Chelsea’s relentless march on to the Premier League title continued yesterday at Anfield, as goals from Diego Costa and Gary Cahill sealed a 2-1 win over Brendan Rodgers’s struggling Liverpool side.
But it wasn’t all plain sailing; at least to begin with, as Liverpool took the lead inside the first five minutes through Emre Can. The young German international had stolen the limelight in the hour before kick off with his surprising inclusion in the Liverpool squad at the expense of Joe Allen, but within minutes had justified his manager’s bold decision.
Bright start for the Reds
The 20-year-old had already found space between Chelsea’s attacking and defensive-midfielders in the first minute and did so again moments later. Surprisingly he was helped by an uncharacteristically selfless run from Mario Balotelli across the back four, giving Can the space to shoot.
A wicked deflection from Gary Cahill saw the ball fly past Thibaut Courtois in a somewhat fortunate (or unfortunate depending on your allegiances) manner.
But Brendan Rodgers will have been significantly happier with what the goal represented rather than the manner in which it crossed the line, as it seemed to suggest that Liverpool had somehow managed to rediscover their elusive identity of last season of starting games at a high intensity and killing them off early.
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But unfortunately for Liverpool that would be all it would remain – mere suggestions of improvement rather than the real thing – as their lead lasted only five minutes, when Chelsea’s dominance from set pieces continued in front of the cop in bizarre fashion.
Cesc Fabregas corner flew into the six yard box, with Simon Mignolet pulling off a terrific
reaction save from a John Terry header. Then, when the ball fell to the feet of Gary Cahill, initial thoughts were that the Belgian goalkeeper had pulled off another impressive save.
However Cahill's effort had crossed the line, which goal-line technology then confirmed, and so Liverpool were pegged back almost immediately.
Chelsea march on
If the game hadn’t already ticked all the boxes of an entertaining encounter tempers began to flare late in the first half, with Martin Skrtel and Diego Costa in particular renewing their tempestuous relationship after clashing in Spain’s recent shock defeat to Slovakia.
But things calmed down in the second period with very little action until Chelsea’s match winner just after the hour mark. A marauding along the left flank from Cesar Azpilicueta saw him outmuscle Philippe Coutinho and play a dangerous ball across the box.
Mignolet was able to get a hand to it but could only push it out as far as a lurking and predatory Diego Costa, whose drilled half volley from the edge of the box through a traffic jam of players put the Blues in front. From then on in there only looked to be one winner.
Shutting up shop
Sides managed by Jose Mourinho have always been renowned for the ruthlessness with which they hold on to leads. But the Blues have struggled to do that in recent weeks, having conceded late goals at the Etihad and Old Trafford. So the Portuguese manager will be pleased with the way his side closed out the game contained Liverpool in the dying minutes.
Admittedly the Reds did make it easy for the league leaders as they continued to suffer from a lack of penetration going forward. And Balotelli, despite a slightly improved work ethic, was caught offside too many times due to a simple lack of awareness.
With 80% of their goals from last season missing it should come as no surprise that only Aston Villa and Burnley have scored less goals at home than Liverpool this year.
There were legitimate claims for a Liverpool penalty as the game reached a close, when a Steven Gerrard shot struck the arm of Gary Cahill. But many pundits regurgitate the phrase “you make your own luck,” and the Reds certainly did not play well enough to earn very much from the game.
As for Chelsea, whose lead over Southampton is now extended to seven points, talks of matching the impressive Arsenal 'Invincibles' season will only step up a gear. Having managed to avoid defeat at the Etihad, Old Trafford, and now Anfield, and with an enviable home record their relentless march into the history books looks set to continue unchallenged.
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