Finnan Carra Agger Arbeloa
Pennant Gerrard Alonso Riise
Lampard (pen) 62’
I don’t know what to say.
It was the Rob Styles show. And it didn’t benefit Liverpool one bit.
Styles committed the two cardinal sins of refereeing. He lost control and made himself the center of the attention. He will assuredly be the talking point. Yellow cards to Essien, Kuyt, Pennant, Gerrard, Ashley Cole, Carragher, Ben Haim, Lampard, and Terry, three of which came solely for dissent. A controversy over whether or not he showed Essien two yellows. Oh yeah, and that penalty.
It may be doing Chelsea an injustice to say Liverpool was bossing the game at that point, but everything was going according to Benitez’s plan. Liverpool got the early goal -- Torres in the 16th minute, beating Ben Haim for pace down the left and slotting in the far post on his Anfield debut after Gerrard’s lovely long ball. Liverpool soaked up Chelsea pressure, with Carragher, Agger, and Arbeloa all outstanding, and looked dangerous on the break, with Torres, Kuyt and Pennant all popping up and threatening. It was a tight game, with few chances, which isn’t out of the ordinary when these two teams meet, but it was played at a much quicker pace, and it’s no exaggeration to say that Liverpool was the better team.
And then, in the 61st minute, it all went downhill. Malouda and Finnan came together on a 50/50 ball in the box, and Styles blew the whistle. Players had played on, no appeals had come from the either the Chelsea players or bench, and the commentators were utterly clueless as to what had happened until it became clear Styles was pointing to the spot. And then Jamie Carragher went ballistic. If you had thought the decision against Carragher in the Villa game was unfair, this was in another universe.
Lampard stepped up and put it past Reina, who went the wrong way for the second straight game. The next 10 minutes were all over the place, as 3 Chelsea players were booked (as well as the Essien incident; it sure looked like Styles gave him a second yellow, as he had already shown Terry the yellow moments before), and no one could keep possession. Liverpool brought on Babel in the 68th (for Pennant) and Crouch in the 84th (for Riise), and Riise, Kuyt, and Babel has chances to carve out the winner, but nothing came to pass. No heroics like last time.
Look, I don’t like complaining about the officials. Football is unfair sometimes. But I am literally sick to my stomach right now. That was 2 points that Liverpool were cheated out of, and I don’t use that word lightly. If Rob Styles is still a match official in the Premiership come the next set of fixtures, something is clearly wrong. And at the very least, I hope that he doesn’t come near a Liverpool game again.
It’s hard to focus on anything other than the ref’s performance, or take positives away from such a disappointing and undeserved draw, but there were positives to take. Torres looks electric, scored a great goal, and showed a lot of promise in linking up with Kuyt and Pennant, especially on the counter. The defense was outstanding, every single player. Drogba had few sights on goal, Kalou was taken off at halftime, and not counting the penalty, Chelsea had 1 shot on target. One. I can’t say enough about how good of a partnership Carragher and Agger have. Riise did a lot better against Essien than against Villa last week, and he and Arbeloa kept Wright-Phillips and Essien under wraps down the flank. Gerrard, despite the injury, again looked good in central midfield, especially with his range of passing, best demonstrated by the long ball to set up the goal.
A draw isn’t even the worst result. It’s still a point gained against one of the big 4, even if Liverpool beat Chelsea in the corresponding fixture last season (Chelsea is far healthier now than they were in that game). But to get a draw in that way is an absolute kick to the midsection. I hate to sound like Mourinho, but Liverpool should have won. They were the better team, they had the better opportunities, and they had more of the possession. I truly don’t believe a second goal was coming from either team. That was 3 points, and the morale boost that comes with it, against Chelsea, in the first meeting of big 4 teams, and they were unfairly snatched away. And they may well be points that Liverpool comes to miss.
Hopefully the team comes away from this match with a chip on their shoulders. They do look much improved over last year’s unit, and it’s still early days in the season with new players still to fully settle. This does nothing to change my opinion over whether or not Liverpool can contend for the title (short answer, as you may know: probably). It’s too bad that players are going away for a short international break before this weekend’s game against Sunderland, where hopefully they’ll take out the frustration that’s built up.