By Arun Nair – (@Nair_39)
Luis Suarez headed in a dramatic late equaliser to earn his side a draw in a pulsating encounter with Chelsea. However, the match was marred by an unsavoury incident in which Suarez appeared to bite Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic, seemingly unnoticed by referee Kevin Friend.
The Uruguayan guided in a header from a Sturridge cross deep into stoppage time but it is his apparent bite on Ivanovic which will make the headlines, for all the wrong reasons.
Oscar’s header had earlier given Chelsea a half time lead, before substitute Daniel Sturridge equalised shortly after the break.
Eden Hazard’s penalty restored the Blues’ lead, only for Suarez to level in the 97th minute to secure his side a point.
The altercation between Suarez and Ivanovic overshadowed a match in which current Chelsea and former Liverpool manager Benitez was afforded a raucous reception on his return to Anfield, although the Spaniard was ultimately denied what would have been a priceless victory in his current side’s attempts to ensure they are playing Champions League football next term.
The draw saw Liverpool remain in sixth place, five points behind rivals Everton who have yet to come to Anfield to face their Merseyside neighbours, while Chelsea were left in fourth.
The home side forced the first opening in the game, Glen Johnson poking wide after Jordan Henderson and Luis Suarez combined to send the Reds full back through on goal. Ramires then tested Reds keeper Pepe Reina from range, but chances were few and far between; both sides were neat in possession but wasteful in the final third.
It was no surprise therefore that, when the opening goal arrived, it came from a set piece. Poor defending allowed Oscar to peel away from his marking before nodding Mata’s corner past Reina.
The goal handed Chelsea the momentum and they pushed forward in search of further goals, although Reina nearly gifted them a second goal, gathering the loose ball as it threatened to cross the goalline after he had fumbled David Luiz’ long range free kick.
The home side struggled to match the intenstity their opponents were exhibiting, with Suarez’ angled shot being the only notable response to Chelsea’s breakthrough, to which Blues keeper Petr Cech was equal.
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers, who was taking charge of the Reds for the 50th time, brought on Sturridge at the break, and the striker’s introduction almost paid immediate dividends; after dancing past several defenders he slipped a pass through to Steven Gerrard, whose goalbound shot was diverted behind by Cech’s outstretched boot.
Soon after, Sturridge worked himself ample space to crash a thunderous drive from range against the post, before the home side’s pressure produced an equaliser.
Stewart Downing hooked a pass towards Suarez, who executed an inch-perfect first time cross to the far post for Sturridge to convert against his former club.
However, the away side were quite literally handed a chance to restore their lead minutes later. Suarez, whilst grappling with former Liverpool striker Fernando Torres, handled from a corner, and Eden Hazard made no mistake from the spot, sending Reina the wrong way in the process of rolling the ball into the opposite corner.
Suarez fired a free kick wide as he attempted to make amends for his culpability for the penalty concession, before then appearing to bite Ivanovic’s upper arm as the duo tangled in the area, but escaping punishment.
Substitute Jonjo Shelvey dragged a shot wide wastefully after Sturridge’s deft flick allowed Jordan Henderson to present his England under 21 teammate with a glorious chance to level, before Henderson himself sidefooted wide.
However, as Chelsea teetered on the brink of three precious points, Suarez had the final word, heading home in the final minute of added time.
NOTE: My article on the Suarez bite, the consequences, and the wider issues surrounding the Uruguayan and his future at Liverpool: Coming soon.