Chelsea Blow Title Race Wide Open

ChelseaChelsea blew the title race wide open with a 2-0 victory over Premier League leaders Liverpool at Anfield. The Blues went to Merseyside knowing anything short of a victory would mean they were mathematically out of the title race. The Blues enjoyed most of the early possession and almost took the lead in the first six minutes when Ashley Cole’s long distance effort was palmed away by Simon Mignolet.

The home side immediately found their stride and just a few minutes later, Philippe Coutinho fired wide after being picked out by Luis Suárez. The nerves in both sides were beginning to show as neither side committed to throwing many forward – instead they relied on shots from outside the box.

Liverpool then tried to attack Chelsea down the flanks but Raheem Sterling, but César Azpilicueta continued to keep him at bar. Chelsea manager José Mourinho espoused a solid and cautious approach and it appeared to have work. Liverpool gave them a scare when Suárez won a free kick after Cole was adjudged to have elbowed him on the face, but captain Steven Gerrard failed to make the advantage pay with a poor delivery into the box.

Suárez could have broken the deadlock in the 41st minute when some sloppy play by both sides saw the ball end up at the feet of the Uruguayan, but his curling effort was a yard over. Chelsea debutant Tomáš Kalas had a golden chance to make it 1-0 in first-half injury time, but his free header from Frank Lampard’s corner went begging. However, Demba Ba succeeded where the young Czech failed – seconds later the Senegal man capitalized on a Gerrard slip and coolly slotted the ball, under Mignolet to give the visitors the lead at the break.

Liverpool’s last Premier League defeat was at Stamford Bridge in late December, and they knew they had to be at their best to break through a resolute Chelsea defense. Chelsea started the second-half more cautiously, soaking up pressure and then hitting Ba with direct balls.

Liverpool right back Glen Johnson tried to up the tempo by running at Cole but he was unable to beat the England veteran.  Gerrard had a good opportunity to atone for his error but his 52nd minute shot failed to hit the target. Brendan Rodgers decided to make a change and replace Brazilian Lucas with striker Daniel Sturridge, who had been struggling with an injury in the build up to the match.

Joe Allen almost equalized for Liverpool from an immediate corner, but his volley as kept out by 41-year-old Mark Schwarzer, deputizing for the injured Petr Čech. However, Rodgers’ flamboyant style continued to be stifled by Mourinho’s more prosaic approach as the Portuguese picked a side hell-bent on blowing the title race open again. Shortly after, Allen tested Schwarzer again from long distance but he could not beat the veteran. Gerrard then fizzed in an effort in the 75th minute but Schwarzer was again equal to it.

Mourinho took off Ba in the last few minutes and replaced him with former Liverpool favorite Fernando Torres to kill some time. The tension around Anfield was deafening as Liverpool fans tried to will their team back into the match, and Suárez should have done just that but capped of a quiet match with a miss. Torres and substitute Willian then broke away before the Spaniard squared for the latter to kill the game in the last minute. However, Chelsea and Manchester City now have a much stronger chance of winning the title after the Londoners blew the race wide open.

Commentary by Robert Shepherd


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