|Sturridge 55||Maxi 33|
Seemingly you only need to play for 45 minutes to win at the Bridge nowadays. How times have changed!
First and foremost this was a fantastic result and one which should fill the Reds with confidence going into the Man City game next week. The fact is if we had shown the courage and conviction of our first half performance this game would've been won at a canter.
The Reds began well, with an attacking foursome of Suarez, Maxi, Bellamy and Kuyt constantly harassing the man on the ball and pressing high up the pitch. Chelsea have been a disaster defensively this season and it was encouraging to see us getting in amongst them straight away.
Several opportunities arose in the opening twenty minutes that could have seen us clean through on goal. Villas-Boas' decision to persist with a ridiculously high defensive line was again apparent and the way things are going this will lead to him getting the sack. We had numerous perfectly timed runs which only needed a lofted ball into space to see us in on goal, but each time the ball hit the last man. This was massively frustrating considering how much space was afforded to us.
Time and time again the Reds found themselves in acres of space with either a last-ditch challenge or poor decision making (particularly from Suarez) saving the day for the home side. At the other end Chelsea offered practically nothing aside from a Drogba free-kick and a sliced cutback from Juan Mata. Watching the first half unfold it was clear that we needed to go in to the half-time break ahead, and in the 33rd minute we were presented with an absolute gift.
Petr Cech played it short to a static Mikel who was immediately surrounded by three of our boys. Charlie Adam snapped in to win possession which then sent Craig Bellamy away. A neat one-two with Suarez then saw the narky Welshman unselfishly square the ball to Maxi who slotted past Cech. If ever a passage of play could highlight how terrible Chelsea are at present, this was it.
In stark contrast to this I noticed an identical passage of play at the opposite end of the pitch barely 5 minutes later. Pepe Reina side-footed the ball out to Lucas who was afforded all the time in the world to turn, get his head up, and pick out the pass of his choice. Lucas is just as slow on the ball as the cumbersome Mikel, which shows what a difference you make by pressurising the ball in the right areas.
As the second half kicked off I had one concern: that we would sit deep and invite pressure rather than look to finish the game off. Sadly my worries were realised as we appeared to give up all intentions of putting the game to bed. Right from the off the Reds were playing at least 10 yards further back with Craig Bellamy practically at left-back at one point.
I can only assume that this was a directive from Clarke and Dalglish which to me is just a continuation of the drivel served up by Benitez and Houllier, not to mention an enormous concern. A few weeks ago Arsenal scored one at Stamford Bridge in the first half, continued with the same ethic in the second half and knocked another four in. Why couldn't we do the same? This unwillingness to kill games off is definitely something that will come back to haunt us unless the management cut out this "hold on to what you have" nonsense.
Daniel Sturridge came on at half-time for the woeful Mikel, which in theory should have given us even more room to attack. The reality, with us sitting on the edge of our own box, was that a Chelsea goal was inevitable. In the 55th minute Flower Malouda was allowed to run into the box with none of our boys tracking back and his low cross was met at the back post by Sturridge for a simple tap in. Aside from the sheer laziness of no-one tracking Malouda, both Agger and Enrique were asleep at the back post. The first real challenge faced by our defenders was failed miserably.
Dalglish's response was a curious one. Bellamy, by some distance our brightest attacking threat on the day, was withdrawn in favour of Henderson. I can understand wanting an extra man in midfield but to take off Bellamy was ridiculous. His pace and intelligence would've been invaluable for the remainder of the match.
Surprisingly, Chelsea never looked convincing in their attempts to find a winner and aside from a set-piece header which was well saved by Reina, we had a relatively easy time of it. If only we had shown more authority in midfield the second half could've been so different. As has now been established, this authority will never happen with a partnership of Lucas and Adam. The second half pretty much passed the two of them by completely.
On the few occasions we actually did get forward in the second half the acres of space behind Chelsea's defence was again evident. Some great work from Henderson down the right saw the ball eventually worked to Dirk Kuyt in a fantastic position on the edge of the box. With all the composure of an epileptic, he side-footed wide.
On another day this could have been thought of as our final chance, but with Chelsea defending as they were another opportunity was right around the corner. A pinged pass from Charlie Adam found Glen Johnson rampaging forward down the right. He strode inside past Cashley and neatly side-footed past Cech with his left foot. Get in!
With this goal coming in the 87th minute there was still time for Chelsea to mount a late charge, but they quite simply weren't up to it. Torres and Meireles, introduced late on, presumably thought they were still playing in red with their wayward passing as both of them looked hopelessly off the pace.
In past years a win at Stamford Bridge was something to be treasured and although it was still a great victory, is must be noted that this is a Chelsea side in turmoil (great, isn't it?!). This win was just about earned on our first half performance but clearly this won't wash against Man City next week. A full 90 minute effort with a bit less of the deep-lying counter-attacking nonsense is what's needed if we are to continue to improve.
Subs: Henderson for Bellamy (66), Downing for Maxi (77), Carroll for Suarez (89)
Unused Subs: Doni, Kelly, Carragher, Spearing.