A sense of belonging fell over Anfield on Tuesday night as the thrilling encounter witnessed on the pitch drew to a close. Last time such euphoric scenes echoed around this hallowed ground Liverpool were three games away from their first Premier League title.
How fitting then that the side who dashed all their hopes and dreams on that day in April would be the opposition as Liverpool once again found their footballing mojo.
Raheem Sterling’s mazy run typified Liverpool’s play as a collective. There were calm, composed and had intent when in possession and when Chelsea pressed with verve from the off they moved it out of defence and through the midfield in confident manner.
The Reds’ midfield worked tirelessly, dragging Matic and Mikel out of position at every given opportunity and playing the enjoyable version of triangle football.
The dominance was clear, 20 shots to Chelsea’ two and possession was Liverpool’s by a large margin throughout. Lucas the destructor, heavy but firm in every challenge and after his booking he did not miss one tackle.
Coutinho was elegant, invading the small pockets of space which Chelsea allow whilst Sterling offered reprieve up front when Liverpool were under a little pressure.
He looked a little frustrated on the night, his tireless running often coming to nothing, but his moment came with a touch of wizardry and with Liverpool searching for the equaliser with patience and cool temperament, the 20-year old took it upon himself to just run through the lot of them.
The was Liverpool’s biggest test this season having put together an impressive unbeaten run against lesser sides over Christmas. They tested their new system and renewed confidence and won the Anfield faithful over for the first time since they beat Manchester City on that spring afternoon last season.
Brendan Rodgers knows that to be compared to the best you have to produce your best and Liverpool did just that against Jose Mourinho’s men, the crowd replying to their eagerness and courage with a noise that hasn’t been seen in these parts this season
There’s no hiding away from the challenge they now face. One must garner some perspective from last night’s game, for all their dominance and the impressive way Liverpool went about their business the scoreline at the end read 1-1 and not the victory many believed the Reds were on the cusp of grabbing.
The return leg next Tuesday is the ultimate test for Brendan Rodgers. Even when the Northern Irishman got one over his old boss with last night’s performance there was no victory to take down to Stamford Bridge. He will be fully aware that his side have to pull out the performance of the season out the bag.
His team were brilliant last night but next week they will need to produce the perfect away performance against the best side in the country should their intentions be that of Wembley way and its enticing magic.
Last season Liverpool treated fans to the journey and adventure we’d craved for so long. For too many seasons before it had been a chase for fourth place, a feeling of normality and awkward expectation.
Liverpool were the pre-party. The ones who fell asleep at 11 o’clock on New Years Eve and missed the celebrations.
Last year they became the party, the loudest in the room, the one who took over the music and didn’t let it go till everyone had gone home.
The shock and expectation from last season have collided and Liverpool had almost retreated to their shell following the exploits of 2014. It’s felt like a long road to recovery and this season has been tough for fans and players alike to take and it will be another chase for fourth as they hunt to turn the season around.
But what we witnessed on the pitch last night gave us a glimpse of what could be for Liverpool. These young and able lads playing together and for one another. If they can show that same dastardly mentality next week in London then we can look forward to our first final with Brendan Rodgers.
Perhaps Liverpool have looked for too many games this season to use as a ‘turning point’ in their season. Following the Chelsea match the realisation that all they needed was a bit of grit and a touch of spirit was clear to see, and long may it continue. @SBrainwaves