London: Chelsea heaped more Christmas misery on Liverpool with a 2-1 victory at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. Chelsea fell behind to a goal from Martin Skrtel after four minutes, but rallied with first-half strikes from Eden Hazard and Samuel Eto’ to inflict a second defeat in four days on Liverpool, who lost to Manchester City on Thursday.
Liverpool, who topped the table on Christmas Day, dropped to fifth, a point behind local rivals Everton who moved fourth with 37 points.
Liverpool’s manager, Brendan Rodgers, had said: “We’ve built the house and now we have to decorate the inside”. But there is still plenty of work to be done on Liverpool’s foundations. They started strongly, scoring through Martin Skrtel, but their defence was caught out, and needs strengthening. Their squad simply isn’t deep enough, particularly with Steven Gerrard and Daniel Sturridge injured and Victor Moses unable to play against his parent club.
They also ran into Chelsea who played some of their best football of the season. Chelsea hit back powerfully with goals from Hazard and Eto’. This was another reminder of Jose Mourinho’s ability to get the best out of his Chelsea players, who are third going into the New Year.
This continues to be the season of twists and turns in the Premier League title race, with no team able to pull away from the pack. By half-time, Chelsea fans were admiring the finishing of Hazard and Eto’, who could have been dismissed early for raking Jordan Henderson.
These games are never friendly for all the pre-match bonhomie between Mourinho and Rodgers, one of his former coaches here. Reminder of the history between these sides was soon heard with Liverpool fans singing the name of Luis Garcia, scorer of what Mourinho called the “ghost goal” in the 2005 Champions League semi-final at Anfield.
It was seen in the way that Suarez smiled as he shook hands with Branislav Ivanovic, the Chelsea defender he had bitten during their last encounter. The pair soon ran into each other again. After that Eto’ foul on Henderson, Philippe Coutinho curled in the free-kick towards Suarez, whose header hit Ivanovic. Skrtel was quickest to the loose ball, turning it into the Chelsea net to launch a dramatic game after only four minutes.
The pace was unending, the game breathless, chances flowing and Chelsea responding strongly. Claiming control of midfield, Chelsea built towards their equaliser. Gary Cahill headed a Frank Lampard free-kick wide. Hazard appealed for a penalty when challenged by Lucas. Lampard unleashed one of his long-range specials, demanding a fine save from Simon Mignolet, who pushed the ball over with the tips of his left glove.
Liverpool’s wide players were covering back well, Coutinho on the left and Raheem Sterling on the right but then Chelsea drove through the middle, Hazard and David Luiz accelerating the surge. Oscar took the ball on, running at the heart of Liverpool’s defence, the ball rebounding off Mamadou Sakho to Hazard, who curled his shot first-time past Mignolet.
Chelsea were attacking with pace and precision and defending resolutely. Cahill put in a perfectly-timed clearance as Joe Allen threatened. Mourinho had to rejig his defence when Ivanovic replaced by Ashley Cole. Cesar Azpilicueta moved across to right-back.
The focus was on Liverpool’s lax marking as Chelsea poured forward again, claiming the lead after 34 minutes. Luiz found Azpilicueta on the right. His cross was taken by Oscar, who turned and drove the ball on. Eto’ slid in, beating the sluggish Skrtel, and diverting the ball goalwards. Mignolet should have saved but his wrists were not strong enough, and he failed to stop the ball’s journey into the net.