Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea side put a potentially lethal blow to Liverpool’s title hopes with a 2-0 win at Anfield this afternoon with goals from Demba Ba and Willian doing the damage.
Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard will have haunting nightmares of the moment he slipped in the centre circle during first half stoppage time to allow Ba a clear run at goal to slide the ball past the on rushing Simon Mignolet. The midfielder looked comfortable in possession as he collected a pass, but he let the ball run and slipped as he realised the Chelsea striker was in the vicinity.
The visitors were severely weakened in their options with the absence of John Terry, Petr Cech, Eden Hazard, Oscar and Samuel Eto’o through injury and the suspension of Ramires. Mourinho decided to also only put Gary Cahill and Willian on the bench, with untested centre back Tomas Kalas starting alongside Branislav Ivanovic in the heart of the Chelsea defence.
The midfield trio of Frank Lampard, Nemanja Matic and Jon Obi Mikel shielded the youngster well and veteran keeper Mark Schwarzer dealt well with the shots that came his way. The Australian stopper saw his team mates restrict the hosts to long distance shots and hopeful crosses into the visitors’ box.
Steven Gerrard kept trying to make amends for his error, but he could only hit hopeful shots wide or straight at Schwarzer. Joe Allen surprisingly came the closest to levelling for the Reds with a swerving shot towards the bottom corner, but it was saved comfortably by Schwarzer.
Despite scoring, Ba was not using the ball well and was replaced late on by Fernando Torres, who ran from the half way line occupied only by Mignolet late on before unselfishly squaring for Willian to seal a win that never looked like being challenged once Ba had put Chelsea ahead.
Liverpool looked short on ideas throughout and didn’t seem to have a plan B up their sleeves once it became clear that Mourinho’s stifling and spoiling tactics were controlling the encounter. Brendan Rodgers threw on Daniel Sturridge, who looked unfit and off the pace, and Spanish misfit Iago Aspas. But it was to no avail as his side got progressively more desperate in the closing stages. It left Mignolet alone in his half as another poorly placed pass allowed Torres to run at the Belgian unchallenged, with the only surprise being his pass to Willian rather than an attempt to score a maiden goal against his former club.
Martin Skrtel booted the ball in frustration at the final whistle in an act that would have been replicated by countless Liverpool fans watching on – along with those left with their heads in their hands after seeing their side’s title hopes given such a shaking.
Rodgers’ men have had the momentum so crucial in these title races for some time now and had won their previous eleven league games going into this match, but the defeat today will have been every bit a spur to rivals Manchester City as a hammer blow to the Reds. The Northern Irishman had seen his side clear every hurdle in recent weeks leaving one game less each time, but there were signs that things were getting less comfortable with close games against Sunderland, West Ham, Manchester City and Norwich won with little left in the tank or to spare.
Rodgers must dust off his side and get them going again for a huge game against Crystal Palace next Monday – by which time they could find themselves as low as third if City and Chelsea win their games between now and then. It will be the biggest test of his motivational abilities.
City are now in pole position in the closest title race in years. They know that by winning their remaining four games they will at least secure a second Premiership title on goal difference as they hold a comfortable advantage over their rivals in those stakes.
Both Rodgers and Mourinho will be hoping for a favour from either Palace or Everton when City visit them this week, but now Palace are safe and Everton’s top four bid looks over, the chances of that favour coming look slimmer. City will also be buzzing at the news that the title is now back in their hands and if they manage to successfully navigate their trips this week with six points in the bag, their two home games against Aston Villa and West Ham look like bankers for the Citizens.