Liverpool storm the Bridge
Chelsea 0 Liverpool 1
Monday 27 October 2008
The last time Chelsea lost at home the day's other significant result was Leeds United winning a point at Old Trafford. In the wider world Barack Obama was still hoping to win the Illinois Democratic nomination to run for a seat in the US Senate.
Much has happened in the subsequent four years, eight months and six days but until Howard Webb blew the final whistle yesterday no club had taken three league points from Stamford Bridge. Liverpool required a scappy goal to do so, Xabi Alonso's ninth-minute shot deflecting past Petr Cech off Jose Bosingwa, but they thoroughly deserved to be the first league winners here in 87 matches.
It was an outstanding performance by a Liverpool team lacking Fernando Torres and Martin Skrtel, one that suggests they are, at last, genuine championship contenders. Alonso also struck a post and Steven Gerrard drew a fine save from Cech as Liverpool played the better football and created the clearer chances.
Not until the 72nd-minute did Chelsea seriously threaten and even then Pepe Reina was not extended. The result moves Liverpool three points clear ahead of Chelsea and Hull City – who had lost at home to Torquay in the bottom division the day Chelsea lost 2-1 to Arsenal at the Bridge in February 2004. On Wednesday Chelsea go to Hull, while Liverpool host now managerless Portsmouth.
This result was a triumph for Rafael Benitez, who won the tactical battle hands-down. Chelsea were given no space to operate their midfield passing triangles and their attacking full-backs were neutered by Dirk Kuyt and Albert Riera. With Ashley Cole, Bosingwa and Deco suffocated Chelsea lacked creativity. As a consequence they went route one. Had Didier Drogba been leading the line this may have brought reward, but the Ivorian is injured, as is Joe Cole, whose imagination was equally missed.
Scolari began with his usual formation and expected personnel but Liverpool, with Gerrard operating behind Robbie Keane, and Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano forming a screen in central midfield, made the sharper start. This brought early reward as Kuyt headed on Alvaro Arbeloa's throw-in. John Terry headed the ball out but Bosingwa miskicked a clearance and the ball fell to Xabi Alonso. On his weaker left foot the Spaniard sent the ball off Bosingwa and into the net.
Chelsea have been behind surprisingly often in the previous 86 matches but always recovered. This time they rarely looked like doing so. With Gerrard and Keane taking turns to drop back and prevent John Obi Mikel dictating play, Chelsea could not get into any kind of rhythm.
Liverpool, with slightly less possession, continued to make the better chances with the excellent Riera striking the side netting and Cech making an athletic save to turn over Gerrard's dipping volley. In response, Deco, finding rare space, wasted it by shooting wide when he could have fed in Florent Malouda or Salomon Kalou.
Liverpool did have an escape 10 minutes into the second period when Malouda ran on to an Anelka flick only to be clattered by Reina. A penalty and red card loomed, until a linesman's flag was spotted correctly indicating offside. It was a good day all-round for the officials. Webb did not get every call right – Bosingwa conned him into booking Gerrard – but most decisions were correct in a match which required all the experience he gained as a beat officer managing testosterone-fuelled young men enjoying a Friday night out in Sheffield city centre. It was a performance which made one wonder whether the Football Association's refereeing recruitment programme should target the police and military.
By the hour Scolari had changed tack, bringing on the gangly teenager Franco Di Santo and moving to 4-4-2. In reality it was 3-4-3 with Ashley Cole playing in attack. Cole soon put a header wide, then a volley from Di Santo's knock-down as Chelsea finally opened Liverpool up. In between, though, Alonso struck the post from a 30-yard free-kick with Cech motionless. Finally Juliano Belletti played the pass of the match to release Deco, but he delayed and Jamie Carragher blocked.
That was characteristic of Liverpool's desire. Chelsea matched them for effort, but not for poise and nous in what was a very good match. This weekend Michel Platini, the Uefa president, suggested England could not win the World Cup because the Premier League had too many foreigners. But there were more Englishmen than there were players of any other nationality honing their talent here, in a game of greater quality than most Champions League fixtures.
Goal: Alonso (9) 0-1.
Chelsea (4-3-3): Cech; Bosingwa (Sinclair, 84), Carvalho, Terry, A Cole; Deco, Mikel, Lampard; Kalou (Di Santo, 57), Anelka, Malouda (Belletti, 57). Substitutes not used: Cudicini (gk), Ivanovic, Ferreira, Alex.
Liverpool (4-4-1-1): Reina; Arbeloa, Carragher, Agger, Aurelio; Kuyt (Lucas, 87), Alonso, Mascherano, Reira (Hyypia, 89); Gerrard; Keane (Babel, 59). Substitutes not used: Cavalieri (gk), Dossena, Benayoun, Pennant.
Referee: H Webb (S Yorks).
Booked: Chelsea: Malouda, Cole, Deco. Liverpool: Reira, Gerrard, Mascherano.
Man of the match: Gerrard.
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