Arbeloa Carragher Skrtel Aurelio
Kuyt Gerrard Babel
Riise (og) 90+5’
…And with the last "kick" of the game.
I assume most American readers will get a reference to Bill Simmons. Well, it’s been a while since I’ve read the “Levels of Losing” column, but this draw is about thirteen levels worse than a “stomach punch” loss.
94 minutes and seven seconds into the game (seven seconds after the final whistle should have blown), John Arne Riise, on as a substitute after Aurelio appeared to injure his groin, unnecessarily headed Kalou’s cross into his own net with Anelka lurking. After Liverpool looked certain to win another narrow 1-0 match against Chelsea in a Champions League semi-final.
Avram Grant wasn’t kidding; Chelsea did look to come out on the attack and for the first 20 minutes of the game were the stronger side, taking the game to the home team but with Liverpool having the best chance of the spell, when Kuyt’s first touch from Alonso’s beautiful ball over the top took him too close to Cech in the 13th minute.
But Liverpool grew into the game, although it was still a fairly back and forth affair, which was little surprise given the participants. Joe Cole mishit a volley at Reina when he had more time than he thought, while eight minutes later Chelsea had a penalty claim turned down when Drogba went down under the challenge of Carragher (to be fair, Carra just got a touch on the ball while Drogba falls over in a stiff gust of wind, but I’ve seen them given).
But two minutes later, in the 31st minute, Torres should have put Liverpool up 1-0. Attacking the Kop in the first half, where Torres has scored the majority of his eight straight at Anfield, Gerrard’s perfectly-weighted throughball put El Niño one-on-one with Cech, only for the keeper to get down well to make an excellent stop.
Liverpool continued to settle, began to set the tempo, and kept possession far better than to start the match, but it still was standard fare from Liverpool and Chelsea for the most part. But two minutes before halftime, the much-maligned Dirk Kuyt, who again was absolutely everywhere on the pitch, began and finished the goal that gave Liverpool the lead.
Following a quick free kick out to Kuyt, Chelsea looked to have cleared the ball, only for Lampard to turn it over under pressure from Kuyt and Alonso. Mascherano’s mishit shot found Kuyt over the top (Babel was offside, but not interfering with play), and the striker stabbed home in front of Cech to give the home side the advantage.
It was little surprise how the second half started: Liverpool was still on the front foot and Chelsea was struggling to recreate their performance in the first twenty minutes. But following a Liverpool penalty claim in the 64th minute (it sure looked like Carragher’s cross hit Ballack’s arm, which was moving away from his body), Chelsea started to up the tempo in search of an equalizer.
In a three-minute span, Lampard overran a nice layoff from Drogba in the box, Ballack’s flick from a free kick was gratefully close to Reina, and Kalou’s shot from 12 yards out was deflected in the side netting by a sprawling Mascherano.
But having weathered that storm, Liverpool looked likely to hold their slim edge, although Carragher’s intervention was still needed on occasion (Carragher did superbly on Drogba all match long, he's an utter legend).
Liverpool had two excellent chances to get a needed second in the final five minutes, with Cech coming up huge on both Gerrard’s half-volley in the 85th and Torres’ close range effort from a corner in the fourth minute of injury time, but it looked like yet another semi-final ending with the home side a goal to the good.
But then, with the Liverpool fans whistling in anticipation of the finish, Chelsea went straight back down the field and earned a throw-in. Kalou got free from his marker, was open for the throw near the byline, and whipped in a low, dangerous cross. While Anelka was waiting behind Riise for any opportunity, JAR appeared to have time to step in and clear the ball, albeit with his right foot. But he chose to duck for a header, and sent it past a befuddled Reina. It was the last moment of the match.
And now Chelsea not only has an away goal edge to take to Stamford Bridge, where Liverpool has never scored under Benitez, but the morale boost coming from a late, late goal and undeserved draw.
I’m duty bound to write that it’s only halftime. I’ve certainly seen more miraculous second leg comebacks, and far more miraculous comebacks by this very club. But this is a tough loss to swallow. Chelsea will be thrilled with their good fortune, and it’s even more grating that this is the second time this season’s Chelsea’s lucked their way into a 1-1 draw at Anfield.
Meanwhile, Benitez will have a challenge in motivating the squad for the next leg. This is a tough loss for fans to take; I can’t imagine the sentiments in the Liverpool dressing room. I hate to come off as bitter, but this was a 1-0 win. That’s only the second time I’ve written that since I’ve started this blog, and both times have been against Chelsea at Anfield this season.
But if this team can come back from 3-0 down to beat AC Milan, from 1-0 down to win 3-1 against Olympiakos, to win their last three games in the group stage this year by a margin of 16-1 after it looked like they would struggle to progress to the next round, they can overcome an away goal deficit to Chelsea.
YNWA. Roll on next Wednesday.