Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Reds End Blues’ Proud Home Run

English Premiership

Chelsea 0 -1 Liverpool

4 years 8 months. 86 matches without a loss at Stamford Bridge. A fantastic record for a team that is playing in one of the, if not, the most challenging domestic league in the world.

But as Nelly Furtado and many others before her suggested that ‘all good things come to an end’, we know someday, somehow, the record will be broken. It was just a matter of when and how.

The answer lies with Rafa Benitez and his rampant Reds. In Chelsea’s 87th home game, they were pitted against a team that they’ve been so familiar with. Other than Premiership games, the Blues and Reds have met in various top level competitions.

Nobody will forget that memorable 1-0 win at Anfield where Luis Garcia scored a controversial winner that sent Liverpool into the most exciting Champions League final in it’s history.

But this win at Stamford Bridge was remarkable. It was a classic Premiership titans showdown but the performance from the Reds, as an away side, was a sight to behold. It is a display of a team brimming with confidence and fearlessness. Indeed, they went, they saw and they conquered the mighty beast of London.

An early goal and honestly, a lucky one through a deflection. A lapse of concentration from Bosingwa, who’ve been exceptional so far this season, gifted Alonso a chance to take a pot shot at goal. It went in off John Terry’s leg and even Petr Cech was hapless.

From then on, everyone watching would’ve thought that Liverpool will revert to their familiar back-against-the-wall tactic against the inevitable onslaught from Chelsea. But Liverpool surprisingly, showed enterprise throughout the game thereafter and came closer to doubling their lead than Chelsea finding their equaliser.

Despite missing Fernando Torres through injury, it gives Rafa Benitez less ‘options’ but more certainty in his selection. Robbie Keane upfront with Steven Gerrard hovering just behind him. It was a tactic that paid off ultimately as we saw how Gerrard and Alonso bossed the central areas of the field.

Gerrard’s lunging tackle on Bosingwa in the 39th minute was inch perfect. And its very ingredient was his drive, passion and desire, to see the Reds triumph at Chelsea’s own backyard. Unfortunately, Howard Webb booked him instead.

The 3 pronged attack of Chelsea was largely ineffective in the face of Carragher and his well marshaled defence. Nicolas Anelka was never going to have the physical presence of Didier Drogba. The Ivorian striker’s absence meant Chelsea’s attack was never going to strike much fear into the opponent’s defence.

Florent Malouda have been absolutely disappointing since joining the Blues while Kalou didn’t know what to do when he had the ball.

Looking at the squad in depth, Liverpool definitely had the upperhand. While Chelsea struggled to call on players to replace the disappointing front three players, Liverpool had the luxury to bring on Ryan Babel, who gave John Terry an afternoon to forget. He nearly doubled the lead with a vicious strike on his right peg.

Another key of note was that Benitez nullified the strength of Chelsea and amazingly turned it into their weakness.

Chelsea’s formation doesn’t permit out and out wingers and therefore, Ashley Cole and Bosingwa had to bomb on to provide support. This leaves large gaps behind for Obi Mikel to cover.

With a revived Dirk Kuyt and an impressive Albert Riera on the Reds flank, they not only provided outlet for Liverpool’s attack but also kept the Chelsea fullbacks real busy. Riera looked a totally different player from the one we saw a couple of seasons ago at Man City. He was confident and had a field day against Bosingwa with his burst of pace, wonderful first touches and ball control.

Chelsea’s midfield, too, was ineffectual. They were suffocated and didn’t have space to weave their magic. Alonso was controlling, Mascherano was harrying and Gerrard was ready to provide roaming support, moving into spaces which he sees the need to cover.

Ultimately, Chelsea lost their record with a whimper. Pepe Reina in Liverpool’s goal was rarely tested. Ashley Cole was in his usual petulant self and the fouls he committed in the game showed how much frustrations and problems the visitors gave to them.

It was a tactical masterclass from Rafa Benitez and his team really worked their socks off, just like any other game. They are starting to look menacingly similar to the Valencia team that triumphed over the mights of Barcelona and Real Madrid. It was not through a team of technically gifted players but a group of hungry, driven and hardworking players.

As Gerrard said that no medals are given out this early in the season, Liverpool fans shouldn’t jump on the bandwagon of ‘this is our year’ because the season is still early with 9 games in.

But on the plus side, the Reds have now wins against Man Utd, Chelsea and Man City. They’re definitely in a shout for this season’s title race.


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