Chelsea dents Liverpool hopes with Anfield win
LIVERPOOL, England (AP) — Jose Mourinho riled his former assistant Brendan Rodgers as Chelsea successfully stifled Liverpool and scored twice against the run of play to win 2-0 on Sunday and dent the Premier League leaders’ hopes of a first title in 24 years.
However unambitious Chelsea appeared at Anfield, goals at the end of each half from Demba Ba, who seized on Steven Gerrard’s slip-up, and Willian ended Liverpool’s 11-game winning streak in the league. Mourinho’s side is just two points behind Liverpool with two games remaining.
“They obviously sat very deep — I think there were two buses parked today, never mind one,” said Rodgers, who was a coach at Chelsea between 2004 and 2008.
“It was clear that they’d come certainly not wanting to win the game, with the time wasting.”
That claim was unsurprisingly challenged by Mourinho — “Time wasting? What’s that?” — with the Chelsea manager affronted by criticism of his tactics.
“When a team defends well you call it defensive display,” he told reporters. “When a team defends badly and concedes two or three goals you don’t mention a defensive display.”
But Mourinho continued his policy of dismissing Chelsea’s title prospects, stressing: “We have no chance.”
It’s not that unrealistic for Chelsea, but Manchester City has replaced Liverpool as the team which has the destination of the trophy in its own hands.
Third-placed City closed the gap on Liverpool to three points by winning 2-0 at Crystal Palace on Sunday, and it has a game in hand to play at Everton on Saturday. So by the time Liverpool plays at Palace next Monday it could have been knocked off the top on goal difference by City.
It’s a long time to dwell on a defeat that will suppress the fervor that had been growing at Liverpool that the team will win the English title for the first time since 1990, having started the season as 33-1 outsiders with bookmakers.
Hours before kickoff, thousands of Liverpool fans lined the streets, preparing for the team’s arrival at Anfield. It had the air of a victory parade, but whether the real thing takes place next month is now a lot more uncertain.
“The bigger picture is that we’re still two points ahead of a team (Chelsea) that has spent an absolute fortune,” Rodgers said. “If we win our two games we’ll finish above them and then we’ll see what happens with Manchester City. We achieved our objective of Champions League football.”
That competition is Mourinho’s priority this season, resting several key players Sunday for Wednesday’s semifinal against Atletico Madrid after the first-leg was a 0-0 draw.
Mourinho’s defensive tactics at Liverpool might have seemed to his critics to be anti-football, but they demonstrated his abilities to successfully set up a team to be well organized and frustrate opponents.
While Chelsea defender Ashley Cole’s curling effort forced the first save of the game from Simon Mignolet, there was little attacking ambition from the visitors. Liverpool controlled the game, but without the speed or fluency of recent weeks as the hosts couldn’t find a route to goal.
In the opening 15 minutes, Phillippe Coutinho volleyed into the sidenetting and Mamadou Sakho’s shot was cleared off the line by Cole before he mis-fired the follow-up from six yards.
The last time Liverpool played here Gerrard was caught on camera telling the players: “This does not slip now.”
But it was Gerrard, usually the reliable heartbeat of the team and inspirational one-club player, who slipped in possession near the halfway line in the third minute of stoppage time, giving away the ball to Ba. With Gerrard unable to chase him down, the Senegal striker charged through on goal and coolly placed the ball past Mignolet and into the net.
However much Liverpool tried to batter through toward the Chelsea goal in the second half, the defense held up well.
Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, a second-half substitute, are the leading scorers in the league with 50 goals between them, but they rarely came close to equalizing. Not even when facing 41-year-old goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer, deputizing for the injured Petr Cech, who repelled Joe Allen’s first-time volley with a low diving save just before the hour.
A rasping strike from Gerrard was also thwarted and a downward header by the captain lacked power to trouble Schwarzer.
As the end neared, Suarez could not connect with Coutinho’s cross, and the Uruguay striker saw a shot turned over in stoppage time before Chelsea stunned Anfield again.
Former Liverpool striker Fernando Torres launched the breakaway, drawing Mignolet off his goal-line and then passing to Willian to walk the ball into the net. Mourinho jogged down the touchline, pounding the Chelsea crest on his coat in celebration.