to Madrid; one positive, one negative.
Mignolet, surprisingly, shone between the sticks at the Bernabeu, thwarting menacing efforts from James Rodriguez, Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale in particular, and looked to grow in confidence as the contest wore on.
Ahead of the Belgian in defence was Kolo Toure—by far Liverpool’s man of the match in Madrid—and the Ivorian’s authority spread throughout the Reds’ back line.
Rodgers’ decision to drop Toure in favour of Lovren at Anfield was bemusing to say the least, and the Croatian international’s miserable form continued.
How many times has Lovren gifted possession away this season?
— ? (@lfckristian) November 8, 2014
The outstanding point the echoed from Lovren to Mignolet was an immense lack of confidence in possession, and Chelsea pressed high to take advantage of this.
Lovren consistently played dangerous balls either back to Mignolet or across the defence—with Costa, Oscar and Eden Hazard ready to pounce—and the Belgian compounded this awful disposition with a terrible pass, ostensibly to Martin Skrtel, at the death.
“@TonyBarretTimes: That touch by Mignolet at the end of today's game: https://t.co/fucDDNxt45” Goalkeeping's Aspas corner
— Jim Boardman (@JimBoardman) November 8, 2014
Liverpool will not prevail with such poor possession in defence.
Martin Skrtel vs. Diego Costa
Quite absurd picture of Diego Costa 'tackling' Martin Skrtel… pic.twitter.com/tdkHbTjHQT
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) November 8, 2014
After a magnificent running battle in Slovakia’s 2-1 home win to Spain in the sides’ European Championships 2016 Qualifier back in October, Liverpool centre-back Skrtel continued his on-field feud with Chelsea dynamo Costa at Anfield on Saturday.
Alongside Lovren, there is no surprise that Skrtel’s overall game suffered.
But the Liverpool No.37 kept Costa in check for the majority of proceedings, with Chelsea having to focus much of their attacking play through the wide areas.
The Spaniard should, arguably, have been sent off for several cynical rakes and barges into Skrtel, but referee Anthony Taylor kept the spirit of the competition alive and both players will have enjoyed the physical battle—that is where, after all, Skrtel is most effective.
Costa eventually came out on top, however, with his winner on 67 minutes just reward for a commendable persistence and enduring quality in the penalty area.
Glen Johnson vs. Eden Hazard
One of the key talking points identified prior to the game was the way in which Reds right-back Glen Johnson dealt with Chelsea’s Eden Hazard on the left wing, with Bleacher Report’s Sam Tighe leading the focus
“Liverpool’s right-hand side is the area to target…Eden Hazard is going to have a dribbling party on Saturday, and it won’t be a surprise if everything good from Chelsea comes from him.”
With no explanation offered so far, a confident display from on-loan Spanish full-back Javier Manquillo against Madrid had no marker on Rodgers’ team selection on Saturday, with the 20-year-old dropped from the squad in favour of Johnson.
Deploying an attack-minded right-back over a principally defensive option when faced with one of the league’s most talented wide men was a bizarre decision by Rodgers.
The disciplined Manquillo would surely have had more chance of stymieing the mesmeric Hazard but, barring injury, the Spaniard saw his continued form rewarded with a place in the stands.
Johnson’s late blocks and link-up play on the right flank will go to some length to mask what was a dismal display by the Englishman—dropped from the England squad announced on Thursday.
According to Squawka, Johnson won just one tackle of an attempted five, and was dispossessed, per WhoScored, a Reds-high three times.
Unsurprisingly, Chelsea’s winner came from Cesar Azpilicueta’s cross from the left-hand side, with Johnson characteristically absent.
Emre Can vs. Cesc Fabregas
PHOTO: Emre Can celebrates his first #LFC goal pic.twitter.com/QrhQFOK8Il
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) November 8, 2014
Tighe also highlighted Fabregas as a key player to counter in Rodgers’ tactical layout, pointing to Marouane Fellaini’s semi-successful demolition job against the Spaniard in Manchester United’s 1-1 draw with Chelsea the previous weekend at the end of October.
“[Fabregas] was shackled by Marouane Fellaini in Chelsea‘s draw with Manchester United, and the big Belgian proved a man-marking job of sorts can seriously halt his dominance. Cesc completed less than 15 passes in that first half… Liverpool have players to man-mark Cesc, and they’d be advised to do so.”
In this case it was Can who ensured Fabregas’ technical prowess was moot for the majority of this encounter.
However, it was far from a man-marking masterclass from the German, more a dominant display which hampered Fabregas’ momentum.
Can, belying Steve Nicol’s bizarre criticism in mid-week, was energetic from the start, closing players down and continuing attacks adroitly.
While the German tired after the half-time break, there is no surprise that much of Chelsea’s attacks stemmed from wide areas and set-pieces—Can’s imposing figure thwarted the Blues’ engine room.
Steven Gerrard: The Occasion Eludes the Captain
There were inevitable nods to Steven Gerrard’s infamous slip in the two sides’ pivotal encounter last season prior to Saturday’s game, and throughout courtesy of a ruthless travelling support, and the occasion seemed to pass by an anonymous Liverpool captain.
According to Squawka, Gerrard completed zero tackles, won just one aerial duel, and made a defensive error leading to an attempt on Mignolet’s goal.
The Chelsea attack bypassed a desperate Gerrard time and time again at Anfield.
After another disappointing loss, Brendan Rodgers has plenty of questions to answer and areas to assess, and the immediate future of Steven Gerrard in his first team should be top of the list.
How can Liverpool react to their loss to Chelsea? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.