Liverpool lost out to Chelsea yesterday at Anfield in an entertaining match where despite taking the lead through Emre Can, the hosts lost out to replies from Gary Cahill and a second half Diego Costa effort. A close penalty call in favour of the home side late on typified a day where, despite an improved attacking performance, it was not meant to be.
Brendan Rodgers fielded a strong side with Emre Can and Jordan Henderson either side of Steven Gerrard behind a front three of Philippe Coutinho, Raheem Sterling and Mario Balotelli. Glen Johnson came back into the side at right back, along with Dejan Lovren to join Alberto Moreno and Martin Skrtel to complete the back four.
Liverpool started brightly to be fair, probably better than they have all season. It’s just a shame they done it against a side they were, practically odds-on to lose to. The installation of Emre Can alongside Jordan Henderson was commonsensical move from Rodgers, and one that should have been implemented throughout the season when the 20 year-old German has been fit to play. His power and pace going forward was refreshing and he got his just reward when his deflected shot found the net after nine minutes. For a moment Liverpool looked as if they were actually in the running for this match and indeed they were at this point.
Five minutes later, however, Chelsea were back on level terms. Liverpool’s defence, were back at sixes and sevens. A corner conceded to the Liverpool left was headed by John Terry from close range. Simon Mignolet done well to make an instinctive save down to his right. The rebound fell to Cahill who’s toe-poke was initially saved by the Belgian, only for his momentum to carry the ball over the line. Terribly unfortunate for the Liverpool No. 22. The visitors grew in confidence after that.
Liverpool continued to ask questions of their visitors, however. Cahill cleared a Sterling shot with the top of his shoulder, leading to vociferous calls for a penalty which, to be fair would have been harsh. Coutinho made a driving run from deep toward the Londoners’ penalty area before unleashing a fierce right-footed drive toward goal. Thibaut Courtois doing well to save low down to his right. Johnson then made two important blocks from Eden Hazard late on in the first half to keep the Reds in the hunt. Mignolet had to save down to his left to thwart yet another Hazard effort as Chelsea grew in confidence. The home side were in truth, lucky to go into the break on level terms following such a bright start.
Liverpool looked to reassert themselves on the game and started the second half brightly as Sterling went close following a flowing move. On 67 minutes, the inevitable happened. This time Cesar Azpilicueta the protagonist as he got the better of Coutinho, leaving him for dead on the Liverpool right before heading off toward goal. His centre could was palmed away by Mignolet but his defence was unable to clear. The ball fell to new boy Diego Costa who drilled in from close range with the home defence in complete disarray. Four or five Liverpool players in the box and unable to manage two opposition players. 1-2 and now chasing the game.
On 70 minutes, Rodgers brought on Joe Allen and Fabio Borini for Can and Coutinho, later, Lambert for Balotelli on 79 minutes. Despite some late pressure it was clear Liverpool weren’t going to make the breakthrough. Even a late and genuine shout for a penalty for Cahill’s apparent hand ball was academic. The final whistle blew and signalled Liverpool’s fifth league defeat of an increasingly difficult season.
Overall, Liverpool fans can’t complain about the result. Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho summed things up perfectly when he said post match, “The best team, by far was the blue team and the team that won the game this afternoon…”. Firm but fair. His side were just too good for a Liverpool team clearly lacking in confidence as Rodgers conceded. “As you’d expect sometimes when you’re not winning games that the confidence can be a little bit low…”. Not so firm, but again, fair.
What struck me is the change in two sides that fought for the Premiership last season. Chelsea have improved their side buying four quality players with an outlay of around £90m whilst Liverpool have drafted in eight with a total outlay of £116m. The result, Chelsea have genuinely strengthened their squad whereas Liverpool have merely added numbers. Most of whom are mediocre. Liverpool’s transfer policy of buying young potential was ok whilst they looked to reestablish themselves among the elite. However, This was achieved last season. Their plan should have been to spend less money on more quality instead of taking expensive “punts” here and there.
Much has been made of Mignolet’s poor performances, and talk is of replacing him. Is yet another mediocre purchase on the cards? To be fair to him, he’s had little or no protection from his defence whose performances on occasion, have been nothing short of comical. This was more than evident yesterday. The Red shirt of Liverpool clearly weighs heavy on some shoulders. Notably Lovren who was simply poor. He should be dropped. Rodgers is having his toughest test yet and he needs to be bold. Make the players earn their places. Lovren has not. Kolo Toure put in a strong performance against Real Madrid during the week and deserved to keep his place – at the expense of Lovren in my opinion.
The Croatian international has in no way whatsoever earned a recall to the side. Lovren is simply in the side, it seems to me, because Rodgers doesn’t want to lose face by dropping him. Rodgers has some thinking to do over the international break. Instead of saving face, he needs to act in a way that avoids him getting egg on it!
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