Liverpool needed a victory to keep their fading hopes of Champions League qualification alive, against the newly-crowned Premier League champions Chelsea on Sunday afternoon.
Chelsea hosted Liverpool in the second of a Super Sunday double bill earlier today, with the Merseyside outfit needing nothing but a victory to keep their slim hopes of qualifying for the Champions League alive.
The newly-crowned champions went into the game at Stamford Bridge with nothing to lose, so as expected, rested some of their key stars for the big clash. Kurt Zouma, Felipe Luis, John Obi Mikel and Loic Remy were all in amongst the starting line-up for the Blues, with Player of the Year Eden Hazard becoming the first Chelsea player to make 50 appearances this season. The big news ahead of kick-off surrounded talented 19-year-old creative midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who was set to make his first-team debut against the Reds for Jose Mourinho‘s men.
Liverpool surprisingly opted to start Rickie Lambert as opposed to Jordon Ibe in a more advanced attacking role in their trip to west London. Adam Lallana started on his 27th birthday, in a forward 4-3-3 role alongside Raheem Sterling and Lambert.
The match got off to a feisty start after just forty seconds on the clock, as Cesc Fábregas was given his 11th booking of the season for a crunching sliding tackle on Sterling’s ankle in midfield. The young attacking forward was treated for his injury by the Liverpool physio, but thankfully for the flow of the game, he was able to continue.
Willian delivered a teasing cross towards the box, and a team-mate was lurking to latch onto it, but for a last-ditch headed clearance over the bar by Slovakian centre-back Martin Skrtel to give the hosts an early corner-kick. Fábregas stepped up, curled his set-piece into the box, and a combination of lacklustre marking and sloppy defending all-round from the Reds gifted John Terry the time and space to head powerfully beyond goalkeeper Simon Mignolet – opening the scoring after just five minutes. That goal meant Terry was now the highest-scoring defender in Premier League history with 39 goals, and the Blues were ahead early on.
Philippe Coutinho came close to levelling the scoring a few minutes later, but his shot was deflected and hit the side netting as Brendan Rodgers‘ men attempted to get back into the match almost instantaneously after conceding. Mignolet had to be alert to rush off his line and intercept the threat posed by a through ball played into the path of Loic Remy by Fábregas, and the Belgian opened up his body before smothering the ball inside his area and denying the Frenchman from doubling the scoring.
Emre Can went on a lung-busting run from defence into attacking midfield, before looking up and spotting the run of Raheem to his left. He squared the ball to the youngster, who dribbled towards the edge of the area and unleashed a low effort goalwards, but his shot was somewhat wayward and it trickled well wide of Courtois’ far post.
Skrtel saved Mignolet’s blushes with a vital clearance after the ‘keeper’s loose touch almost set Remy through with a chance from close range – but for a robust hoof clear by the no-nonsense centre-back. Adam Lallana was booked two minutes later for a late sliding tackle on Branislav Ivanovic as tackles continued to fly in.
Chelsea continued to press for the second goal, and Skrtel was soon into the referee’s book. His booking gifted the Blues an opportunity in a dangerous position, after a cynical block to halt the run of Remy after he’d been skinned near the byline. Fábregas’ lofted ball floated above his team-mates, and the danger was cleared with a powerful punch away to safety by Mignolet who was visibly annoyed at his team’s lack of defensive shape.
Rickie Lambert was the next man into Andre Marriner‘s book, for a pointless sliding tackle on Thibaut Courtois as the ball was trickling out of play and the talented 22-year-old goalkeeper was shielding him from winning it. It was clear to see that frustrations were boiling over from the visitors’ point of view, but the Chelsea fans were enjoying every minute of it with ironic cheers and chants galore throughout.
Simon Mignolet was lucky not to make a fatal mistake in his box as a goalmouth scramble saw the ball float in the air inches away from his goal, he flapped at the ball and luckily enough for him, it swerved out for a corner-kick. The danger was averted after some intense Chelsea pressure, which saw the ball trickle past a few team-mates before being eventually cleared away.
Unfortunately for Kurt Zouma, the talented young centre-back suffered a knock which he could not carry on playing with, so as a precautionary measure, he was brought off the pitch in place of Gary Cahill with 35 minutes on the clock. A warm round of applause was greeted by the home supporters, who appreciate just how talented and promising the French defender is.
The Blues continued their attacking impetus with Hazard, Loftus-Cheek and Willian looking dangerous going forward from midfield positions, but it was Liverpool who had the final say on the half’s action with two minutes plus stoppages left to play. A needless challenge made by Ivanovic on Lallana near the byline was met with the game’s fifth booking – the resulting free-kick was swung into the area by Jordan Henderson and Liverpool’s departing captain headed home from close range, with Courtois helpless to stop the effort as it swished in the back of the net.
The fourth official signalled for three minutes of stoppage time to be added on at the end of the first-half, and as the whistle blew, the match was evenly poised at 1-1.
As the second-half began, neither side made any alterations. Liverpool started on the front foot, with Henderson combining excellently with Lallana just a minute into the second period, before the latter’s low strike towards goal fired wide of Courtois’ far post.
Sterling used his blistering pace to his advantage, advancing towards the Chelsea goal with Filipe Luis trying to dispossess the forward of the ball. He weaved one way and pushed his way past the Brazilian, before laying off a pass for Coutinho – whose fierce shot flew into the crowd behind the goal, with ironic jeers from the home fans, despite the Reds’ coming narrowly close to taking the lead for the first time in the match.
Willian came close to giving Chelsea the lead once more on two separate occasions in the space of a few minutes. First, he drove past the Liverpool backline with his electric pace, before firing an effort across the face of goal, with Mignolet getting a touch to the ball to see out the danger. Then, he came close again, but this time his shot flicked off the side netting at the near post.
A vital sliding block by substitute Gary Cahill denied Lallana’s shot from flashing on-target, as Liverpool continued to up their own attacking intensity. Another warm round of applause reverberated around the Bridge as Loftus-Cheek, arguably surprisingly, was brought off the pitch in place of Nemanja Matic. Many Chelsea supporters were hoping the 19-year-old would stay on, and John-Obi Mikel would be taken off instead, especially after just getting a booking, but it seemed the Blues were happy to settle for a point, frustrating the Reds as much as they could going forward.
Liverpool made a double change within minutes, as young attacking duo Jerome Sinclair and Jordon Ibe were brought into the action as Rickie Lambert and Adam Lallana were taken off. Chelsea were thwarted by a brave block from Skrtel, who put his body on the line in a sliding challenge to deflect a goal-scoring chance away to safety. He had to receive treatment from the physio after that, but was thankfully able to continue.
Ibe was threatening on the ball, and his darting run towards the box was cynically met by a tactical foul by Luis, who was the next player to be given a yellow card by the referee – but the Brazilian could have no real complaints. The Reds continued to press for the late winner, but Courtois was equal to all of their efforts, especially a deflected shot by Coutinho which flicked off Cahill, sending Courtois the wrong way, before he was quick to move back in the opposite direction and smother the effort.
As the referee blew his whistle to end the afternoon’s proceedings at the Bridge, both teams shared the spoils. Liverpool are six points behind Manchester United, who have virtually sealed their place in the 2015-16 UEFA Champions League qualification round, bar failing to win a single point in their final two games. Rodgers’ men can only mathematically qualify for the Champions League if they win both of their remaining matches, as well as over-ruling United on goal difference, which they just happen to be -14 away from. So, the odds are extremely stacked against them.