x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Chelsea survive Reds test

Seven years ago, Nicolas Anelka was the man Liverpool did not want. The Reds rejected the option to sign him permanently after a loan spell from Paris St Germain.

Seven years ago, Nicolas Anelka was the man Liverpool did not want. The Reds rejected the option to sign him permanently after a loan spell from Paris St Germain. They were again made to rue that decision as his decisive 60th-minute goal helped send Chelsea top of the table. Florent Malouda added a late second to give Carlo Ancelotti advantage over his Liverpool counterpart Rafa Benitez after trading Champions League final victories while at AC Milan.

When Xabi Alonso scored the winner in this corresponding fixture a year ago, it subsequently sparked contrasting fortunes for both clubs. Liverpool proved they could finally compete in the league with the dominant duo of Chelsea and Manchester United. For Chelsea, the end of their 86-match unbeaten run at Stamford Bridge prompted the opposite reaction. Fear suddenly set in as their invincibility at home was shattered and, as results continued to disappoint, the manager Luiz Felipe Scolari lasted just four more months in charge.

His final game was a goalless draw at home to Hull in February and, in a strange twist of fate, that was the last league start for the goalkeeper Hilario. He returned yesterday in place of Petr Cech, who was suspended after his dismissal in the defeat at Wigan. Albert Riera had the first real chance, lashing wide in the 19th minute, before Steven Gerrard drove a free kick over from 25 yards out. Both chances followed dangerous runs by Fernando Torres, but he was fortunate to escape a card, yellow or red, in the 13th minute.

After John Terry had cleared, the Spaniard arrived late with a challenge that scraped down the Chelsea captain's ankle. The home side also found it tough to break down Liverpool.Headers proved their biggest threat with Nicolas Anelka forcing Pepe Reina into a comfortable save and Michael Ballack should have done better when he steered a Deco free kick over from eight yards. Torres might feel the same after meeting a Dirk Kuyt cross from the right, but his header lacked the power to trouble Hilario.

Chelsea were grateful their goalkeeper was alert just before the break when he stretched to push away a 35-yard Riera free kick. Gerrard took up a more advanced role after the break and demonstrated the threat he posed. Unmarked to meet a Kuyt cross, he directed a header weakly wide before thumping a 20-yard effort just over the bar. Branislav Ivanovic then forced Reina into a low save with a similar long-range effort as there was a marked shift in the attacking intentions of both sides.

The goal was timely and an example of the swift counter-attacking style for which Chelsea are renowned. Javier Mascherano was robbed in the centre, Deco broke, released Didier Drogba down the left and his cross was an invitation Anelka was not going to waste. Liverpool pressed and it was Torres who spurned two good chances to level, heading and then driving wide. Even the best are fallible and Malouda settled the outcome when he slid in Drogba's pass.

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