Barclays Premier League – Sunday October 26- Result
Chelsea 0 Liverpool 1
The only goal of the game at Stamford Bridge saw a midfielder getting the winner courtesy of a deflection. For once it wasn’t Frank Lampard getting the luck of the ricochet, and for once it wasn’t Chelsea winning the game.
Xabi Alonso got the winner, Liverpool got top spot in the league, and Chelsea lost their unbeaten run – a run that stretched back four-and-a-half years, to the days of Gerard Houllier and Bruno Cheyrou – the last Liverpool player to score here in the league.
It’s far too early to celebrate anything of course, but Liverpool do seem to have found some extra strength from somewhere this season. Hull are joint second with Chelsea now, and without wishing to downplay their achievements in getting there, it does perhaps tell us just how early in the season we still are. Chelsea won’t lose many more this season, and their goal difference is almost double Liverpool’s. Manchester United and Arsenal, in 5th and 6th places behind Aston Villa, are still breathing down the necks of those above them; a game in hand for both makes the gap seem wider than it perhaps really is.
Success is now all in Liverpool’s own hands – but they’ve got another 29 games to hold onto it. Football really gets going now the clocks have moved forward.
Xabi Alonso wouldn’t be a Liverpool player now had Rafa’s summer deals gone through to plan, but to the delight of the fans Xabi stayed. And in return for that support Xabi has improved massively on last season, when injuries and the general gloom at the club played their part in him looking a shadow of the player who won a Champions League winners’ medal in his debut Anfield season.
In that debut season he tried to play on after he had his ankle broken by Frank Lampard at Anfield, stamping away on the injured leg as if it was only cramp. That determined and skilful fighter is back. Memories of Xabi in Chelsea games also include the way he was booked in the first leg of the Champions League semi at Stamford Bridge, mocked by the player he’d “fouled”, Eidur Gudjohnsen. He knew Xabi would miss the second leg as a result, but images of Xabi in his civvies, running to the middle of the pitch to join his team mates at the end of that second leg, stick in the mind as strongly as those of him being nearly decapitated in the final in Istanbul after scoring his goal.
As well as his goal, which can be described as lucky, he hit the post with an almost-perfect free-kick that caught Petr Cech out completely. One reason given for Liverpool’s interest in Gareth Barry was his ability from set-pieces. Xabi showed his own abilities in that department shouldn’t be overlooked.
Many say it but few practice it: “There’s no room for sentiment in football.” Rafa Benítez practices it, and so Alonso’s place in the starting line-up still isn’t assured. Few players at Anfield can say that anyway. Today he partnered Javier Mascherano in the centre of midfield, the Argentine star playing his usual influential game. One reason for Rafa choosing that pairing was because of the absence of Fernando Torres, this pairing allowed Steven Gerrard to play further forward. Rafa played Keane as the most advanced player, with Gerrard one of the three in the 4-2-3-1 formation that served well last season.
The fact Liverpool won without Torres, like they did against Manchester United last month, adds more encouragement to fans who are trying hard not to get carried away with the way the season has started.
To win anything in football requires an element of luck, like today’s only goal. It’s important to ensure good luck pays, and also that bad luck can be overcome. Today Liverpool’s luck came through Chelsea’s Boswinga, the ball deflecting off him into the net after 10 minutes. But it wasn’t luck that got Liverpool through the next 80 minutes.
Ashley Cole missed one of Chelsea’s few chances, he also got booked. Liverpool kept them at bay whilst often looking capable of increasing their lead with a counter attack. It was in those moves that the absence of Torres was most noticeable. The lack of a second goal meant a nervy time for fans, but the players seemed to be in control – Carragher having a very good game even by his standards, and Agger’s rustiness now gone.
Steven Gerrard forced Cech into a save midway through the second half with a great shot from outside the box that looked set to sneak under the bar. But the captain almost let Chelsea back into the game when some over-elaboration saw him lose possession and appeal for a free kick, the referee waving play on and Deco almost scoring.
