Steven Gerrard’s slip at the stroke of half-time, which allowed Demba Ba the chance to run on and score Chelsea’s first is what’s made all the headlines now. If you’re familiar with the British press, as I imagine some of us will be, you could already see the ‘slip’ puns coming even before the second half had begun.
This defeat at home to Chelsea is a costly one. Not just because it takes the title out of Liverpool’s hands but also the blow to the pride of losing to a top 4 rival at home. Anfield has been a fortress for much of this season, barring the one defeat against Southampton early in the season, almost everyone else has come and fallen in front of the Kop.
Everton and Arsenal were blown away in the first 20 minutes, Manchester City managed a comeback but couldn’t prevent a Liverpool win, and that list goes on. But Jose Mourinho’s made of a different fabric and he set his team up along a mentality which he’d lost out to in the past, when Rafa Benitez was in charge.
The defensive overloading aptly described by Brendan Rodgers’ quotes in the media as having “parked two buses at the back”, it’s something that’s proved successful when the defence is up to the task.
That’s more or less what Chelsea did for vast durations of the match. They sat back, invited pressure, and ended up absorbing all of it. Liverpool though will look back at the first half as an incomplete performance due to their lack of attacking, thrusting movement.
When you’re up against a team going forward themselves, there’s generally more space and obviously when the team’s set up defensively, less so. In those circumstances you need more movement up front to try and pull the defensive line apart, create a gap or a crack somewhere.
That’s where Liverpool, for some reason, failed. There wasn’t enough movement sideways and much of the attack was coming straight at the defenders, instead of running across and forcing them to decide whether to stick with their man or let him go in to some space.
This lack of movement, you could argue every which way you want as to what caused it.
Or perhaps it could have been the overwhelming element of facing so many in the Chelsea defence, or perhaps it was the pressure of the situation, maybe even a combination of both. Either way, it was too easy for Chelsea at the back. There weren’t the trademark runs in to the box this time out as we’ve seen on numerous occasions over the past few months.
There was a static quality in Liverpool’s attack of the penalty area, with numerous crosses flying in to just a handful of red shirts, while three others were on the edge of the box or out wide on the other side.
It was almost similar to the unsuccessful season under Kenny Dalglish when there was enough service from the flanks but no one besides Andy Carroll to aim for. Still, it’s arguable that had the first half remained goalless, you never know what might have been in the second half.
The chances are though, it would’ve been the same as what we saw. Liverpool with the bulk of possession, trying to find a way past a doggedly stubborn Chelsea defence.
Would the mentality had been different had the club captain himself not slipped at a very unfortunate time to gift Demba Ba the pleasure of scoring at the Kop end?
Judging by Liverpool’s mentality this season, they still would’ve come out and looked for a goal, as they did. Only difference here was that due to going a goal down, there was an element of desperation about their play as the clock ticked on.
Joe Allen’s snap volley and Luis Suarez’s late strike aside, every other chance Liverpool had was almost rushed through with a prayer of seeing the back of the net bulge. Steven Gerrard himself tried a fair few of those famous long range piledrivers, but none of them were hit with any sort of composure.
You could tell from his body language he was reeling and wounded after that mistake for the first goal.
Daniel Sturridge clearly wasn’t fit enough and thrown on again by Brendan Rodgers in a bid to lay out all his cards. This was a high stakes game and you do throw the kitchen sink, which tactically Rodgers did by withdrawing a holding midfielder for another attacker.
Had he gone for a like-for-like swap of Suarez or Sterling for Sturridge then he would’ve been justifiably criticised for negative tactics.
In this case, there was nothing more he could’ve done.
The players needed that final spark in the penalty area which just didn’t happen and was effectively blocked out by the sheer numbers Chelsea defended in.
As for the second goal, doesn’t take a genius to work that one out. It was all or nothing, and sadly in this case, it was the latter for Liverpool. The result now takes Liverpool’s destiny out of their own hands.
You would think the smart money is on Chelsea winning their remaining two fixtures against Norwich and struggling Cardiff. Both of them have major points to prove and of the two, if anyone could cause Chelsea problems, it would be Norwich.
Manchester City on the other hand, are now 3 points behind Liverpool with a game in hand, which mathematically puts them level on points, and then ahead on goal difference. They’ve got to play Everton next at Goodison Park, followed by home fixtures against Aston Villa and then West Ham.
Of these three, on current form, it would be Everton you’d put your money on as the best possibility of thwarting Manuel Pellegrini’s men.
Will it happen? It’s quite possible. Stranger things have happened in the past so for a neutral, there’s no sure bet yet. Could Chelsea possibly edge it after all? Momentum is on their side now but the likelihood of both their title rivals slipping up simultaneously is again, less but not impossible.
For Brendan Rodgers and his side, it will have to be the painstaking option of just focusing on Crystal Palace and Newcastle. One is managed by Tony Pulis who’s pulled an absolute rabbit at Selhurst Park, while the Magpies, annoyingly for Liverpool fans, have a tendency of coming up with the goods against their side.
They took the game by the horn at St James’ Park when the sides met previously and this time out, the clash at Anfield will be enormous for a barrage of reasons.
It’s a home game for Gerrard and co. to make up for losing at home, and if things go well at Selhurst Park next Monday, they may well be playing Alan Pardew’s men for that elusive league title. Much like the Liverpool captain said “Nothing’s ours yet” after the win over Man City, it applies to City themselves.
Liverpool’s run has shown it’s easier said than done when you have the task of winning all your remaining games, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see the same applying to The Citizens.
If you’re a Liverpool fan though, you might have the odd task of praying for an Everton win first, and then of course two wins for the Reds themselves.
It’s possible, but only just.