Sunday 8 December 2019

Future postponed for Reds as Chelsea live in the present

Chelsea's Diego Costa celebrates scoring his side's second goal
Chelsea's Diego Costa celebrates scoring his side's second goal
Branislav Ivanovic of Chelsea and Raheem Sterling of Liverpool

Dion Fanning

As the Liverpool players surrounded referee Anthony Taylor at the end of the game at Anfield yesterday, the Chelsea team were already gathering in a more joyful congregation.

Chelsea had made things difficult for themselves but as they briefly moved seven points clear at the top of the table, they could also take satisfaction from how they had overcome those difficulties and, in fact, sought them out.

Jose Mourinho purred afterwards as he pointed out that his side had now played at the most testing grounds in the north of England - Goodison, the Etihad, Old Trafford and Anfield - and were still unbeaten.

If Chelsea had squandered leads at the Manchester clubs, Mourinho felt the performance at Anfield was an "expression of ambition" as they failed to accept a point and came from behind to win through a goal from the relentless Diego Costa.

His side have the talent to outplay a side like Liverpool but they had turned this game into a fight. Costa had rumbled with Martin Skrtel since the opening seconds while Nemanja Matic had covered the ground in midfield like an advanced piece of technology being tested in military exercises against antiquated equipment which will be proved to be obsolete at the end of the day's manoeuvres.

Liverpool were willing but this was not their racket. They couldn't match Chelsea's physical power. Brendan Rodgers justifiably claimed that they should have had a penalty when Gary Cahill blocked a shot with his arm but, beyond that, Liverpool couldn't compete.

For a while in the first half, Rodgers' high-risk approach to the week appeared to have worked but, by the end, it was a baffling footnote to three defeats in eight days.

There had been confusion when his side had been named yesterday. The players who had been rested in Madrid were back and the players who had been praised in defeat at the Bernabeu were out. The only change from the side that lost lamely at Newcastle was that Emre Can replaced Joe Allen. Rodgers said the criticism of his selection in Madrid did a "disservice" to the players selected but the three he named - Kolo Toure, Adam Lallana and Lucas Leiva - remained on the bench yesterday.

Can had been good in Madrid and he was industrious again and the players who were brought back looked like they had absorbed the message, whatever it was, in the early stages.

Liverpool had even taken the lead, capitalising on a casualness in the Chelsea midfield which had allowed them to find space. Can advanced in his methodical way and watched as his shot deflected off Cahill leaving Courtois moving in the wrong direction.

Their supremacy lasted only lasted five minutes before Liverpool conceded from a set-piece once again. Simon Mignolet managed to save brilliantly from a John Terry header only for Cahill to poke the ball back towards the goalkeeper who carried the ball over the line, something which was established only by the goal-line technology.

Once Mario Balotelli had a goal disallowed for offside and Cahill had committed his first handball, the game moved in one direction.

Afterwards, Mourinho praised Ramires and Cesc Fabregas for playing with injuries, stressing that they had no concern for the consequences. "The game is not the game we have in two or three weeks, the game is what we have today."

Rodgers, in contrast, appeared to take a different approach to the past week, planning for a future which can't always be postponed.

After the defeat to Real Madrid, he pointed out that Liverpool had stopped Ronaldo from scoring and yesterday he said that Liverpool's game plan had been to keep Fabregas quiet, something he felt they had achieved. "The influence of Fabregas in the game was limited," Rodgers said. Unfortunately the game that was taking place beside the game plan brought another Liverpool defeat.

Whatever composure Liverpool had evaporated within half an hour. Dejan Lovren played as if he had been given a free role somewhere close to the rest of Liverpool's back four but rarely a part of it. Chelsea took advantage and became resident in the home side's territory and the surprise at the interval was that Mourinho's side didn't already have a lead.

Rodgers felt his side deserved something from the game and if the referee had spotted Cahill's second handball at the Kop end three minutes from time, they probably would have got it.

But it would barely have been deserved. Liverpool were disjointed in their play and the sight of poor Rickie Lambert tripping over his own feet as he chased a ball demonstrated how much Liverpool have faded as an attacking force.

Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho provided the only invention and the home crowd booed when Coutinho and Can were taken off and Fabio Borini and Joe Allen sent on 20 minutes from the end.

If Cahill's handballs provided a talking point, Chelsea had scored their second too easily after it appeared that Cesar Azpilicueta had let the ball run out.

Rather than contest the decision, Rodgers felt Liverpool should have done more to prevent Chelsea from going on to score. There had been an inevitability about the goal as Chelsea relished the physical confrontations with Costa walking off when he was substituted with the look of a man who had taken pleasure in the effort that had been required.

Mourinho was satisfied too. "Sometimes you get the points and you don't deserve it, sometimes football makes that happen but that is not the case here. This is a case where the best team won." Liverpool couldn't dispute that. They were playing a different game.

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