Gerrard was booked later for a perfect if strong tackle, referee Howard Webb seeming to decide any sight of studs warrants a yellow card. Javier Mascherano was booked for dissent; when he smiled afterwards and asked for an explanation memories of Steve Bennett at Old Trafford popped up. But although this referee might be as thin on top as Bennett, he’s not the type looking to get his own name into match reports. Mascherano had been trying to find out why Ashley Cole hadn’t got his second yellow for a tackle on Ryan Babel.
One-time Liverpool target Florent Malouda was brought down in the box by Pepe Reina in the second half – but only after the linesman had signalled for offside. It was one of the few occasions Chelsea really threatened the scoreline.
After the match Rafa Benítez praised his players and also the supporters, but pointed out that it was far too early to be thinking of the title.
Felipe Scolari implied his own side had resorted to the long-ball game to try and force an equaliser.
Liverpool boss Rafa Benítez: “We knew about the record. We knew they were unbeaten – we were unbeaten too.
“It was in important game; we needed to come here with belief. The players showed character, they showed quality, the work rate was amazing. The fans behind the players, they were pushing, pushing. I think everything was almost perfect.
“I think we were defending well as a team, they had some balls where the final pass could be better, it would be a threat, but we also had three or four counter-attacks, so we could have scored a second goal and finished the game.
“When you’re playing against a very good team, that one goal is not enough sometimes. Any mistake could be a massive difference for us and for them. You know you have to take your chances if you have a few, it could be a big difference.
“At least we have more confidence, the belief in the squad is fantastic, but we know we’ve a long way to go, we know it’s too early and we know we’ve got Portsmouth in a few days and we need to get three points and keep going forward. Okay, the job is done (winning today), it’s a fantastic achievement today, but we must keep going.
“We have enough confidence in the squad, enough quality, the team knows what to do, I think we were managing the game – difficult, but we were managing the game properly – and that is the key if you want to win games.
“Yes clearly it was a little bit lucky (Alonso’s goal), but again I would say we had other chances, so we could do something more in another sequence.
“To win here and stay top of the table unbeaten is a massive message for the other teams. With the players showing the character they did, it was a big boost for the rest of the season. We can go to any stadium and win games. Against a very good team, a very offensive team, we showed we were thinking about winning.
“My players were really good and all credit to them. When you have players with quality and they work so hard, you have a winning team.”
Chelsea’s boss, Luiz Felipe Scolari: “In the first half we dominated the game and in the second we had more possession of the ball and passed it well until we got near their penalty area. After this we crossed many balls but they had a good defensive line and dealt with everyone.
“We didn’t play as we have done in other games because we didn’t have the space. We only had space to cross. This is not the football we play normally. We need to try and play on the ground, not high balls, because I don’t have big strikers. I don’t need them to put the ball in the box all the time. But they lost the confidence to touch the ball and were afraid of not changing the result.
“I said to them ‘Look, try to keep on playing but they didn’t listen’.”
Result: Chelsea 0 Liverpool 1 (Alonso 10)
Chelsea: Cech, Bosingwa (Sinclair, 84), Carvalho, Terry, A Cole, Mikel, Kalou (Di Santo, 58), Deco, Lampard, Malouda (Belletti, 58), Anelka
Subs: Cudicini, Ivanovic, Sinclair, Ferreira, Alex, Belletti
Bookings: Malouda 54, A Cole 56, Deco 79
Liverpool: Reina, Arbeloa , Carragher, Agger, Aurelio, Alonso, Mascherano, Kuyt (Lucas, 88), Gerrard, Riera (Hyypia, 90), Keane (Babel, 60)
Subs: 1 Cavalieri, 2 Dossena, 4 Hyypia, 15 Benayoun, 16 Pennant, 19 Babel, 21 Lucas
Bookings: Arbeloa 22, Gerrard 39, Mascherano 66
Referee: Howard Webb
Stats: (CHELSEA – LIVERPOOL)
Possession: 70% – 30%
Shots on target: 5 – 3
Shots off target: 9 – 7
Corners: 4 – 3
Fouls: 17 – 13