|Photo by Flickr-Rickr|
This is farlieonfootie for November 25.Tuning into the Liverpool vs. Chelsea clash at Stamford Bridge, Maxi Rodriguez in the starting eleven is a welcome sight given how he finished last season on a goal-scoring tear that earned him the "Maxi Man" moniker in these pages. The Reds have been unable to consistently score, even against the likes of Norwich City and Swansea, so hopefully the Argentinean can inject some finishing into a team that even Andres Villas-Boas has said should be challenging for the title (even if he was reportedly referring more to their winter and summer spending spree more than their play). Craig Bellamy is also in the lineup for Liverpool, giving the team a decidedly Dalglish feel.
Early on, Liverpool is having trouble going forward and only the incessant Luis Suarez is providing any creativity. With the referee letting the teams play through the ticky-tack fouls, only Chelsea is looking dangerous in the first 10 minutes. But now Liverpool has started to press with the result that a greedy (or blind) Glen Johnson has squandered an opportunity to lay it back for one of 2 players panting on the 6 yard box, perhaps wanting to defeat his former team all by himself.
Early on it seems that there is no love lost between these two teams chasing the top of the league, as Dirk Kuyt and David Luiz tangle in just one example of the hard challenges followed by strong words and the occasional push.
A moan of despair escapes when Didier Drogba’s freekick has Pepe Reina frozen and appears to billow the back of the net. But crimson heartbeats return to normal pacing when even the commentators finally realize that the shot was just wide.
24 minutes in and now Liverpool is doing well with a 63% possession statistic and seems to be dictating the game to the home side. But Liverpool may rue their missed opportunities (as they have in recent weeks) as Suarez out dribbles himself in the box. The Reds are really pressing at the 33 minute mark but can’t seem to get a clean shot. But just like that (cue the finger snap), Maxi Man flips his cape aside and finishes an epitome of unselfishness played his way by the tireless Bellamy, who had combined sublimely with a certain Uruguayan. Look! Out on the field, scoring a goal….it’s a starter, it’s a new signing…. no, it’s Maxi Man!
After the score, Liverpool are dominating now and hungry for the goal that will really put them in the driver’s seat. But Lucas Leiva better watch his mouth now that he is on a yellow. It is truly a rough and tumble game as the referee has been consistent in letting lesser fouls go. Suarez is trying to do his part by being nice after each foul he commits with a “So sorry!” face and the occasional hand-on-the-head-and-neck apology that always seems a bit awkward to me, and apparently some of the Chelsea players agree as his tactile expressions of remorse are repeatedly rebuffed.
1-0 up at halftime should have me feeling good, but all I can think about is when the other boot is going to drop. We deserve to be winning, perhaps by even more, but this is Stamford Bridge.
In the 47th, Charlie Adam skies a freekick into the upper deck, adding to his growing list of wasted restarts, along with a series of lackluster corners that fail to clear the first defender. This profligacy portends a scary moment in the 49th between Reina and Martin Skrtel, where the latter hastily clears for a corner rather than allow a poaching Juan Mata to pounce.
Yet the Blues are surging now and when a thrusting Florent Malouda is allowed to literally waltz (I believe it was a Strauss piece playing over the PA system) fully into the penalty area without opposition, bad things are bound to ensue – as they do when the newly-on-the-pitch Daniel Sturridge taps in the aforementioned, thrusting frenchman’s cross/shot.
Liverpool are weathering a blue storm now as mere minutes later only a brilliant save by Reina keeps the score level. Giving the ball up easily, not retaining possession, passing nervously and inaccurately, the visitors are unraveling now and my TV is in danger of being damaged. So out of kilter is Liverpool that it is only a header (a HEADER!) by Reina in the 62nd minute that prevents the home side from gaining the advantage.
A stupid foul by Dirk Kuyt (earning him a yellow card) and a Jordon Henderson entrance (at the expense of Bellamy) lead up to a somewhat stemming of the tide around the 70thminute but there are still too many misplays. Around the 75th minute, Skrtel saves Johnson after the latter is soundly beaten by the crafty Mata who seemed destined to score. Then it is Stuart Downing on for Maxi Man before we get to 10 minutes to go and the good guys, sans superhero, are finally getting it together again.
Former Liverpudlians Fernando Torres and Raul Miereles enter the fray shortly before Kuyt blows the end of a nice combination play. With Liverpool still surging, Johnson artfully controls a long Adam pass before dribbling (waltzing?) straight into the box, with the majority of the Chelsea players seemingly unable to believe he would deign to shoot, and leaves the hapless Blues captain, John Terry, sprawled on the pitch as he gloriously places his shot into the side netting with heavenly trumpets blowing and cherubic angles smiling down approvingly.
If only the game had ended then. Instead, we suffer through a few minutes more, during which a positively livid Suarez is replaced by the pony-tailed Andy Carroll who, for the balance of the game, awkwardly reinforces Dalglish’s decision not to start him.
In the end, it was a great win away against a quality side. Let’s hope we’ve put the draws against newly-promoted teams behind us and are entering a true renaissance of Liverpool football.