Johnson Skrtel Carragher Insua
Kuyt Gerrard Riera
Benayoun’s miss in the third minute of injury time, wide open with his shot just wide of the far post after Chelsea were already two up, adequately sums up the day. It was typical Liverpool/Chelsea for long stretches – nothing like the last meeting at Stamford Bridge – but Liverpool’s two mistakes led to two goals, and they, specifically Torres, couldn’t take the chances at the other end. And now, Liverpool’s lost three of their first eight games and sits six points back. Sigh.
The defenses ruled the opening hour. Chelsea would thrust, Liverpool would repel. Liverpool would come forward and Chelsea would clear. Both sides saw first half spells of pressure after a very back-and-forth opening. Neither could take advantage.
Chelsea’s came for about 10 minutes centered on the half-hour mark, during which the home side had four good efforts at goal. Three were headers – Drogba’s from Anelka’s cross in the 25th, Anelka’s from Essien’s cross three minutes later, and Ballack’s over from a corner in the 34th – while Essien shot too close to Reina in the 35th.
But Liverpool finished the half stronger, and should have opened the scoring through Torres in the 40th. Kuyt was able to cross from the right, and Torres got between defenders for a free header that he could only direct down and at Hilario. Those are the kinds of narrow opportunities that win games like today’s. Five minutes later, Hilario dove well to keep out a devilish 40-yard-plus free kick from Riera, and Skrtel could have had a penalty on the subsequent corner for a push by Drogba. Not that Liverpool can ever expect much from Martin Atkinson. Not since this.
The second half was more of the same for 15 minutes – Gerrard had a couple of half-chances while Reina smothered Ivanovic’s shot from distance – before Anelka struck on the hour mark. Mascherano gave the ball away after Liverpool had retreated into its own half, Chelsea broke, and Drogba was released down Liverpool’s right. He beat Skrtel with his cross, and Anelka got there ahead of Carragher. It was all fairly pathetic after sixty minutes of solid defending, especially seeing the play start because Liverpool went backwards when in Chelsea’s half.
Liverpool pressed for the next thirty minutes, but never took the opportunity they were rarely presented. Benayoun and Babel came on for Riera and Lucas, and the away side had almost all of the possession, with Chelsea’s lone chance coming through a Drogba free kick. And they probably should have equalized in the 80th – Gerrard got the ball in the box from Kuyt, but saw his shot blocked out to Torres. With space and Hilario stranded, the striker scuffed his shot wide of the near post. It was that kind of day, both for Torres and Liverpool.
Chelsea iced it in the first minute of added time after Drogba got around both Carragher and Aurelio (mostly Carragher) to center for Malouda, who beat Reina to the ball. The rest of stoppage time saw the aforementioned Benayoun miss and an excellent Hilario save from Gerrard’s rasping volley, but it was moot by that point.
It’s not sour grapes to say this could have gone massively different. Maybe Liverpool holds on for a 1-0 win if Torres makes direct contact with his header in the 40th. Maybe it’s a respectable 1-1 if he strikes cleanly with ten minutes to play. But football’s a game of inches. Maybe it’s 0-0 at Anfield last season if Lampard’s not harshly sent off before Torres scores two late goals. Maybe Liverpool gets beat at Stamford Bridge if Boswinga doesn’t deflect Alonso’s 10th minute shot. I hate maybes.
Liverpool wasn’t sharp enough and gave away two sloppy goals, but it otherwise wasn’t an awful performance – not a performance that deserves a two-goal defeat. But it’s tight at the top and these games can truly go either way. At the end of the day, despite some decent defending by the center backs and a disciplined display in central midfield, Liverpool didn’t do enough to make the game go in their direction.
There’s an international break to come to terms with – and remedy – this defeat before Sunderland in 13 days.