There was wild anticipation before the match got underway that one of the former Liverpool boys Raul Meireles or more notably, Fernando Torres, would score the winner. The hearts of many Liverpool fans were still aching after El Nino left the Kop in the manner he did. The line “I never kissed the Liverpool badge”, uttered with such a pseudo innocence, was still freshly seared into the minds of the Kop faithful. It would have been sacrilegious if Judas applied the finishing blow.
But it was not to be.
Instead, irony, oh beautiful irony, saved the day for Kenny Dalglish.
Torres’ introduction in the 84th minute did little to provide Chelsea the sort of penetration needed against a Liverpool defence made increasingly resilient as the clock ticked down. When Daniel Sturridge shot wide with a selfish effort in the 87th minute, the game looked like it was heading toward a certain stalemate.
Charlie Adam then did what he was bought to do – his crosses and corners were once valued by Alex Ferguson to be worth £10 million – and his long ball picked out a member of Chelsea’s alumni, former right back Glen Johnson, who strode ever so confidently into the penalty area, nutmegging Ashley Cole and slipping past Florent Malouda before tucking the ball into the left corner. John Terry, who had flung his feet out on the goal-line in a desperate attempt to stop the shot, fell on his bum, a scene all too familiar this season. Back in October, he had fallen flat on his face when he slipped during the match against Arsenal, allowing Robin van Persie to score and make it 4-3.
Terry’s having a terrible season, arguably worse than the one when he was founded to have shagged Wayne Bridge’s woman. But let’s not get into a moralist debate.
The win may not come as much of a surprise to many Liverpool fans who have learnt to accept that their team only gets fired up during the big matches. But more importantly, the way Liverpool played and the tactics employed meant that Dalglish had not quite lost touch of the modern game as many of his critics would have it.
Maxi Rodriguez was a surprise starter in the match, preferred on the wings instead of the lacklustre Stewart Downing, and he made an immediate impact after only 33 minutes. The decision to drop Carroll and start with Bellamy was a long overdue masterstroke by Dalglish. Whatever Bellamy lacked in height, he made up for in tenacity and pace, and it duly troubled Chelsea’s defence at times. Without Carroll, Liverpool kept the ball on the ground and played an intricate passing game, one they should have done a long time ago.
Liverpool will be buoyed and Dalglish will be hoping this morale boosting win can give his side a fighting chance at Anfield next Sunday when they face the Manchester City juggernaut. The Reds always pull off something special against the big boys, but somehow I feel getting a result out of their encounter with City is task too great for a Liverpool side only beginning to jell.
The result on Sunday will undoubtedly have a greater bearing on the fate of Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas than Dalglish. Liverpool are a work in progress, and whilst great expectations are inevitable following their massive transfer spree, American owner John Henry is a cool headed business man who knows that overnight success is something even Hollywood films these days hardly portray.
It is however, a different story for Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich. Expectations rise exponentially as the millions are shelled out and Villas-Boas, bought for £15 million from Porto, is expected to live up to the hype that surrounded him. £15 million for a player is beginning to look like a common transaction these days, but the same amount invested in a manager takes on a whole new meaning.
With Guus Hiddink lurking in the shadows after leaving his Turkey job, Villas-Boas’ position is certainly under fire. Proclaiming that he knows his job is safe may just be a front to prevent backroom chaos, and he surely knows that the Dutchman’s presence at the club as an advisor is nothing but detrimental to job security.
Chelsea are not quite in the doldrums. Far from it. To write them off based on their 12-point gap with City is naïve because with 26 matches left to play, anything can happen. Firing Villas-Boas now may trigger an unwanted landslide in the entire camp.
What Villas-Boas needs to do is initiate a major reshuffle of the team. The defence has gotten their “wake-up call” by Arsenal but unlike Man United, Chelsea did not learn from their failures. As solid a centre-back as Terry is, age shows no mercy when it comes to claiming its victims. Then there’s the livewire Brazilian defender (or is he a forward?) David Luiz. He certainly has a knack for going forward and scoring spectacular goals but if he’s going to be used as a defender, then really, he should be defending. Just look at Petr Cech. The fact that he looks like The Man In The Iron Mask just shows how much protection he’s getting from his defenders.
Chelsea acquired Meireles and Juan Mata to shore up the midfield, which evidently worked against the smaller teams. But they have lost to the usual heavyweights in the league – United, Arsenal and Liverpool, and that’s not the way to go if they are to challenge for the title. Nine precious points have been dropped to fellow title chasers and until the young manager can infuse into the team the sort of energy he himself displays on the sidelines, Chelsea will be, by Abramovich’s standards, languishing in the top four once more.
Let’s give the man some credit. Villas-Boas has not done a bad job tweaking the team. But compared to the sort of standards Abramovich expects, the Portuguese is playing Russian Roulette with the owner.
And he won’t win.