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Chelsea’s Diego Costa Completes Handy Comeback Win Over Liverpool

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THIS time there was no need for José Mourinho to worry unduly about Chelsea’s opponents. There was no strategic time-wasting and none of the ultra-defensive tactics that led to Brendan Rodgers accusing him of “parking two buses” in front of goal when the sides met last season. Liverpool, to put it bluntly, do not inspire that kind of trepidation any more and Chelsea could dismantle them without any complaints about their methods.

They did it with the look of champions-in-waiting whereas it was difficult at times to remember that Rodgers had actually rested seven of these players when Liverpool lost to Real Madrid in midweek. Mario Balotelli’s half-hearted efforts are becoming the norm at Anfield but it was rare to see Steven Gerrard play with such diminished qualities. Chelsea’s fans relentlessly reminded Gerrard of his infamous mistake from this fixture last season and there was another dose of schadenfreude in the form of a horse by the name of Gerrard’s Slip running in the 12.40 at Doncaster. Nothing, however, could have hurt the Liverpool captain more than his own performance and the way his team were overwhelmed.

It left Liverpool 15 points off their opponents at the top of the league and, for the first time, there was open dissent from the crowd towards Rodgers, angrily objecting to his decision to take off Philippe Coutinho and Emre Can for Fabio Borini and Joe Allen shortly after Diego Costa had scored Chelsea’s second goal. Can had opened the scoring with a deflected shot in the ninth minute but he and Coutinho, in fairness to Rodgers, had faded badly. The bigger mystery was how Balotelli lasted so long. When he was substituted later on, the away end serenaded him with “Fernando Torres, he’s better than you” – and it’s not as if Chelsea’s fans ever properly rated Torres.

Chelsea did have to withstand some late pressure and Liverpool have legitimate grievances about that moment, after 87 minutes, when Gary Cahill blocked a Gerrard shot with his hand. The referee, Anthony Taylor, was guilty of missing a clear penalty but Rodgers was stretching the truth when he tried to argue a draw would have been an accurate assessment of how the contest went. The truth is that Chelsea were the more rounded side for at least three-quarters of the game. They played with control and know-how, with Nemanja Matic outstanding in midfield and Cesc Fàbregas only marginally subdued by Jordan Henderson’s man-marking. Fàbregas, Mourinho revealed afterwards, had played despite a hamstring injury and may now miss a couple of matches. The same applies to Ramires, with a groin problem. “They were really in trouble but they put themselves there for the team,” Mourinho said. It typified the spirit of his side.

Chelsea had to show all their competitive courage, too, bearing in mind the way the game started, with Can’s 25-yard shot taking a deflection off Cahill to wrong-foot Thibaut Courtois for the early breakthrough. Unfortunately for Liverpool, their vulnerability from set pieces will always encourage opponents and once again it was a significant factor in everything unravelling. The equaliser came five minutes later from a corner, swung over by Fàbregas and initially headed on by Costa. John Terry had the first attempt at goal and Simon Mignolet’s reflex save fell to Cahill via a slight touch off Matic. This time the goalline technology showed Cahill’s shot had squeezed past Liverpool’s goalkeeper. What an indictment for the home side that, in a matter of seconds, four Chelsea players had touched the ball in the six-yard area without a defender getting near.

For the rest of the first half it was startling to see so many unforced errors from Liverpool’s players and so much panic in the face of Chelsea pressure. Chelsea out-passed and outplayed them and, even though there were no more goals, it was rare to see a Liverpool side look so hassled on their own pitch. Gerrard could be seen misplacing passes, kicking the ball against Henderson at one point, but it was his lack of mobility that was shocking and the frequency with which opponents turned past him.

Balotelli was ineffectual and frustratingly lazy whereas Rodgers surely made a mistake selecting Dejan Lovren when Kolo Touré had excelled in the Bernabéu. Lovren did little to alter the view his £20m acquisition has been dismal business on Liverpool’s part. He was signed to bring some leadership to the Liverpool defence but there was absolutely none and his day could probably be summed up by the moment Oscar treated him to a nutmeg. Eden Hazard later did the same on Henderson.

Hazard had the beating of Glen Johnson while Branislav Ivanovic, a right-back, apparently, had long spells operating as an extra forward and Costa, this battering-ram of a striker, did everything he could to unsettle Liverpool’s defence. Costa gives the impression sometimes that he cannot see a belt without punching below it. He seemed determined to embroil Martin Skrtel in a running feud and, by half-time, they were having to be held apart.

More importantly, the Spain international is a lethal finisher. Midway through the second half, César Azpilicueta ran down the left, kept the ball in play and turned brilliantly inside Coutinho. Mignolet turned his effort away but the loose ball flicked off Alberto Moreno into Costa’s path. His finish was drilled in and when the game finished in a moment of tragicomedy – Mignolet kicking a simple backpass behind his goal – Liverpool were left to reflect how far they fallen since the last occasion Chelsea were in town. – The Guardian

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