Brendan Rodgers admitted Liverpool were undone by Jose Mourinho’s stifling tactics as Chelsea claimed a stunning win at Anfield yesterday to blow open the title race.
Liverpool 0-2 Chelsea
Scorers: Chelsea - Ba (45), Willian (90)
A mistake by Steven Gerrard let Demba Ba in for the opener in added time at the end of the first half, and with seconds remaining substitute Willian added a second goal on the break.
The visitors successfully resisted Liverpool’s attacking flair, with Mourinho’s side employing every trick in the book to slow down play, and it more than paid off as the previously free-scoring Reds ran out of ideas.
Mourinho was unrepentant about the match plan that led his Liverpool counterpart to say: “I think there were two buses parked today, never mind one.”
An under-strength Chelsea side mounted a defensive exercise that brought rich rewards, and Rodgers added: “It was like a back six with three midfield players in front of that. That’s ten, with the goalkeeper, for 90 minutes consistently behind the ball.
“Unless you get that early goal, it doesn’t entice them to come out. It was clear that they’d come certainly not wanting to win the game, with the time-wasting and what-not. The players gave everything and we couldn’t quite get that wee bit of luck.”
Rodgers continued: “They have a different style to us but if it gets results, great. Jose will be happy with that. Congratulations to Chelsea as they won the game, although they came for a draw.
“It is totally opposite to how we want to play but give credit to them for winning the game.
“It is not difficult to coach, putting 10 players on the edge of the 18-yard box.
“They got booked for time-wasting in the 92nd minute but I think everyone could see from the first whistle that was their plan – to frustrate.”
Rodgers attached no blame to Gerrard for the error which proved so pivotal.
“Steven is a boy who has picked up this club so many times and it was just really unfortunate because he slipped at a crucial moment and it was right on half-time,” Rodgers said. “He was doing everything he possibly could and we hoped there would be one or two who would step up to the plate instead of him, but we couldn’t quite do that.
“There’s certainly no blame because we are in the position we are in now because of him; he’s been instrumental for us this season.”
While victory took Chelsea within two points of their rivals at the top of the table, the ones to really benefit were third-placed Manchester City, still with a match in hand on both the teams above them.
The Champions League is still be the primary objective for Chelsea and to that end they fielded a slightly weaker side. It showed seven changes from the midweek goalless semi-final first-leg draw at Atletico Madrid, but it still boasted more than 500 international caps with an entire squad value of about £200 million.
City are favourites for the title now but Rodgers is confident his side can bounce back from the end of an 11-match winning run and finish the season on a high.
“City will now feel they can go on and win their games,” Rodgers said. “We’ll just recover now, we’ll focus on the next game and continue with that positive mentality that we’ve had throughout the season – because that’s the reason why we are where we are.”
Liverpool go to Crystal Palace next Monday before finishing off at home to Newcastle six days later.
Not only were Chelsea happy to defend throughout, they almost actively engaged in not wanting to play the ball anywhere on the pitch, with players frequently looking to run into the corners.
In time-wasting and breaking up play Chelsea denied their opponents any opportunity to establish the sort of rhythm which has regularly blown away teams in the first half.
They even went as far as going to take throw-ins and free-kicks before suddenly changing their minds and getting another team-mate to leisurely wander over to have a go instead.
It was a classic Mourinho destruction and frustration ploy and infuriated Liverpool so much Gerrard engaged in a bit of push and shove with the Chelsea boss in trying to get the ball back into play and Suarez stood to applaud goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer’s time-wasting.
Nevertheless, Mourinho had no doubt his side earned their reward.
“The best team won, in my opinion,” he said. “The team played brilliantly. Every player was magnificent. No mistakes. I think it was a fantastic performance by my players. I am not looking for credit. I am very happy with my players, they know how pleased I am with their work.
“Time-wasting. What’s that? You never spoke about this when we played lot of matches this season.”
It appears the title race will go down to the wire but Mourinho does not consider his team to be contenders. “There is no chance. It was three important points and we need one more to finish third and if we finish third we are in the Champions League automatically.”
That Ashley Cole had an early shot parried away by Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet was almost surprising considering how much possession and territory Chelsea were happy to concede.
A rehearsed corner saw Glen Johnson’s shot deflected behind and Philippe Coutinho volleyed Suarez’s cross into the side-netting before Cole cleared off the line from team-mate John Obi Mikel’s deflection and Mamadou Sakho blazed over from the breakdown.
Chelsea’s mindset was exemplified when Andre Schurrle found himself one-on-one with Martin Skrtel on the halfway line, but five seconds later the ball had been passed back to Schwarzer.
Optimistic shouts for handball against Jon Flanagan were waved away while, at the other end, Suarez failed to capitalise on Cole’s mistake in giving away possession by curling a shot over.
Ba was not as wasteful when Gerrard slipped in possession ten yards inside his half to present the Senegal international with a free run on goal and he did well, considering how little of the ball he had seen, to finish expertly.
If Liverpool were frustrated in the first half they knew they would face much more of the same after the break, but in addition they found Schwarzer in fine form as he produced a great save to keep out Joe Allen’s first-time effort, although Mignolet’s denial of Schurrle was equally as good.
Gerrard tried his best to redress the balance, but twice found Schwarzer with shots from outside the area and once from a header inside it. Even the return of striker Daniel Sturridge from a hamstring injury as a second-half substitute did not puncture a hole in Chelsea’s line.
Suarez had one last chance in added time, but Schwarzer punched over his volley. Instead the match ended with the familiar sight of a jubilant Mourinho running down the touchline to celebrate substitute Willian’s breakaway goal.