Chelsea defied odds by beating Liverpool at Anfield, and thus ending the home side’s 11-match winning streak, with a heavily-rotated fringe side.
With Jose Mourinho’s focus being on Wednesday’s all-important second-leg against Atletico Madrid, it was no surprises to see many changes. The likes of Andreas Christensen, John Swift, Lewis Baker and Tomas Kalas were all part of the squad that travelled to Anfield but whilst it was only the latter two making a place in Mourinho’s 18, it was still a Chelsea side massively under-strength, with Cech, Terry, Hazard, Oscar and Eto’o all absent.
And what a début for the 20-year-old Tomas Kalas, who alongside Ivanovic, marshalled the defence superbly to give Luis Suarez his quietest game of the season.
And what might have been has Chelsea not lost against Sunderland last week, or Crystal Palace, or Aston Villa? The answer is Chelsea would be top of the table with this victory, but instead, it has firmly suited Manchester City’s pursuit.
But what a day for resilience and professionalism from Mourinho’s men. Many reporters were livid Mourinho would, selfishly, field a weakened side and hand Liverpool this title-deciding match. They got the first part right — Mourinho would field a weakened side — but any side Chelsea play still has the tactical genius of Mourinho, and so it proved.
Tight early pressing to stop Liverpool getting any ground early on — where they have been so formidable this season to kill the game off early — was of paramount important to Chelsea’s game-plan.
Unpleasant amount of time-wasting is not good for any neutral to see, but Mourinho, as well documented by himself, is no neutral. Granted, no-one could have predicted Gerrard would slip in the third minute of added-on time at the end of the first half owing to Chelsea’s time-wasting, but Ba took his opportunity expertly, slotting home past Mignolet’s legs.
It was all Liverpool — 73% possession and 26 shots to Chelsea’s 11 speaks volumes — but many buses were parked in what was surely a practice run for Wednesday night.
And as Liverpool threw the men forward and Mourinho has sent on Willian and Torres for some fresh legs, so it all went to plan for the visitors. Torres ran 50 yards with the ball, and, with no man to beat but Mignolet, decided to play safe as Willian rounded the Belgian goalkeeper to send Mourinho into his euphoric frenzy.
Man of the Match
NEMANJA MATIC: It would be unjust not to award it to one of the Chelsea back-line, and though Mark Schwarzer was sublime when called upon, as were Azpilicueta, Ivanovic, Kalas and Cole when dealing with Suarez, Sturridge and Sterling, but most attacks did not get that far thanks to Matic. Especially with a young centre-back making his début, it was imperative the Serbian — still new to Chelsea himself — was authoritative, destruction and full of concentration. As per, the 25-year-old did not fail to deliver. 8/10
Mourinho had praise for many of his players: “[Schwarzer] was good — very solid and very experienced. When Liverpool started putting long balls in the area for Mark and Cahill and Ivanovic, they were like fish in water. Demba Ba was fantastic. In front of a good goalkeeper, he was cool and scored. [Tomas Kalas’ full début] was beautiful.”
Brendan Rodgers was resigned in his assessment: “We tried everything we could. We just couldn’t make the final breakthrough today. They defended well, they won the game, give credit to them.”