Monday, November 12, 2012

Match Report: Chelsea 1 - 1 Liverpool

Luis Suarez dealt a huge double blow to Chelsea's Barclays Premier League title hopes on Sunday after inadvertently ending John Terry's comeback and snatching a deserved draw for Liverpool at Stamford Bridge.

Terry looked set to enjoy a dream return to action after his domestic four-match racism ban when he powered the European champions ahead from a corner at Stamford Bridge.

But the Blues captain then collided accidentally with the man at the centre of football's other race scandal, forcing him off on a stretcher, with Suarez going on to equalize for Liverpool and almost steal victory.

The draw prevented Chelsea from climbing back into second place as they recorded their third league game without a win to lie three points behind Manchester United.

The home support may have turned up expecting another Stamford Bridge goal-fest, having witnessed 30 in the previous five games here.

But having shipped 14 goals in their last seven matches, Chelsea appeared to adopt a more conservative approach against a Liverpool side who recalled virtually all their available big guns but persevered with their experiment of playing three at the back.

They certainly had plenty of the ball early on, but the Blues' counter-attacking approach almost paid off in the sixth minute when Joe Allen lost possession to Oscar, who was threaded in by Eden Hazard only to lift the ball over the crossbar.

Liverpool, who had won on their previous three visits to Stamford Bridge, continued to probe but their defence went AWOL from Chelsea's first corner in the 20th minute.

Terry was allowed to dart untracked to the near post and duly powered home Juan Mata's delivery.

Another lightning Chelsea break from the lively Hazard saw Fernando Torres' shot parried by Brad Jones straight to the Belgian, who could not control his volley.

Nuri Sahin dragged wide at the other end before a nightmare moment for Terry and Chelsea 10 minutes before half-time.

Terry gifted the ball to Steven Gerrard and got back to make a tackle on Suarez, who fell on his right leg, leaving him in agony.

After several minutes of treatment on his knee, Terry was forced to concede his comeback was over and was carried off on a stretcher with his head in his hands, manager Roberto Di Matteo offering a consoling word before he disappeared down the tunnel.

Gary Cahill replaced Terry with the atmosphere inevitably flattening until the fourth minute of stoppage-time when Mata's superb run was marred by a rushed finish that was so out of character.

Liverpool had clearly been told to up the aggression at the break but they repeatedly took it too far.

Allen was rightly booked for bundling over Torres and the fit-again Glen Johnson followed for obstructing Oscar, whose free-kick saw Jones produce a brilliant reflex save from Torres' header.

In the chaos that followed, Gerrard hurt his left knee trying to prevent Torres reaching the rebound and Mikel produced an airshot from barely eight yards.

Liverpool hauled off Sahin for Suso as they abandoned their back three and briefly had Chelsea under pressure before Torres went close to prodding in Ryan Bertrand's cross.

Mikel - who must surely end his five-year goal drought so attacking has he become - nearly got on the end of a Mata free-kick after Gerrard was cautioned for tripping Oscar.

But Liverpool's substitution paid off 17 minutes from time when Suso's corner was flicked on by Jamie Carragher and Suarez nodded home from point-blank range.

Chelsea came straight back at them but the visitors were defending manfully and Di Matteo wasted little time throwing on Wednesday's matchwinner, Victor Moses, for Oscar.

Liverpool looked just as capable of snatching victory and Mikel was booked for the latest in a series of clumsy tackles before Torres was replaced by Daniel Sturridge.

Suso shanked wide when well-placed, Suarez tried his luck from the halfway line and Ivanovic powered over a header.

Suarez would have won it for Liverpool after racing clear onto Enrique's ball but for a vital challenge from Cech.

And after Hazard blasted narrowly wide, Cech came to Chelsea's rescue again in stoppage-time by keeping out Enrique's powerful near-post shot.

Carra Hails Battling Reds

Jamie Carragher felt Liverpool's determination earned them a deserved point after coming from behind to secure a 1-1 draw with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

The Blues took a first-half lead through John Terry's header, but the former England skipper was then stretchered off in obvious pain following an accidental collision with Luis Suarez.

Uruguay striker Suarez then equalized for the Reds in the 73rd minute, nodding home at the far post after Carragher had flicked on from a corner.

The veteran defender told Sky Sports: "I think in the first half Chelsea were on top but in the second we came out and great credit to the lads.

"We probably deserved a draw in the end, the way we battled in the second half."

It was Carragher's first start in the league this season and he said: "The Premier League is a step up (from the cups) with all its intensity and Chelsea is a difficult place to come.

"If I am picked I give everything; it is down to the manager, he is the boss."

When asked if not playing was frustrating, Carragher said: "Yes and no. I want to play but I understand. I am never going to cause a problem."

Reds team-mate Jose Enrique added: "Most important is the performance from the team. Suarez is an amazing player, a key player for us."

Jones: We're Ready For More

Brad Jones has praised Liverpool after they fought back from a goal down to draw 1-1 with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

Jones, deputizing for the injured Pepe Reina in his seventh consecutive match, twice denied Fernando Torres to help Brendan Rodgers' men escape with a point.

