It was going to happen wasn’t it. It was going to happen at some point. The added disappointment Liverpool fans feel is because of the manner in which it was played isn’t what has graced the Anfield turf this season. Barney Ronay of The Guardian called it ‘simply football’ by Chelsea. If the 27% possession Chelsea mustered up yesterday afternoon was ‘simply football’, then Ronay, usually a calm headed and non-erratic football writer, should question his abilities as a national correspondent.
It was not simply football. Liverpool controlled, stayed patient. Chelsea sat, flawed the forward movement, stayed extra patient. Chelsea controlled the attitude towards the game. They meandered taking throw in’s, Ashley Cole deliberately missed the ball when Coutinho threw it towards him. The Kop were aggravated.
At one point during the middle of the second half it looked like Matic was keeping the ball in the corner. Understandable after 93 minutes, but 60 minutes in is quite desperate. The atmosphere around the ground changed, the singing and shouting felt frustrated, agitated at the lack of spectacle Liverpool fans have become accustomed to.
There was no control about the Chelsea midfield three when they chased and pressured Liverpool 20 yards from Mark Schwarzer’s net. They simply worked hard to force Liverpool into mistakes or long shots. Steven Gerrard’s 8 attempts in the second 45 minutes came as a desperate measure, the gaps and hole’s had been filled, the time for a 20 yard screamer was evident.
It never came.
In all honesty Liverpool could have played till 10 o’clock that night and still not joined Demba Ba and Willian on the scoresheet. Luis Suarez looked sluggish, desperate. The high expectations fans have on him were in the air, and it showed. Philippe Coutinho couldn’t penetrate the way he has done, whilst Joe Allen arguably came closest to scoring, which tells a story in itself.
Daniel Sturridge could not get into the game after his introduction. His few touches did little to trouble the Chelsea back line, whilst the dummy through his legs to, well…..nobody, summed up the frustration of the game itself. Young Raheem Sterling, for all his panache and frightening pace, gave Ashley Cole a relatively comfortable afternoon. He switched flanks during the first half, and caused Azpiluceuta a few problems, but the Spaniard will be satisfied with his containment of England’s next big thing.
Whilst the game will be remembered for Steven Gerrard’s slip which gave Demba Ba a free run at goal, to define a player of Gerrard’s calibre in one mis step is both unfair and unjust. Liverpool sit two points ahead at the top of the league, one of the reasons behind that is because of the Liverpool captain. He has dictated this Liverpool side and their play since he began life as a defensive midfielder. His pain at his mistake was evident not in his face as Ba ran clear, it was when he attempted to break through the Chelsea defence on numerous occassions, using his now slower 33 year old legs as if he was 23. Players come and go, but his determination to succeed, in moments of deflation and success is undeniably irreplaceable.
What can Liverpool take from this defeat?
What many do not seem to realise, as mock ups of Steven Gerrard slipping over continue to invade Twitter like the bubonic plague, is that Liverpool should take heart from a run that has seen them compared to the best in Europe. Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea side turned out at Anfield like they were playing Bayern Munich. They knew this team were top, with 11 wins from 11 straight games. To see a team set out with such a defensive mindedness, a team on the cusp of a European Final I may add, gives indication to the authority and respect Liverpool as a club are clawing back, one Raheem Sterling mazy run at a time.
To have come this far in such a short space of time is a drastic over achievement. May I remind everyone that last time Chelsea visited Anfield, Luis Suarez scored a 96th minute equaliser, but this was after biting Branislav Ivanovic. Liverpool were public enemy number one. Suarez was banned for 10 games, 5 of which would be in the new season, and Robin Van Persie then fired in a hatrick at home to Aston Villa to take the PFA Player of the Year as well as seal the title for Manchester United. Liverpool’s football had been much improved from January 2013, but those series of unfortunate events left most wondering what the new season would bring. Add to the summer which lacked signings and almost saw Luis Suarez storm off to Arsenal, and the mentality of the fans was a moving from tremor to earthquake status.
Progress is the central word here. It doesn’t bring you trophies, correct. What it does bring is an excitement for the future, and that is what Liverpool are living in right now. To make progress in one of the best league’s in the world is challenging. It often requires changes of mangers, players bought and sold more regularly than most would accept. Yet Liverpool have done it with a flair and tenacity which is frighteningly entertaining, gripping from first minute till the last. Up until yesterday, they had captured the minds (and even hearts) of many, their English spine running through the side, their shadow of Hillsborough used as a marker of utter inspiration for their football at Anfield.
What comes next is a test of character. With the winning streak emphatically ending, the feeling of losing will not be one the players have experienced in the league since the reverse fixture against Chelsea in December 2013. With Crystal Palace away up next, Brendan Rodgers will see his managerial capabilities tested to the limit, and if results do go Liverpool’s way by the time the game kicks off on Monday 5th May at 8pm, then coping with the pressure will add to the nerves in this tantalising title run in.
Liverpool can take a positivity going forward from their record against teams outside the top 8 this term. They have missed out on just 11 points from team’s place 9th to 20th whilst Manchester City have dropped 15 points and Chelsea have let 21 points slip from their grasp. All three title contenders face two teams from outside the top 8, with Manchester City still yet to face Everton.
The resounding cry from the Anfield stands as the travelling Chelsea contingent celebrated Willian’s last minute tap in was one not just in the face of adversity, but one which told of a set of fans who refuse to concede this thrilling title race. You’ll Never Walk Alone has been at the forefront of many successes in the history of Liverpool Football Club, its unforgettable melody tugging at the heartstrings of those who bellow it out, but it will now represent a beacon of hope, a touch of fate and that little bit of luck that is needed to bring the Premier League title to Anfield.