20 January 2007

Liverpool 2-0 Chelsea

Kuyt 4’
Pennant 17’

The only difference from my proposed line-up and the actual was Crouch in for Bellamy. And it’s the reason Rafa’s the manager, and I’m some schmuck writing on the internet. Using Crouch instead of Bellamy was the reason Liverpool was able to start as effectively as they did. The height and strength of both strikers clearly unsettled Chelsea’s already makeshift defense early and often, and that set the tone for the rest of the game.

Liverpool got off to a quick start, and as frequently happens, the early goal got the game going in the right direction. Carragher’s long ball caught Chelsea’s defense wrong-footed, and Crouch’s flick-on allowed Kuyt to control and fire in before four minutes were off the clock.

Riise should have doubled the lead minutes later, but Cech, in his first start since his head injury, got down quickly to cover. However, less than ten minutes later, Pennant soon took advantage of being left completely wide open and fired in a splendid dipping shot from outside the box that just made it under the cross bar. Cech could do nothing about either goal, and honestly, was impressive considering he's just returned from so serious an injury.

Chelsea’s defense, or lack thereof, in the first half will be the main talking point from the match. Players were already out of position before Carvalho was ruled out due to sickness this morning. Chelsea’s central defensive pairing was right back Ferriera and midfielder Essien. To be sure, their regular defense might have prevented both of Liverpool’s goals, but credit must be given to the way Liverpool played, and controlled, the rest of the game.

The all-around defense was superb today; it may well have been Liverpool’s best performance of the season. But special mention is reserved for the defense on set plays. Chelsea has an uncanny knack for making the most of few opportunities and using their set plays to the fullest, and Liverpool did not give them the opportunity today. Chelsea had more free kicks and corners and did absolutely nothing with them, typified by Ballack completely losing the plot when he and Drogba tried to pull off a trick from a free kick.

It was also easily Aurelio’s best defensive performance, and may have been the best defensive performance by any Liverpool left back this season. Neither Wright-Phillips nor Kalou got past him more than once today. He played at left back for the majority of the game, allowing Riise to get forward to uncork a few close efforts, but later on showed his versatility, swapping positions with Riise and frequently making himself useful the few times Liverpool counter-attacked.

Any one of Aurelio, Crouch, Carra, or Kuyt could be man of the match, so I’ll mention them all. Aurelio for the reasons above, Crouch and Kuyt both for their ability to upset Chelsea’s defense, their touch and their workrate, and Carra for having Drogba in his pocket all game long, letting very little get behind him. But really, everyone played well; no one had an off game at all.

It’s wonderful to have no complaints following a game, even better to have no complaints following a Chelsea game. Every single player deserves a share of the credit. Yes, Chelsea was hit by injuries, and I can’t wait to hear Mourinho complain about it. It’s not as if Liverpool hasn’t been hit with injury problems as well, Jose. And how much did your bench cost, let alone your full squad? And to top it all off, maybe we’ll stop hearing about Liverpool’s inability to beat the big teams.

Liverpool now sits only 5 points behind Chelsea. Manchester United and Arsenal are playing each other tomorrow, and both are still to come to Anfield. I know for a fact that every Liverpool fan would take this situation compared to a couple of months ago when Chelsea and United were running away with the league.

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