Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Liverpool-Chelsea Thoughts

That was about the match that we expected...until 90 minutes. A minimal number of chances, a scrappy goal from Liverpool in front of the Kop that had a whiff of offsides and the overpowering stench of good fortune, and then a 1-0 scoreline for the 'Pool to take to Stamford Bridge, where they've never scored under Rafa Benitez. The script completely changed in injury time when a seemingly harmless cross to the middle was turned by John Arne Riise into his own net. Liverpool live on very small margins because of their style, so they put themselves into the situation where one bad move can cost them dearly. I'm tickled by the idea of the Reds having to go on the road in Europe and, gasp, attack. I was also tickled that Chelsea got their goal as the 'Pool fans were singing "You'll Never Walk Alone." The Chelsea support, incidentally, looked almost embarrassed to cheer for the goal. Either that or they were terrified of being on the receiving end of flying poo.

To properly convey the quality (or lack thereof) of the match, here are some choice cuts from the Guardian's minute-by-minute report:

4 min - A Liverpool throw-in, deep in their own half. The ball is flung up the touchline, Terry hoofs it up in the air and a game of head-tennis ensues. "It's going to be very, very tight and congested in that midfield," says Jim Beglin in the ITV commentary box, prompting Clive Tyldesley to go off on one about how effective games like this are for curing insomnia. When an enthusiast like Tyldesley can't even be bothered to try selling a match, you know you're in trouble.

37 min - This is predictably grim fare.

GOAL! Liverpool 1-0 Chelsea (Kuyt 40) A shocking, comical attempt at a clearance from Claude Makelele allows Kuyt to squeeze in behind him, latch on to a Mascherano miskick and smash the ball through Petr Cech's legs at the near post from about three yards out.

It was the scrappiest, messiest goal you'll ever see...

54 min: "Barry, to update your statistics, Liverpool and Chelsea have now played 615 minutes of Footie and scored an incredible four goals, dropping the minutes-per-goal stat to a jaw-dropping 153.75 from 190," writes Satyajit Mujumdar. "This is exciting stuff."

64 min: Ballack, Drogba and Lampard are all looking a little ring-rusty tonight, which is hardly surprising considering they've missed a lot of training for various reasons in recent weeks. Frank Lampard incurs the derision of the Kop when, running on to a Drogba pull-back from the edge of the six-yard box, his leaden-footed touch thumps the ball into an advertising hoarding.

86 min: A corner kick for Liverpool after Fernando Torres beat the Chelsea offside trap to latch on to a Steven Gerrard pass from the centre-circle. With 40 yards to the goal and only Petr Cech to beat, Torres miscontrols the ball and leaves it behind him.

Assorted observations on the match that will hopefully omit the adjectives "grim" or "dour":

1. Claude Makelele showed his age in the game. He was beaten by Kujt for the Liverpool goal and he was beaten by Gerrard for Liverpool's best chance in the second half. Chelsea is obviously better with Essien as the midfield anchor, so give another advantage to the Blues in the second leg if he is healthy (or even if they play John Obi Mikel in that role).

2. Avram Grant has been underwhelming as the Chelsea boss and he certainly can't claim to have made any tactical changes to get a draw tonight, but he has done a better job than the Special One of creating conditions for Frank Lampard and Michael Ballack to play together. Ballack and Lampard linked up very nicely to set up Florent Malouda for Chelsea's best chance in the second half and they've been connecting on free kicks with frequency in the Champions League.

3. Petr Cech is a terrific keeper. No ifs, ands or buts about it. His save on Gerrard was outstanding and he made two big saves on Fernando Torres on either side of halftime. His performance in the match reminded me that Cech made the best save I've ever seen:

I wasn't alive to see Lev Yashin play or Gordon Banks' save from Pele in '70, so take my endorsement with a grain of salt.

4. Kudos to ESPN for showing the pre-game atmosphere, namely the fans singing before the match and the players assembling in the tunnel, looking very serious. Let's see if ESPN does the same at venues other than Anfield.

5. Steven Gerrard was fairly quiet, but his pass to free Torres for his first half chance and his shot from the right in the second half were really, really good. Don't let my constant griping about Liverpool obscure the fact that there is some genuine skill in the side. Maybe I'm being overly harsh on Makelele if I'm describing Gerrard as "fairly quiet" in the match?

6. Were ESPN's broadcast team correct when they said that Fabio Aurelio is the first Brazilian to ever play for Liverpool? Really? It must be nice to be me and be proven right on a daily basis. How am I supposed to take a major club seriously when it has so little interest in playing properly that they have never deployed a player from Brazil? Who needs players who can pass and move properly?


LD said...

Essien was suspended for yellow cards, not unfit. He'll be back for the return (and he's been their best player the last month).

moin said...

There just isn't any established links from Brazil to England to speak of. The first Brazilian to play for United was Kleberson in 2002. And only two have ever suited up for Manchester United. So... it's not a big surprise if what the commentators said about Fabio Aurelio is true.