x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Blues are undone by Alonso

Xabi Alonso's deflected first-half goal ends Chelsea's 86-game unbeaten home league record and puts Liverpool three points clear at the top.

Liverpool's Daniel Agger, right, battles for the ball with Chelsea's Nicolas Anelka.
Liverpool's Daniel Agger, right, battles for the ball with Chelsea's Nicolas Anelka.

LONDON // Liverpool outlined their title credentials in emphatic fashion yesterday as they ended Chelsea's four-year, 86-match unbeaten league record at Stamford Bridge thanks to Xabi Alonso. The last time Chelsea lost at home in the league Jose Mourinho was still manager of Porto, nobody had heard of Barrack Obama and even economists probably thought the credit crunch was a breakfast cereal. But Alonso's strike in the 10th minute not only ended that proud record but announced to the world that Liverpool, who have never won the Premier League in its current form, are finally serious contenders to do so. Rafa Benitez's side are top of the league after this result and the belief that they can end a long wait of 19 years for a title is growing by the minute. In a wonderful, high-paced game full of thunderous tackles and played in a high octane atmosphere it was Liverpool who took the plaudits against their closest title rivals. Rafa Benitez set his side up in a 4-2-3-1 formation and it proved remarkably effective as the visitors harried their opponents into mistakes and strangled Chelsea attacks high up the field. No doubt the Liverpool manager had learnt a lot from the way Roma held Chelsea here for so long in a Champions League game in midweek, and the homework reaped dividends. There was an early scare for the Reds when Alonso slipped over in midfield, allowing Nicolas Anelka a clear run a goal. But the Frenchman was denied by the kind of frantic and committed defending, courtesy of Jamie Carragher and Javier Mascherano, that typified Liverpool's approach. It was important, too, because within minutes Alonso got a huge slice of luck at the other end of the field to put Liverpool ahead. A long throw from Alvaro Arbeloa was flicked on by Dirk Kuyt and when John Terry's clearance fell to the Spaniard he struck a left-foot shot that cannoned into the net after taking a deflection off defender Jose Bosingwa. It was the first goal Chelsea had conceded in seven matches in all competitions and the first Liverpool had managed at Stamford Bridge in more than four years. Despite long periods of Chelsea possession they struggled to create chances and Albert Riera could have doubled Liverpool's lead when he beat Bosingwa on the left but shot into the side. Gerrard, too, came mighty close when he unleashed a 30-yard piledriver, with his left foot, but saw Petr Cech tip it spectacularly over the bar after 24 minutes. The second half continued in similar fashion, Chelsea struggling to find and opening and Liverpool working hard. Alonso was unlucky not to make it 2-0 for the visitors when his 20-yard free-kick beat Cech all ends up by bounced back to safety off the goalkeeper's left-hand post. As for Chelsea, there was plenty of huff and puff but no real penalty box action from the home side as the Stamford Bridge crowd grew increasingly quiet. They never seriously threatened and questions are bound to be asked about their title chances.

sports@thenational.ae