Liverpool vs Chelsea match report: Grief for Steven Gerrard as Diego Costa slips in to keep Blues unbeaten record intact

Liverpool 1 Chelsea 2: Supporters turn on Rodgers for first time as Liverpool lose their way

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The Independent Football

Long after the final whistle, the Chelsea fans were chanting Steven Gerrard’s name, mocking the slip that had cost Liverpool everything. The price of this defeat was not nearly as high but, for Liverpool’s captain, the pain would have been almost as intense.

Although the title had been lost in the final furlong last season, Liverpool had re-established themselves among the Premier League’s elite. There would be the Champions’ League money, another round of squad strengthening and then who knew where they might go?

Seven months later, there would have been two sources of frustration racing through Gerrard’s mind; the two shots  handled by Gary Cahill in the Chelsea area that were both obvious penalties and the knowledge that Liverpool, 15 points behind Chelsea, were out of the title race by November.

The fear is that Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool might be like Kenny Dalglish’s Blackburn or the Newcastle of Kevin Keegan; clubs that had one shot at the championship before fading. The deal the Liverpool manager did this week, essentially sacrificing the Champions’ League fixture in Madrid for this game, was an admission that Liverpool lack the resources to fight on two fronts.

Liverpool actually played better against Real than they did in the match they had targeted at Anfield. As they watched Dejan Lovren flounder at the heart of the defence and Mario Balotelli playing another minor role in a major game, Kolo Touré and Fabio Borini, both of whom had been hugely impressive in Madrid, must have wondered about the wisdom of it all. 

Keeping Emre Can was a decision that was vindicated by a fine display and the opening goal, although the decision to bring him off was jeered by the home crowd, the first moment of dissent Rodgers has experienced since succeeding Dalglish.

Emre Can's deflected shot put Liverpool into the lead

Can had the confidence to shoot early and often. His first had struck John Terry’s arm and deflected wide. The second hit Cahill and left Thibaut Courtois utterly helpless. Had Liverpool scored this early against Chelsea in April, they would probably have won the title.

For Chelsea’s manager there was never any sense that this goal would be decisive. “I am not afraid to go behind,” Jose Mourinho reflected. “This team is very stable and when they scored it was not a drama for me or for my team. 

“The way they performed in the second half was an expression of ambition and self-belief. I do not believe we will go through the season unbeaten but, if we do lose a game, it will not have an impact.”

Gary Cahill equalised thanks to goal-line technology

Chelsea deserved to be level but there was a lingering irony about the manner in which they equalised. Mourinho has never quite forgotten Luis Garcia’s ‘ghost goal’ that denied Chelsea a place in the European Cup final nine years ago. Here, at the same goal beneath the Kop, Simon Mignolet appeared to have brilliantly saved Cahill’s header but the sensors detected it had crossed the line.

Liverpool’s composure appeared to dissolve. For a quarter of an hour in the first half, they appeared not to know how to clear their own lines. The ball kept coming back towards Mignolet and Mourinho would have been angered that Chelsea had not made more of their superiority, wonderfully co-ordinated by Nemanja Matic.

Chelsea players celebrate Diego Costa's winner

In the second half, Liverpool cracked. Cesar Azpilicueta drove down the Chelsea left flank and delivered a cross that Mignolet could only push out into Diego Costa’s path. Given his form, there was only one possible outcome and Chelsea’s control was complete until, in the final moments, Gerrard’s shot struck Cahill’s arm. The Chelsea fans were not the only ones mocking Liverpool’s captain. A horse called Gerrard’s Slip was running in the 12.40 at Doncaster. It finished 11th.

Liverpool (4-3-3): Mignolet; Johnson, Skrtel, Lovren, Moreno; Can (Allen, 70), Gerrard, Henderson; Sterling, Balotelli (Lambert, 79), Coutinho (Borini, 70).

Chelsea (4-3-2-1): Courtois; Ivanovic, Terry, Cahill, Azpilicueta; Matic, Fabregas, Ramires (Willian, 54); Oscar, Hazard (Filipe Luis, 90); Costa (Drogba, 90)

Referee: Anthony Taylor.

Man of the match: Matic (Chelsea)

Match rating: 7/10