Essien OG 19'
Well that was strange. And even though that 90 minutes was approximately the exact opposite of what we've become used to at Anfield, "strange" is entirely expected after this marathon campaign.
Remember all those times Liverpool aimlessly wandered through league matches, rarely capable of stringing passes together and always capable of conceding at any moment from any position? That was Chelsea today. And more.
Suarez announced Liverpool's intent within minutes, nutmegging John Terry for the first of many, many times, but firing wide of the far post. It could have all been different had Ivanovic not cannoned a set-piece header off the frame in the 17th minute, losing Agger after both Carragher and Carroll bafflingly ran him over chasing after their men, but the woodwork owed us. Just two minutes later, the floodgates opened.
Unsurprisingly, said floodgates were forced open by that man Suarez. He won the ball back after a Chelsea throw-in. He charged down the right touchline, avoiding Romeu's attempted clip, then outpaced the holding midfielder to the byline. After making the turn, he ran through a half-assed John Terry as if Captain Leader Legend wasn't even there. And then, with no options to pick out, he rammed in an own goal off Essien, reminiscent of his tornado slalom for Kuyt's first against United last season.
Terry's complete, seemingly drunken ambivalence arose again just six minutes later. Maxi's throughball on the break was the wrong side of Henderson, but Terry's slip put the on-rushing midfielder through on goal with the freedom on Anfield. Calmly, coolly, intelligently, Henderson placed his shot around Turnbull, nestled into the far corner. Three minutes after that, another defensive breakdown led to Liverpool's third: Shelvey's corner, Carroll easily out-jumping Terry, Torres lazily losing Agger on the second ball for a routine header.
Chelsea's defense was lost at sea, without a map, rations or flares, and seemingly without a care as to its predicament. Torres had a chance from nothing, running around Agger like the Torres of old, but blasting a shot off the crossbar. The woodwork also owed Liverpool that, but it'd come around to collect soon enough. Otherwise, it remained all, totally, fully Liverpool. And that Liverpool failed to add more was one of the few traits familiar from previous matches. Turnball saved good chances from Maxi and Carroll, Downing smacked a half-volley from the parking lot off the crossbar, and then, to rub as much salt in the wounds as possible, missed a penalty won by Carroll when Ivanovic elbowed him in the sternum competing for a cross. Naturally, Downing's penalty slammed against the post. And to safety. For the fifth miss in six penalty attempts in the league this season.
Ramires pulled one back soon after the interval when Liverpool's defense went to sleep on a set play, slightly fortunate that Malouda's looping free kick deflected off him but slightly deserved having got in front of his marker, Downing, and with Reina sprawling in the opposite direction.
But Shelvey ended hopes of an improbable comeback, again thanks to Chelsea's suicidal tendencies. Turnbull's goal kick went directly to the midfielder, but he still had much to do, controlling with one touch then half-volleying the bouncing ball into an empty net from just under 30 yards, unsaveable even had Turnbull got back on his line.
Reina made amends for any earlier culpability on Ramires' goal with an unfathomable point blank save on the substitute Lukaku's header in the 73rd. And Liverpool continued to monopolize possession, but rarely looked to further stomp on Chelsea necks. Carroll missed a chance, shinning Johnson's phenomenal cross, then landed a shot from nowhere on the roof of the net. Sterling and Kuyt replaced Maxi and Downing with six minutes left, and the young winger nearly scored with his first touch – Carroll flicking on to Suarez flicking on to Sterling, but the over-anxious winger snatched at the shot. Agger also put a header nanometers wide in the dying seconds. But 4-1 would have to suffice. Since it's the first time Liverpool scored four in a league match this season, something they've done in every season since 1919-20, I guess it does.
It's hard to take anything away from this match as to individual performances or tactics with Chelsea so dire, but I'll note a few points. First, the outcry over Carragher starting with Agger and Skrtel also involved was understandable, relegating Agger to left-back, but Carragher impressively kept Torres under wraps throughout. Henderson and Shelvey looked an excellent midfield pairing. Most encouragingly, Carroll continued to look every inch the game-changing player he did in the final thirty minutes on Saturday. He may only have a single assist to show for his troubles, but he was Liverpool's best player – despite stiff competition from the typically serpentine Suarez. He oozed confidence, won every aerial duel, gave Terry and Ivanovic fits in the air and on the ground, and, more importantly, ran as if there was no tomorrow, chasing lost causes in a "meaningless" match with Liverpool up by three goals. That's the Carroll Liverpool paid £35m for. And although I know better, performances like that make me drool over what's possible with him and Suarez next season.
This would have been more than welcomed earlier in the season, but this wouldn't have happened earlier in the season, not least because we would have seen an entirely different Chelsea no matter how well Liverpool played. Enjoy it for what is it – a rare high point, a fond memory to close the season on, with the team doing itself proud in its final trip to Anfield. It was most certainly enjoyable.