And the 30-year-old hopes Sunday's performance will give the side, who are unbeaten in six league games, the confidence to pick up more wins as the season progresses.

"We're continuing to pick up points and we're producing some good performances," Jones told the club's official website.

"And that's fantastic. As long as we keep getting better and keep improving then that's the way we want to head.

"I think it was a good draw for us because Stamford Bridge is a really tough place to come. Chelsea are a good team and we have to look at that and take some positives.

"Some games you'd rather we got three points but on days like Sunday, we've got to take the point and be happy.

"We missed a few chances towards the end, where we could have even nicked it, but as long as we continue to get the points and perform well then we're heading in the right direction.

"Chelsea is dangerous. Their front four includes three brilliant players operating behind a quality striker so they are always going to create.

"But I think our formation and the way we set up tactically was very good and we left them with very few opportunities, so that's another positive."

Di Matteo Refutes Discontent Theory

Roberto Di Matteo bristled at suggestions Chelsea were in the midst of another winter of discontent, despite seeing them throw away victory yet again.

The European champions made it three Barclays Premier League games without a win as Liverpool came from behind to snatch a 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge.

That saw Chelsea end the weekend three points adrift of Manchester United at the top of the table in third place, a fortnight after they were bidding to go seven clear at the top.

Blues boss Di Matteo did not take kindly to the 10-point swing being pointed out, saying: "United came here, we had two sent off and they scored an offside winner. That's a big advantage for the opposition.

"We're still playing well and creating chances. We need to be a bit more clinical, to take our chances and finish the game off."

The Italian maintained his side was too good to suffer another bout of the winter blues, which has cost them dearly in three of the last four seasons.

"We're in much better shape than in previous years, in a much better position, and very close to our best," he said.

"If we had won today, it would have been great for us.

"We're still in the mix. But the amount of games you play in this period has some kind of effect."

Chelsea wasted several chances to finish Liverpool off on Sunday and were almost made to pay the ultimate price when the visitors went close to completing their comeback.

"It was crucial to kill the game off," Di Matteo added.

"We had the chances to do that, but we missed opportunities, the goalkeeper made some great saves, and we didn't manage that second goal."

The loss of John Terry to a serious-looking injury did not help Chelsea, who conceded the equalizer from a corner.

Di Matteo suggested it should have been disallowed for a Suarez push on Ramires.

"It was a poor goal to concede," he said.

"We had our man marking the opposition and Ramires was with Suarez and he pushed him away to create that bit of space for himself to nod the ball in.

"Sometimes the refs notice, sometimes they don't. It's one of those."

Flexible Liverpool Make Their Point

Brendan Rodgers chose to play three at the back but it was only when he switched to 4-4-1-1 that his side came to life. Whereas previous Chelsea coaches have been tactically flexible, Roberto Di Matteo's strategy has remained constant in recent weeks.

It is the same for the majority of big matches: a 4-2-3-1 with Eden Hazard, Oscar and Juan Mata behind Fernando Torres. Therefore the key tactical decision rests with the opposition manager. Arsène Wenger had to choose between the pace of Gervinho or the height of Olivier Giroud, for example, and Sir Alex Ferguson picked a 4-4-1-1 rather than a diamond in midfield for last month's 3-2 win at Stamford Bridge recently.

Brendan Rodgers tried something entirely different: a back three, which he had used in the midweek defeat by Anzhi Makhachkala and more pertinently, considering the sizeable rotation for the trip to Russia, in the second half of the Merseyside derby a fortnight ago. Maybe the former Chelsea coach had also noted how his old side struggled against an opposition back three when Juventus snatched a 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge in September; Chelsea led through two Oscar goals from long range but their wide players were forced back by the Italian team's wing-backs and had little impact.

The same happened here. Rather than playing near Torres and pressing the Liverpool back three, Mata and Hazard dropped close to the midfield and allowed Daniel Agger and Andre Wisdom time on the ball. As a result Liverpool recorded the highest possession figure – 57% – for an away side at Stamford Bridge since February 2010, but the passing was slow, with little penetration. They stifled Chelsea's creativity but also harmed their own.

Rodgers is obsessed with possession but Liverpool had too much of it before the interval, allowing Chelsea time to get men behind the ball. The away side did not offer incision – even after Rodgers tilted his midfield trio midway through the first half, pushing Nuri Sahin higher up to join Steven Gerrard, rather than sitting alongside Joe Allen.

With three centre-backs able to defend the penalty box, Liverpool might have been better off playing on the counterattack – Ryan Bertrand and César Azpilicueta would have been free to attack but the prospect of Luis Suárez and Raheem Sterling roaming into the channels before sprinting in behind would have worried the centre-backs. Instead, with the Chelsea full-backs in place and the midfield providing protection, Liverpool completed twice as many passes as Chelsea in the first half but failed to test Petr Cech; the formation offered false dominance rather than outright superiority.

