Arbeloa Carragher Agger Aurelio
Kuyt Gerrard Riera
So much for Liverpool’s league jinx at Stamford Bridge, so much for Chelsea’s 86-game home winning streak. And Liverpool deserved every moment of it thanks to an immaculate performance.
These games are always cagey, and it was a lot like past Champions League matches. The early goal, with an element of luck, set the tone, and Liverpool’s tactics went on to win the day. Chelsea can have no complaints about this result, but I’m sure Mourinho would have found a way to whine.
Both teams were looking for it from the opening whistle, and Alonso’s shot, from Kuyt’s header that Chelsea couldn’t clear, deflected off Terry and past Cech. From there, Liverpool were more inclined to allow Chelsea possession deep, but were utterly resilient in their own half.
And even though the home side saw more of the ball, Liverpool continued to get the better opportunities, although, as usual, neither team forced many chances. Outside of the goal, the best of the first half came when Gerrard’s left-footer from the top of the box forced Cech to tip it over in the 24th. Chelsea continued to put pressure on, with Liverpool more likely to attack on the counter, but the impenetrable defense kept Reina from needing to make a save.
I can’t say enough about Jamie Carragher, although the entire back line was on their game. But time and time again, Carragher was there to close down, block attempts, and head away. Anelka was in his pocket all game long. Carragher was simply superb and has to be the man of the match, although there are plenty of contenders.
No matter how excellent Liverpool’s defense was, it started at the top of the field. Keane was a willing runner, if isolated in attack, while Gerrard was at his best in a marauding free role, closing down midfielders and linking attack and defense.
Both Riera and Kuyt were strong, willing workers up and down both flanks; Kuyt continued his excellent form while Riera’s showed his strength on the ball and still looks an excellent addition.
And both Alonso and Mascherano were outstanding in midfield, with Alonso dictating the play (and chipping in with a goal) while Mascherano was his usual self in breaking up Chelsea’s attack. It’s not easy to pick who the best player was, although with a gun to my head I’d say Carragher, Alonso, and Gerrard, in that order.
In the second half, Chelsea became more desperate, and increasingly looked for shots from distance, with credit again going to Liverpool’s defense. And again, Liverpool had the best chance of the half, with Alonso careening a gorgeous free kick off the foot of the post in the 62nd.
With Chelsea hit even harder by injuries than Liverpool, their recourse was to bring on youngster Franco DiSanto and Belletti for Kalou and Malouda. And while DiSanto was good in the air for his size, neither was able to make much difference.
Unsurprisingly, Benitez brought on Babel for Keane in the 60th to try to spring the Dutchman on the counter-attack, and it was business as usual for the final 30 minutes as Liverpool continued to see off a good Chelsea side. Other than Ashley Cole’s mishit shot wide after running on for DiSanto’s flick, everything seemed to come from long-range, and little of it troubled Reina.
That’s 6 points from 2 games against Chelsea and United. Liverpool hasn’t taken 6 points off those two teams in a season since Benitez came to Anfield.
The pessimist that I am, I fear this result is going to spur too much ‘is this finally the season’ talk. I couldn’t be happier with the tactics, the team’s performance, or the result. It is an absolutely massive accomplishment, and that it came at Stamford Bridge, breaking Chelsea’s four and a half year streak, makes it even sweeter. And yes, Liverpool’s now top of the table, three points above the Blues and eight above United (although they have a game in hand).
But it’s October 26th. There are still 29 matches in this campaign. The next is against Pompey on Wednesday.