Liverpool pile presssure on Chelsea boss
The Carling Cup doesn't matter -- as Roman Abramovich told Andre Villas-Boas -- and the Chelsea manager is apparently not in danger of losing his job.
But he is losing too many matches and that can't continue. This was another defeat, another seeping of much needed confidence, another questioning of the "new Chelsea" promised by the new man, another question mark over where the club is heading.
It may well be the fourth competition in terms of Abramovich's priorities and, in truth, it doesn't really matter, but it was a third home defeat in four -- and another to Liverpool, who deservedly swept into the semi-finals, and whose manager Kenny Dalglish maintained his astonishing record of beating Chelsea. It's not just the defeats, it's the nature of them and Chelsea were well-beaten last night and rarely looked like scoring.
Dalglish's annoyance at the scheduling of this match, barely 48 hours after the Premier League encounter with Manchester City, had led him to urge supporters not to travel. A callow team would be fielded, he promised, but although seven changes were made to the side which faced City, this was still a strong line-up.
While Chelsea also rang the changes, with Villas-Boas selecting the four younger players he had promised to promote, the Portuguese retained David Luiz and the Brazilian was, as ever, at the centre of controversy.
He was wrongly booked for a dive, after being challenged by Sebastian Coates, when referee Phil Dowd should have awarded a penalty and then escaped censure himself after appearing to push Andy Carroll in the back inside his own area.
It didn't end there. Liverpool were then awarded a penalty. It was clear that Alex's outstretched left arm had batted away Jose Enrique's cross, as Carroll attempted to meet it, but Dowd initially gave a goal-kick. The Liverpool players protested vehemently and there was a delay as Dowd appeared to seek help, via his earpiece before finally awarding the spot-kick.
Carroll, rather than Craig Bellamy, stepped up and, nervously, drove the ball hard, but straight and Ross Turnbull blocked.
Despite another possible penalty, when Romelu Lukaku was blocked by Coates as he attempted to run onto a through-ball inside the area, the game remained goalless. The pace was unrelenting, despite the unfamiliarity of the line-ups, and there was an eagerness to impose themselves from both sides although, perhaps inevitably, Fernando Torres struggled to make an impact on his first start in seven matches.
Unfortunately Chelsea lost Josh McEachran after he failed to shake off an early ankle injury, but for all of the home side's dominance of possession they lacked a cutting edge with Torres and Lukaku both being dominated by the Liverpool defenders.
It meant fine build-up play by Frank Lampard, in particular, often broke down while Liverpool's failing was a desire to try to seek out Carroll too often with long balls, even if, at times, that ploy carried the greater threat.
The only mark Lukaku left was on Jordan Henderson with a nasty tackle catching the midfielder on his shin -- and even then Dowd erred by wrongly cautioning Ryan Bertrand when he could have sent off the striker.
As the period ended, Lukaku met Jose Bosingwa's cross only to wastefully steer his header over the cross-bar while Liverpool were once more left protesting after Luiz stepped into Carroll who appeared to be caught but also made the most of it.
The commitment was unquestionable, the quality more doubtful, and as Lampard lost possession Maxi Rodriguez scampered into the Chelsea area only to dither and be dispossessed while Bellamy over-hit a pass to Carroll as Liverpool again threatened and, soon after, blazed over after another counter-attack.
There was then a slice of fortune for Liverpool with Florent Malouda meeting Lampard's free-kick only for his header to skim off the cross-bar.
Coates made a hash of the clearance, presenting it to Luiz but then chested away the Brazilian's goal-bound header.
If anything the pace increased -- and Liverpool struck through Maxi. Again.
His goal, however, owed much to the Chelsea's defensive failings with Bertrand caught out as Henderson played in Bellamy and then both Alex and Luiz at fault as the striker crossed for Maxi to turn the ball beyond Turnbull. The marking was loose, chaotic.
Villas-Boas had seen enough and quickly prepared to make changes. But, before he could, his defence crumbled again. Bellamy, again, was the provider, swinging in a free-kick which was all to easily met by Martin Kelly who headed into the net to spark more Chelsea recriminations as he was left unmarked by the hapless Lukaku.
Pepe Reina saved Torres' header and substitute Nicolas Anelka was denied after rounding the goalkeeper but Chelsea simply had no reply. (© Daily Telegraph, London)