29 November 2011

Liverpool 2-0 Chelsea

Goals:
Maxi 58'
Kelly 63'

A diligent, comprehensive win sealed with two strikes within five minutes around the hour mark. After briefly basking in the afterglow of yet another away win and yet another victory over Chelsea, the result seems somewhat overshadowed by Lucas's frightening knee injury – the last thing the team needed from this poorly-scheduled fixture.

With wholesale changes for both sides – only Reina, Lucas, Enrique, and Henderson from those who started against City a little more than 48 hours ago – it's little surprise it took both teams time to come into the game. With Carroll and Bellamy up front, Lucas and Spearing in central midfield, and Henderson and Maxi on the flanks, Liverpool looked to take the sting out of the match, keep possession, and work the ball up the flanks for crosses towards Carroll. And it was little surprise to see a fairly tepid first half mainly devoid of chances for either club.

Chelsea's one notable opportunity was a penalty shout that wasn't in the opening minutes: Coates rashly diving in on Luiz (his lone misstep of the match), but the Brazilian going to ground early prompted Phil Dowd to show the Chelsea man yellow. Liverpool's one notable opportunity was a penalty, won because of Carroll and then wasted by Carroll. Holding up play for Bellamy, eventually ending with Enrique's cross, Carroll's aerial threat forced Alex to awkwardly handle while defending. Carroll stepped up, looking for that needed confidence boost, but blasted straight down the middle, easily saved by Turnbull. Of course he can't catch a break. It was Liverpool's third miss in four penalty attempts this season.

The second half was far more open, with both sides feeling the effects of the recent weekend matches, and Liverpool looked to play more direct football on the break. Liverpool had a couple of quick half-chances before Chelsea should have opened the scoring, somehow failing to prod the ball over the line after a righteous scramble following a 55th-minute free kick: Lampard's dead ball found Malouda at the back post, whose attempted volley hit the cross bar, fumbled half-clear by Coates, who then excellently blocked Luiz's follow-up on the goal line.

It didn't take long to punish the home side, helped by the half-time adjustment focusing more on quick counter attacks. Bellamy had spent the majority of the first half dropping deep onto the left, taking up positions Maxi normally takes up and not helped by Enrique having an off-game. But in the second, the Welshman moved to the right, and it was down that flank that Liverpool burst in the 58th. Henderson's throughball found Bellamy's clever run behind the defense, and Bellamy smartly centered for a Maxi tap-in – his tenth goal in his last nine starts.

With Chelsea reeling, Liverpool killed the tie five minutes later: Bellamy winning a free kick on the left holding up play well, then providing the assist to a free Martin Kelly, who cleverly lost his marker (Lukaku) to head in from point-blank range, his first senior goal for the club.

The game would have been completely done and dusted if not for Lucas' injury four minutes later. Colliding knees with a Chelsea player and left with a bloody gash, the midfielder attempted to play on, but had to be stretchered off soon after, leaving us all in a dreadful worry. Without Lucas' perpetual, wonderful holding in midfield and two goals to the good, Dalglish re-jigged the formation, replacing Lucas with Adam and bringing on Kuyt for Bellamy, shifting to an orthodox 4-5-1 with Adam, Henderson, and Spearing sealing the middle. Torres wasted a couple of headers, while Reina needed to play sweeper-keeper once more, coming out to deny Anelka an easy opportunity when put through on goal in the 75th, but otherwise, Liverpool safely saw out the match. More than a few Chelsea "supporters" left well before the 90th minute, summing up their hopes for an unlikely comeback. London traffic is notoriously difficult, after all.

Deserved winners, the better side for long stretches, it's difficult to pick a man of the match. Despite his first half struggles, it's hard to look past Bellamy's two assists, in what had to be a difficult match so soon after Sunday's tragedy. A clever, perfect run and assist for the first, winning and taking the free kick for the second. Kelly's first goal for the club is also special, especially since the defender kept the dangerous Bertrand and Malouda quiet for long stretches. Coates was also excellent after the early jitters, ably assisted by the returning Carragher (interestingly, Reina kept the armband). Lucas was Lucas prior to the injury, ostensibly trying to further destroy Torres' soul with every bone-crunching tackle; it goes without saying we should all be holding our breaths for good news on that front. Henderson and Spearing were solid in midfield; Maxi scores goals; and despite the penalty miss, Carroll's work-rate, tracking back, defending on set plays, and hold-up play were promising. The 2-0 victory was more than merited.

On to the semi-finals, to face City, Cardiff, or United/Palace over two legs. As Andrew Beasley pointed out on Twitter, Dalglish's three wins at Stamford Bridge over the last 10 months are more than Liverpool managed in the previous 21 years. Can we play you every week? More importantly, Liverpool maintains its unbeaten run, showing continual improvement in almost every area, with a record of seven wins and four draws since losing to Spurs in September.

Keep on keeping on.

3 comments:

Zētētikos said...

OH NO LUCAS!

cybersix said...

hope we play more away game if we can produce this kind of performance..

dARkDevX said...

Dear me! I might have jinxed Lucas with my earlier comment today on the previous post. From the West Ham home game late the 08/09 game where he was booed to being labelled a midfield general today and generating concern! What a turnaround son!!!