Rodgers made just one substitution. After an hour he introduced Suso in place of Sahin, told the Spaniard to play just behind Suárez and switched to a 4-4-1-1 formation. Glen Johnson moved to left-back, with José Enrique and Sterling on the flanks. Now Liverpool offered greater forward passing options, an extra threat in the penalty area and more width high up the pitch, stretching the Chelsea defence. As with Terry's opener, Liverpool's equalizer came from a set piece in a game featuring little creativity but it was a fair reflection of their increased ambition after the formation change.

Liverpool also had the finest chance at 1-1, when Cech became a sweeper to thwart Suárez outside the box. That type of move, with the Uruguayan breaking past the defensive line, was the type of situation Liverpool should have been striving for in the first half.

Liverpool Boss Calls For Further Investment In January

Brendan Rodgers has asked Liverpool’s owners to provide the funds the club needs to continue their rise up the Premier League.

Liverpool’s 1-1 draw with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge – courtesy of an equalizer from Luis Suarez – may have given the club a boost, but it still sees them languishing 13th in the Premier League, 15 points behind leaders Manchester United. The former Swansea City manager has called for the club to provide the funds needed to bolster his squad, but has admitted shopping in the January transfer window comes with its limitations.

Speaking after the draw at Stamford Bridge, Rodgers said: “This was our sixth draw of the season, and we need one or two more players in the January transfer window to turn those draws into victories," ESPN report.

"But those players don't come cheap, and there won't be too many available in January.

"The owners have given me great support since I've been here but, if you're not going to have a massive investment to make it happen quickly - we have to develop it."

The Liverpool manager has previously underlined his intention to bring in another forward during the winter window. With Andy Carroll on a season-long loan at West Ham United and Fabio Borini ruled out until the new year, Luis Suarez has been the club’s only source of firepower, and the Northern Irishman has reiterated his desire to bring in cover to ease the burden on the Uruguayan.

"Luis just needs that support of instinctive goalscorers,” Rodgers told the Liverpool Echo. “If we can hopefully get one or two in January who can help us at the top end of the field we'll turn draws into wins."

Gerrard Knee Injury To Be Assessed

Steven Gerrard will have to pass a fitness test if he is to secure his 100th England cap this week after picking up a minor knee injury during Liverpool's 1-1 draw with Chelsea.

The England captain is poised to reach the milestone in the Three Lions' friendly against Sweden on Wednesday, but he has a minor medial ligament problem.

Gerrard picked up the injury midway through the second half and, despite carrying on until full-time, there is some concern over the midfielder's fitness.

Reds boss Brendan Rodgers is hopeful Gerrard will be okay, but is unlikely to be willing to allow his skipper to play in Wednesday's friendly if he is not 100 per cent fit.

"I think Steven will be alright," Rodgers told Liverpool's official website. "He has just opened up his medial ligament a bit. He has got some ice on his knee and we'll find out the full extent later on."

England boss Roy Hodgson's plans for the friendly have been hit by a string of withdrawals, Gerrard's team-mate Jonjo Shelvey among them.

Diving Accusations 'Unjust', Says Suarez

Liverpool striker Luis Suarez has denied he is a diver. The Uruguay international has an unwelcome reputation for going down too easily and admits the label makes him angry.

"I insist I don't dive in the penalty area," he said. "This is my career and the bad reputation created around me is unjust. If you analyze the statistics, I am one of the forwards who receive the most fouls and free-kicks. There always seems to be controversy surrounding me but I accept the referee's decisions - they are only human.

"I accept the criticism against me but many people attack me without reason. That doesn't please me but I try to do my best day by day."

Speaking ahead of the meeting with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, Suarez talked of his desire to bring success back to Anfield and said he has no problem shouldering the weight of striking responsibility under Brendan Rodgers.

He added: "Many times I play alone in attack but that's not a pressure to me. My mission is to play and to score goals for Liverpool. Liverpool is one of the top clubs in England and we are obliged to fight for all the titles, including the Premier League.

"This has become complicated because of results so far so we need to give our maximum in every match. Rodgers is a new coach and is normal that things will get better match to match. I'm confident it will work.

"My dream for this season is to make the top four. Our squad should be fighting against the biggest rivals in this division."

Liverpool Starlet Demands £50k Contract

Raheem Sterling has demanded a new £50,000-per-week contract to stay at Liverpool, according to the Daily Mail.

The young winger has made an immediate impact after breaking into Liverpool’s first team this season, and scored the winner against Reading in the Premier League last month.

The 17-year-old was linked with a move away from Anfield over the summer with Tottenham said to be interested in securing his services, but his rise to prominence on Merseyside had lead most to expect him to stay put.

However according to the Daily Mail, Sterling's camp demanded a £48,000-per-week increase from his current deal when talks re-opened with Liverpool last week.

His current deal expires in 18 months and according to the Mail, the talented youngster will reject Liverpool’s offer of a new deal unless they meet his demands. The paper reports the Reds are preparing a deal in the region of £20,000-per-week, although that figure has not yet been pitched to Sterling’s representatives.

Such is the impact made by Sterling this season that he has already earned an international call-up for England for their friendly against Sweden this month, while has made 16 appearances overall for Liverpool this term.