There’s everything to play for when these two sides meet next week at Stamford Bridge after Raheem Sterling’s second half strike saw Liverpool came from behind to pull level with Chelsea at Anfield.
The hosts enjoyed the early run of the game with Thibaut Courtois tipping over a pile-driver of a shot from Steven Gerrard, but it would be the Blues who’d get on the board first when Emre Can showed his inexperience at the back when he upended Eden Hazard in the area. The Belgian’s penalty sent the visitors into the break ahead, but the Reds never looked like giving up and were given their just rewards when Sterling’s direct run ended with the youngster firing hard and low across the face of goal to settle the scores.
Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers hasn’t always got his tactics right during what’s been a rocky season, but there was no question that the Northern Irishman had Chelsea’s number tonight — it’s too bad he couldn’t account for a gigantic Belgian getting in the way of what would have been his first victory over the Blues since taking up his role in the Anfield hot-seat.
The visitors invited pressure onto themselves and the Reds were more than happy to comply, though patient in their build-up, they pressed relentlessly when dispossessed, harrying their opponents into a number of poor touches and bad passes. Liverpool looked the more likely to get the go-ahead when Can showed his relative lack of experience playing at the back when he bundled over Hazard with a bad tackle. Hard to blame him considering he’s 21, not a defender by trade and still finding his place in a new side, but the Belgian wasn’t about to miss and gave the visitors and undeserved lead.
That was the only bit of joy that Jose Mourinho’s men were going to get though as both Anfield, and their team, upped the tempo.
Though they were well marshaled during the first half, the hosts found their tempo during the second on the back of a stable back-line. Can’s marauding runs forward gave Lazar Markovic license to roam, Lucas kept the middle of the part just as tidy as can be and the duo of Martin Skrtel and Mamadou Sakho made sure that Diego Costa was quiet enough for the boys to do their thing — and do it they did.
Jordan Henderson’s simple pass through the middle saw Sterling pick it up and go with the Blues retreating in his wake. The youngster, revitalized by his brief break from the dreary English winter, sprinted past two Chelsea defenders before holding off another to send an inch perfect shot across the face of goal and restore parity. Anfield was in raptures and Chelsea were in dissarary as Liverpool, sensing blood, pushed even harder.
Unfortunately, Courtois, and a touch of luck, made sure it all hung in the balance for next week’s meeting in the Capital though with the Belgian net-minder putting in a phenomenal performance throughout — Gerrard’s composed finish hit the post with everyone fooled, a double save to deny both Henderson and Sterling drew applause from all corners of the stadium and when the 22-year old got a hand to Adam Lallana’s volley after he replaced the skipper, well, I don’t think even he believed he saved that one.
While it’s disappointing not to win when you’ve played that well, coming from behind isn’t something that we do well — and coming behind against arguably the best team in England right now isn’t something that’s easily done. Gauntlets were thrown down, proceedings were bossed and cages have been rattled; this is a team surging on confidence and if you don’t think we can take the Bridge, you need to get on board or get the hell out.
Just a friendly suggestion…