Despite taking an early lead Liverpool are overpowered by Chelsea and slip to a third consecutive defeat…
As expected Reds boss Brendan Rodgers rang the changes after his much-debated decision to field a largely reserve team against Real Madrid in midweek.
Only four players – Simon Mignolet, Martin Skrtel, Alberto Moreno and Emre Can – retained their places and the latter was to have the first effort at goal with a deflected drive that almost looped in.
The attack was the first of many from Liverpool in the opening exchanges as the hosts came out of the blocks quickly.
Even the often-criticised Mario Balotelli was looking lively, making a number of dangerous runs in behind Chelsea’s back line.
The opener that the Reds had been threatening arrived in the ninth minute as Can again tried his luck from distance.
This time, after being released by Raheem Sterling, the deflection favoured the rangy German as the ball ricocheted off Gary Cahill and wrong-footed Thibaut Courtois.
It was a short-lived lead though as the Londoners drew level within five minutes, despite the heroics of Mignolet.
The Belgium shot-stopper produced a great diving stop to keep out a point-blank free header by Terry but he couldn’t quite repel Cahill’s follow-up as referee Anthony Taylor awarded a goal with the aid of technology.
Excellent skill from Philippe Coutinho looked set to restore the lead almost instantly but Balotelli was caught offside and his tidy finish was correctly ruled out.
A low Gerrard corner then provided good shooting opportunities for both Henderson and Sterling but neither could thread the ball through a crowded penalty area.
After a brief period of Chelsea pressure, a lightning break from the fleet-footed Coutinho brought a fine diving stop out of Courtois.
In a free-flowing encounter, chances were also regularly coming the way of Jose Mourinho’s men as Costa and Hazard had sights of goal in quick succession.
The men from the capital also carried a continual threat from set-pieces as Liverpool struggled to contain their height and physicality.
A poor Mignolet clearance left the Anfield crowd biting their nails as Costa and Skrtel continued to conduct their own personal running battle.
Chelsea were certainly ending the half by far the stronger, although the hosts weren’t helping themselves with some poor clearances and moments of miss-communication.
The Blues also controlled the opening exchanges in the second half with Oscar and Costa both having efforts shortly after the restart.
A bright passing move by Liverpool saw Sterling test Courtois but it almost led to a goal at the other end as Hazard broke at pace, Gerrard producing a timely block.
The tempo finally began to ease as the hour mark approached and the contest became a much more cautious affair.
A brief airing of grievances followed when the visitors reacted to Liverpool not putting the ball out of play, so Branislav Ivanovic could receive treatment, even though it was them who initially played on.
Chelsea took the lead in the 67th minute when a great break down the left from Cesar Azpilicueta fortuitously fell for Costa to thump home after Mignolet’s intervention had inadvertently found its way to the Brazilian-born Spaniard.
A double substitution from Rodgers sent Joe Allen and Fabio Borini on and the pair quickly combined to create a half chance for Henderson.
In truth it was a rare moment of encouragement in the closing stages as Chelsea understandably reverted to bus parking mode.
Liverpool should have had a penalty at the death though when Cahill used an arm to block a Gerrard effort from the edge of the area.
It wasn’t given and everyone connected with the hosts was left to reflect on another disappointing afternoon in an increasingly retched season.
The opening stages promised plenty from a Liverpool perspective but as the game wore on our familiar combination of poor defending and a lack of incisiveness in front of goal became increasingly prevalent. Both of Chelsea’s goals could have been avoided, particularly the second, but on the balance of chances created the Londoners probably merited the victory. That said, the decision not to award us a penalty towards the end was diabolical, particularly as Taylor was in the perfect position to see it. Ridiculously, Chelsea are now a whopping 15 points ahead of us; it’s likely to be a lot more come May. Daniel Sturridge‘s return from injury cannot come quickly enough as we are left to mull over the ruins of this season during another international break.
Philippe Coutinho – The Brazilian was largely at fault for the winner but going forward he was the only regular source of creativity and intent. Some great twists and turns would have led to goals last season but unfortunately the likes of Balotelli are on a lesser wave length at present. No idea why Rodgers took him off once again.
Mignolet, Johnson, Skrtel, Lovren, Moreno, Gerrard, Henderson, Can (Allen 70′), Coutinho (Borini 70′), Sterling, Balotelli (Lambert 79′).
Unused subs: Jones, Toure, Lucas, Lallana.
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