Carlo Ancelotti was challenged by journalists earlier this week after two equally dreary performances in consecutive games. The Italian rose to the occasion nullifying all threats Liverpool had to offer, resulting in a deserving victory for the Blues.
The hype Luis Felipe Scolari provoked after a succession of comfortable wins early into his reign remains fresh in the memories of the Londoners. This string of positive results concluded with high praise. ‘The master tactician’ some analysts suggested, however these comments were soon withdrawn when Liverpool defeated the Blues sending them into a series of poor performances domestically and on the European stage. Many were expecting history to repeat itself after such a lacklustre performance last Saturday. Truth be told neither side headed into the tie full of confidence, Liverpool were slated by Rafa Benitez (and the Press) after failing to flourish in Florence on Tuesday night and Chelsea unconvincingly stole three points in Cyprus. Conversely Carletto managed to lift his side with strong displays throughout the team on Sunday – tactically outplaying a manager in Benitez that Ancelotti described pre-match as one of the best in Europe. The favoured diamond formation was successful with Deco the pivot in behind the strikers – the Chelsea manager also claimed quick passing would fragment the Liverpool side. Although this wasn’t particularly on show the basics of the game were played to perfection – pass and move and tight marking created a well-matched affair at the Bridge.
The headlines however will largely spell out the name of Ivorian striker Didier Drogba. The powerful centre-forward tantalised the Merseyside defence with acts of theatrics and real intent. The Chelsea leading scorer turned provider on both occasions as Martin Skrtel and Jamie Carragher struggled to cope with his potent presence. Liverpool manager Benitez was infuriated by the antics of Drogba, as the enthusiastic striker met the turf all too often in the clash. The breakthrough did arrive as Drogba slipped free of the red blockade and provided an inviting cross for Nicolas Anelka who caressed a difficult finish with unassailable ease. The home side’s front-men were full of energy and incessantly made life difficult for the visiting defence. It was the influence of the in-form African that settled proceedings at the bridge as Drogba wrestled in behind and presented Florent Malouda with the opportunity to seal the tie to which he duly obliged. Replacement keeper Hilario had a largely uneventful game although when called upon provided assured saves to keep suspended Petr Cech resting uneasy. Yossi Benayoun squandered Liverpool’s best chance as the Israeli midfielder arrived unmarked in the box, only to place the ball wide. Steven Gerrard struck a decent effort to which a save of similar quality came to the rescue of the Chelsea faithful.
The predicted deeper role for Frank Lampard was again employed by Ancelotti, allowing the midfielder to pick passes and dominate the centre of the park. The long-serving Blue had a relatively quiet afternoon, largely due to the uncharacteristic lack of threat the Liverpool midfield provided. The game was evenly matched for large periods and like a majority of games between the top teams it was tilted in the favour of the first scorers. Glen Johnson presented little penetration and was effectively countered by a more defensively inclined, Ashley Cole. The critical difference was between the striking duo of Liverpool’s Fernando Torres and Drogba. The Ivorian proved a thorn in the largely (with the exception of Carragher) inexperienced red defence, where contrastingly Torres failed to impact. The Spaniard had few opportunities although one – many may have expected the former Atletico man to have capitalised upon. John Terry encapsulates the principles Chelsea is implementing into their infrastructure, his pure determination and grit throughout exterminated any possible threat Torres could provide. A masterclass from the European Defender of the Year, one of which the youthful Blues and enthusiasts of the game should be encouraged to learn from.
A welcome international break for the team will allow Ancelotti to regroup his players and prepare them for an Aston Villa tie to which many Chelsea fans are often pessimistic. The history between the two sides has often been evenly contested although the Blues succeeded on both occasions last season. Many Chelsea first team, reserve and youth players will be involved during the international break, with the board and managerial staff eagerly hoping for an injury free period.