Chelsea overcome Liverpool to reclaim top spot
Chelsea 2 – 0 Liverpool
It was billed as the first real test of the Carlo Ancelotti era. The champions elect, Chelsea, were looking to dispel any doubters of their title credentials.
This was the hurdle upon which the Blues stumbled last season. A Xabi Alonso deflected strike ended an impressive home record in a 1-0 win. It also dented Luis Scolari’s flawless start to life at the Bridge.
Liverpool went on to finish second, beating Chelsea to the runners-up spot. Scolari lasted until January before being replaced by the competent Gus Hiddink.
The game took an extra significance for the home side. John Terry and company where determined to display their title credentials and avoid slipping up to the Merseyside men again.
If the three points at stake weren’t important enough, it was a chance for Carlo Ancelotti and Rafa Benitez to renew old rivalries, having swapped Champions League successes in 2005 and 2007.
That Istanbul final has proved the cornerstone of the Spanish Revolution at Anfield. But the holy grail is the Premier League and after suffering a third loss of the season, it’s difficult to see that pursuit come to an end any time soon.
The away side started brightly. They forced Chelsea back for the opening ten minutes. Gerrard swung some teasing crosses into the Hilario’s box. Benitez had clearly instructed his players to test out the inexperienced deputy of Petr Cech.
On the pitch John Terry and Fernando Torres embarked on another epic battle. Torres has left his mark on the Reds’ fixtures with the Blues. He boasts an impressive record of five goals in six games, a major feat against the normally watertight defence of Chelsea marshalled by Terry.
Today belonged to Terry. Liverpool’s number nine was kept quiet by the ruthlessly efficient England and Chelsea captain. The only opening afforded to Torres came when he tamely headed Kuyt’s cross into the arms of Hilario.
At the other end of the pitch, Drogba’s physical presence was causing the ageing Carragher plenty of problems. The Ivory Coast striker made a nuisance of himself in the box, disrupting not only the opposition but his team-mates too.
On the 25 minute mark Anelka’s cross was met by Drogba who barged in front of the onrushing Michael Ballack. The German midfielder who possesses a lethal header was brushed out of the way with Drogba’s effort easily gathered by Pepe Reina.
Shortly before half time, Reira’s free kick seemed to be destined for the net. Despite being a distance from the goal, the left winger cut loose a low blast at Hilario. The keeper waited until the ball was almost past him, before throwing out a desperate hand to palm the effort wide.
If the second half went to Liverpool then Chelsea imposed their superiority in the second. They forced Liverpool to defend much deeper and the midfield diamond of Essien, Ballack, Lampard and Deco started to take control.
The diamond tactic paid dividends on the 59th minute when the home side took the lead.
Frank Lampard stole the ball from the dogged Mascherano, with Essien playing the ball to Deco. The Portuguese international found Drogba whose dangerous cross was turned into the net by Anelka.
Liverpool failed to make any inroads into the Chelsea half as the home side remained resolute and durable when not in possession. Benitez waited until the 75th minute until he was forced to abandon his 4-2-3-1 formation.
The arrival of Yossi Benayoun and Ryan Babel failed to inspire Liverpool to conjure up an equaliser. Benayoun looked the more dangerous of the pair, skipping past Ivanovic a couple of times but there was no end product.
Chelsea added a second before the end, adding gloss to their victory. Drogba’s cross was poked home by substitute Florent Malouda.
It ended any flickering hope of a Liverpool fight back. A disappointing afternoon was epitomised by Benayoun’s glaring miss in the second minute of added time. The Israeli international’s deft movement saw Hilario flat on floor, but the Liverpool player edged his shot wide of the post.
The crucial win saw Chelsea reclaim top spot while Liverpool remain stationary in fifth.