x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Win over Liverpool is still a bridge too far for Chelsea

Depleted by injuries but gifted the lead, Chelsea cannot consign Liverpool to defeat, Duncan Castles writes from London.

Chelsea’s Gary Cahill, left, and Liverpool’s Luis Suarez clash during the match at Stamford Bridge last night.
Chelsea’s Gary Cahill, left, and Liverpool’s Luis Suarez clash during the match at Stamford Bridge last night.

For the irresistible Luis Suarez a sixth goal in six Premier League outings. For the irresponsible John Terry a return from suspension cut short by an injury which may deliver an absence more suited to that racist language crime.

And for Liverpool a continuation of their extraordinary League success over Chelsea.

After five successive wins, they left Stamford Bridge with a point that looked improbable after a tactically and technically sterile opening hour.

Chelsea, ahead from an open-invitation Terry header early in the first half, were again replete with creativity in their cleverly assembled second attacking line. And again handicapped by the faded force Roman Abramovich insists must start at centre forward.

If Chelsea recover the Premier League title with Fernando Torres as their starting striker it will be a truly extraordinary achievement.

Handicapped enough by successive seasons of executive mismanagement, Liverpool made life harder for themselves by selecting the wrong shape.

With Martin Skrtel failing to recover from a virus, Brendan Rodgers continued with a three-man defence, Daniel Agger and the teenage Andre Wisdom flanking the ageing Jamie Carragher.

"It's a system that suits the players," said Rodgers before kick-off. "I guess it's an opportunity maybe to get more numbers in more attacking areas."

Even a manager who has been accused of specialising in "Blarney psychobabble" hardly seemed convinced himself.

While Glen Johnson and Jose Enrique immediately pushed forward when in possession and Raheem Sterling was up alongside Luis Suarez, it was a laboured tactic.

More bodies in Chelsea's half, but taking too long to get there to cause real consternation.

There was, though, plenty of that in Liverpool's first-half defending. Early on Joe Allen was caught in possession by Oscar, who shot over once Carragher's attempts to recover the ball created a hole in the visiting back line.

Terry's goal - his 50th for Chelsea - was almost a freebie. Jockeying for position at a corner, Agger got caught behind Bransilav Ivanovic and Johnson, allowing the home captain a long, free run on to Juan Mata's delivery. The close-range header was not to be stopped.

Chelsea's advantage should have doubled when Mata sprinted through on Brad Jones after three Liverpool defenders challenged for a regulation throw-in down the line and only succeeded in taking in each other out of play.

The Spaniard, though, chose power over precision and spurned the chance.

"The ball just bounced a little before he hit it," said Roberto Di Matteo, the Chelsea manager.

By then Terry had departed the action, victim of an accidental clash with Suarez.

Shoved over by Ramires as he dribbled in on goal, the Uruguay international fell heavily on Terry's right leg, overextending the defender's knee ligaments as his opponent screamed with pain.

The irony of the injury is that it was unintentionally inflicted by a player still perplexed that his own FA suspension for abusive language had been twice the four-game ban given to the Englishman.

Chelsea's dominion continued until Rodgers scrapped his three-man defence, moving Enrique to the left wing, Johnson to left back, and bringing Suso in place of Nuri Sahin on to support Suarez.

Finally, Liverpool had a shape that exploited the host's weakness defending the flanks, and an equaliser soon arrived from it.

Carragher enjoyed the suggestion that his twisting flick-on of Suso's corner was a rehearsed move.

"You're joking aren't you? I can't do that on the training ground, I never play," he said.

Suarez cannily manoeuvred Ramires further out of position with a hand to his marker's back then headed in with pleasure. Only the excellence of Petr Cech prevented a pair of fine combinations with Enrique from delivering all three points.

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