This piece on Liverpool’s recent win at Chelsea was written for World Football Columns. However, due to a technical error it was not published during this past week as it should have been. Rather than waste it, I thought I’d publish it here.
Last week, I used my column to nominate my ideal LFC starting XI. Clearly Kenny Dalglish must have read it as he selected Maxi Rodriguez for his first start of the season, and the Argentine repaid his (and my) faith by scoring the opening goal at Stamford Bridge.
Of course, before I could start feeling too smug, Glen Johnson (who I stated should be dropped in favour of Martin Kelly) popped up with a fantastic winning goal. Believe me when I say I don’t think I’ve ever been happier to have been proven wrong.
As has frequently been the case for Liverpool this season, it was in many ways a game of two halves.
The Reds were superb in the first half, pressing Chelsea high up the pitch in the manner that Rafa Benitez used to like the team to.
The tactic paid dividends when Charlie Adam was able to hustle John Obi Mikel off the ball just in front if his own penalty box. Some great one touch play between Bellamy and Suárez then followed, before the ball went to Maxi who applied the finish.
Rodriguez now has an incredible eight goals in his last five league starts for Liverpool (dating back to last season), and must surely have played himself into contention for more pitch time with a lively display at Stamford Bridge. He also has one goal from one shot this season in the league; just the kind of conversion statistics the Reds are crying out for!
Like all managers, Benitez inevitably had a bit of a mixed record when it came to transfers, but picking up Maxi on a free from Atletico Madrid was certainly one of his more shrewd moves.
It was unlikely that Chelsea were going to be as bad in the second half as they were in the first, and so it proved. Despite the pre-match comments from Andre Villas-Boas that he would still pay £50m for Fernando Torres even now, the Portuguese manager opted to bring on Daniel Sturridge in place of the hapless Mikel, rather than the costly Spaniard.
Whilst eyebrows may have been raised, the substitution appeared more than justified when Sturridge was on hand to net the equaliser early in the second half.
As Chelsea poured forward, Liverpool did themselves no favours by defending too deeply, and Johnson illustrated my point about not being the best defensively. He got lost in no mans land, and allowed a cross to go through the box leaving Sturridge with a simple finish.
Whilst Chelsea looked the more likely winners thereafter, at the same time, they didn’t force Reina in to making too many saves; indeed, all three of the Blues’ shots on target in the match came in a three minute period surrounding their goal.
With six minutes to go, former Reds Torres and Raul Meireles were summoned from the bench to apply a bitter finish to the match from a Liverpool point of view. Thankfully the double substitution came to nought for Chelsea.
After Dirk Kuyt sent a late chance wide of Cech’s goal, a draw seemed the only outcome. I for one would not have been disheartened by that, in view of the quality of the performance.
Glen Johnson and Charlie Adam had other ideas though. Although Adam did his disappearing act in the second half as usual, I have to credit him for playing a key role in both of the Reds’ goals.
An excellent pass by the Scot found Johnson with space to run into, and the right back duly obliged by charging through it and tucking the ball away with his left foot.
After only five league goals in his first two seasons, and two of those came in his first four appearances don’t forget, I hope we see a lot more of this from Johnson over the rest of the season (assuming he remains injury free and first choice of course).
A long range shot of no threat by Meireles aside, Chelsea were unable to muster much of a response, and Liverpool were free to celebrate a well earned three points.
Whilst Dalglish has taken some criticism for his tactical selections previously this season, he has to be given some credit on this occasion. It’s seems ludicrous to me, but the gaffer was under pressure in some quarters of the media (notably in James Lawton’s laughably bad piece in The Independent at the weekend), yet Liverpool are now nine games unbeaten in all competitions.
If anyone should be under pressure, it’s probably Villas-Boas. Not that I think he should be sacked yet; far from it. But his employer has had an itchy finger on the trigger of the firing gun since he bought the club, and his early season record is nothing to be proud of.
For instance, World Cup winning manager Luiz Felipe Scolari lasted less than one season, even though the Brazilian dropped only seven points in his first twelve games in charge. The Portuguese has shed twice as many in the same time.
Similarly, Chelsea have conceded seventeen times already this season, two more than they did in the entirety of José Mourinho’s first season at the club.
But enough about the Blues and their blues. Kenny Dalglish has Liverpool on target for a seventy point total for the season, so things are looking nice and rosy in the Anfield garden.