Well, it’s not the end of the world, but it’s certainly an unwelcome result. The main redemption, sadly, is it could have been a lot worse.
Unfortunately, and it kills me to say it, but Chelsea was the better side the entire game. Although I’m obviously not thrilled with the performance, and parts of the first half were dire, Liverpool didn’t truly play badly. Chelsea just played better. While they would have wanted at least another goal, it was Mourinho’s game plan that won out.
Lining up in a standard 4-4-2, Kuyt and Bellamy led the line with Zenden on the left flank and Stevie staying fairly wide on the right. It was fairly obvious that Liverpool’s main focus in attack would be Zenden on the left, trying to take advantage of Ferreira and trying to get crosses into Gerrard cutting in from the right. Unfortunately, Ferreira was more than up to the task, and Liverpool was fairly well deprived of service. In fact, all of Chelsea’s defenders were up for it today.
The home side started out more dangerous. Reina was forced into a fantastic save on Lampard after 7 minutes and a couple of other attempts were sent wide, but as the game went on, Liverpool established more possession and got what seemed to be a better grip on the game. But after 29 minutes Chelsea caught them on the counter. Carvalho sent a superb ball up Chelsea’s right to Drogba, who got around Agger to deliver a centering pass that Joe Cole stuck away, his fourth against Liverpool since Benitez and Mourinho took over their respective clubs.
And despite better intentions in the second half, Liverpool could not get that precious away goal. Cech made an incredible save from a Gerrard volley, and Kuyt, Gerrard, and Riise carved out a couple of half-chances, but other than that, it was tough work for the visitors to create anything.
Liverpool really missed Steve Finnan today. With Arbeloa playing at such a high (surprisingly high) level, we hadn’t really noticed Finnan’s absence with a neck injury. It wasn’t the best time for Arbeloa to have his worst performance in a Liverpool shirt. He was at the most fault for the goal, but credit to Joe Cole for getting into a better position. Arbeloa didn’t have the same confidence at either end of the pitch, and had Chelsea been more threatening down their left, it could have been an even longer evening. Sad to say it because Arbeloa has been such a revelation, but it’s the first game that Liverpool has truly missed Finnan.
Finnan’s absence forced Arbeloa in at right back, and had Finn been healthy, I do think Arbeloa would have slotted in on the left. But this change forced Riise in at left back and Benitez went with Zenden’s experience over Gonzalez’s speed. Rafa is infinitely smarter than I am, which makes me hesitant to question anything, but post-match, I’m left wondering about that decision.
As said, credit to Ferreira for playing his part, but Bolo didn’t have the speed to create enough space on the left to get the cross in that Liverpool was desperately searching for, and Riise was unable to do enough in support from defense. I want to reiterate that although Bolo will be an obvious scapegoat in the media, Ferreira did very well, and quickness down the flanks doesn’t seem to be the strongest part of Zenden’s game.
Bellamy was off the pace as well. It was a bit surprising to see him included, but it wasn’t surprising to see him pulled off for Crouch after 50+ minutes. He was fairly anonymous, and again (sadly), credit to Chelsea for doing their jobs.
I’m focusing on the disappointing performances because I’m upset with the result, but some did have decent games. Reina came up with some jaw-dropping saves, and can’t at all be blamed for the goal. There can’t be any complaints about Kuyt’s touch after this game; despite not creating any real chances (more the team’s fault than his own), he looked threatening and worked very hard in trying to create when given the opportunity. Gerrard came up with much of Liverpool’s best play, had Liverpool’s best scoring chance (were it not for the brilliance of Cech) and if he could have gotten the ball more often (mainly due to Chelsea’s good defense), Liverpool might have gotten something. Drogba and Joe Cole continually threatened, but Carra and Agger’s resolute defense kept the margin at one. Alonso’s range of passing was at times breathtaking. Liverpool looked better with Crouch, and once again, European refs have no idea how to play him, with Merk calling a foul on Peter at every opportunity. But at the end of the day, Chelsea did more, and has the goal advantage.
It is however, only halftime. And Liverpool could be going back to Anfield with a greater deficit. A 1-0 scoreline on Merseyside certainly isn’t out of the question, and Liverpool did win 2-0, admittedly against a different Chelsea team, in January. And the Kop will be out of this world. But the team will have to play better. It shouldn’t be as much of a problem at home, but Liverpool will need to deliver much more of a goal threat, which looks a tough ask against a stingy Chelsea side.
Chelsea may still end up ruing not putting more distances between the sides in a game they were better in. Anfield on a Champions League semi-final night is going to be absolutely rocking.
Roll on Tuesday.