Rodgers’ A-Team disarmed by Chelsea
Much has been made of Rodgers’ team selection over the last week. Regardless of opinions, one thing Rodgers’ selection did was pile the pressure on the result of the match.
Liverpool opened best, moving the ball well around Chelsea. On 9 minutes Liverpool played masterfully around Chelsea’s high pressure. Chelsea’s back four failed to follow up on the high pressure and Fabregas was dragged out to the left. Emre Can drifted into the space left behind and his shot was deflected by Cahill and caught Courtois flat-footed. Throughout the half Liverpool’s ball movement and Chelsea’s high pressure allowed Coutinho and Sterling to similarly run untroubled into dangerous areas.
However, the goal didn’t settle Liverpool. It seemed to awaken Chelsea as they were successful in putting more pressure on Liverpool’s midfield and back-four. The success of Mourinho’s plan was evident with the fact that Gerrard, Moreno, and Henderson gave the ball away 12 times in the first half alone. Doing that against a side like Chelsea will eventually cost you.
Liverpool’s frailty on set-pieces has been evident this season. Their new zonal/man-marking set-up failed to provide ample cover on a 12th minute Chelsea corner, as Skrtel and Lovren both attacked the ball leaving behind three Chelsea players on the back post. Cahill redeemed himself as his shot had too much power on it for Mignolet to keep it out.
The game ebbed and flowed as one would expect with such a tense fixture. The second-half, however, belonged mainly to Chelsea. It was no surprise when they eventually took the lead in the 67th minute. Coutinho was too weak holding of pressure from Azpilicueta, while Glen Johnson (the worst player of the day) was caught out of position jogging back. Azpilicueta’s cross found Costa via Mignolet and Moreno, and the Spaniard slotted it home. Costa now has 10 goals in nine Premier League games. Costa also created double the number of chances of any other player and kept Lovren and Skrtel busy – giving more space to Oscar and Hazard. The importance of an amble CDM to cover just the kind of spaces Chelsea’s attacking trio operates in was evident by Matic receiving the MOTM honours for stifling Liverpool in those areas.
After the goal Chelsea were guilty of allowing Liverpool onto them. However, unlike against Manchester City and Manchester United, Liverpool didn’t have the firepower to threaten Chelsea. Lambert, Allen, and Borini were Liverpool’s three substitutes, £31m of purchases offering little improvement (and all bought by Rodgers). Compare that to the £31.2m worth of Chelsea’s back-five if you want.
Anthony Taylor could – and should – have provided Liverpool with the luck they needed, but didn’t deserve, in the 87th minute when Cahill blocked a Gerrard shot with his arm.
In the end Rodgers were left blaming bad luck and referees decisions, while Mourinho could praise what was rightly dubbed an ambitious and good performance. The conclusion to draw is that Liverpool, after finishing last season two points ahead of Chelsea, now sit 15 points behind after 11 games having dropped 63% of the points that they did in the whole of 2013/14.