Champions League review: Liverpool 1 – 0 Chelsea (Agg: 1-1, Liverpool win 4-1 on pens)

Match reports

The Guardian, Kevin McCarra: “These sides grappled with one another so fiercely that it was as if neither would ever let the other go free to reach the final in Greece on May 23.”

The Times, Matt Dickinson: “The idea that his team might be rattled by the raucousness of a febrile occasion had seemed fanciful, but something made Chelsea unusually subdued in the first 30 minutes. They shook off that torpor – they had to – but only after Agger’s 22nd-minute goal had levelled the aggregate scores and created unbearable tension every time the ball went anywhere near a goalmouth.”

Daily Telegraph, Henry Winter: “Be careful what you wish for: Jose Mourinho had been moaning about never receiving penalties and his Chelsea team were put painfully on the spot at a crowing Anfield last night.”

The Independent, Sam Wallace: “Mourinho muttered in exasperation as he was asked again whether this defeat would affect his future at the club. But as Anfield exploded with joy at the expense of the Chelsea manager, again it was impossible to banish that thought. Ominously, Roman Abramovich was not in the stadium last night. It is impossible to read the thoughts of Chelsea’s silent owner but the trophy he craves most is now gone for a third Mourinho season.”

Official Chelsea FC Website, Neil Barnett: “Now there is the FA Cup Final left, and an outside hope of the Premiership. The Champions League remains the Holy Grail to be pursued another year.”

The good

  1. [Nick] Michael Essien. There are no superlatives left to describe him. It’s a shame his power and amazing fitness had to be deployed in a central defensive role. What could have been.
  2. [Nick] Claude Makelele. By far his best game this season. I’d offer him a two-year contract extension and keep him ticking over for games like this one.
  3. [Nick and Tony] John Obi Mikel. Composed beyond his years. If he’s this good now, what will he be like when he matures?
  4. [Nick] Paulo Ferreira deserves a mention. He showed us that he’s still a capable right-back.
  5. [Tony] The latter part of the game. Arjen Robben and Shaun Wright-Phillips seemed to add something and you have to wonder why we can’t take games to opponents like this all the time.
  6. [Nick] Petr Cech. In all honesty, he was the busier of the two keepers during normal time and he did brilliantly. It’s a shame he couldn’t be the hero after the season he’s had. However there’s still time…
  7. [Tony] The atmosphere. You have to hand it to the Scousers, their ground is a cauldron compared to Stamford Bridge.
  8. [Nick] The referee, Manuel Enrique Mejuto Gonzalez, played a blinder. Like Markus Merk in the first leg, officiated the game like it was a Premiership meeting.

The bad

  1. [Tony] The result. Obvious again, but this leaves us with the FA Cup and on this showing we will be ripped to shreds by a team full of belief and most likely already crowned Premiership champions.
  2. [Nick and Tony] The performance. Where was the “attack” policy that Jose Mourinho spoke of? We looked like frightened rabbits first half and for large parts of the second. We’ve lost the edge. The hunger. Liverpool had over 70% possession in the first half hour, and scored during that time. It was always going to be tough after that given our goal scoring record against them in the Champions League.
  3. [Nick] Joe Cole (whose poor tackling had me swearing at the TV) and Salomon Kalou’s performances were a tad disappointing. Perhaps our reliance on the long ball to Didier Drogba played its part in this, but when the two of them did get the ball they did very little with it. I would have introduced Wright-Phillips and Robben a lot earlier.
  4. [Nick] Does anyone else think that maybe we should have tried something different once it became apparent Drogba was being marked out of the game by Jamie Carragher et al? Maybe I’m just being harsh on a group of tired players.
  5. [Tony] The penalties. Frank Lampard’s aside, they were dreadful and I’m not blaming Robben, but his body language said it all. England may even have faired better.
  6. [Tony] The last week. One of the worst I can remember! At least since the bad old days of being relegated, but we always half expected that back then. It just shows our expectation levels these days. I know there are evangelistic fans out there ready to try and tell me that my lack of class shows my failure to support the team. Just go away huh? You have no idea of the pain I feel right now.

Tony’s player ratings

Cech – 6; Ferreira – 7; Terry – 6; Essien – 7.5; A. Cole – 4; Lampard – 7; Makelele – 6.5; Obi Mikel – 7.5; J. Cole – 5; Drogba – 6; Kalou – 5; Wright-Phillips – 6; Robben – 6; Geremi – 4.

Nick’s player ratings

Cech – 7; Ferreira – 7.5; Terry – 7; Essien – 8.5; A. Cole – 5; Lampard – 7; Makelele – 8; Obi Mikel – 7.5; J. Cole – 4; Drogba – 7; Kalou – 4; Wright-Phillips – 6; Robben – 6; Geremi – 6.

Man of the Match

Nick: Michael Essien. Tony: Vote in the comments.

Tony’s final thoughts

The “lean squad” experiment has truly failed and must not be repeated. For any team to try and win all four trophies you must have a squad of 26 minimum, but preferably 28. Tonight was a very bad night in our history, not least of all because we’ve already probably chucked our domestic title away. This was a real chance to take revenge for 2005, and we blew it. Worse still, we will never ever hear the end of it. I am dreading work tomorrow.

Next year both the Premiership and Champions League will be harder to win and maybe, just maybe we should look at Arsenal and see why they put out lesser teams for the domestic cups. As do Manchester United and Liverpool. The sick thing is that the last few weeks have seen a humongous effort amount to sod all. If Manchester United win on Saturday as expected then Mourinho must rest many players and play some kids for the remainder of the season in the hope that we get our best back for the FA Cup.

Then it’s time for big thinking in the close season. We need to have backup for the African contingent as the African Nations Cup coincides with crucial stages of the league and Champions League. We need to lose some of the baggage, including some big names and inject the team with hunger. It’s sad to say but two consecutive titles have taken the edge from the team and the Carling Cup victory over a side of kids is a very poor return on the money we’ve spent.

How the hell do I avoid the Scousers at work tomorrow?

Nick’s final thoughts

The words of Johann Cruyff quoted by Jonathan in this comment say what needs to be said at this time:

“Perfection, as I understand the term, does not mean that you have to win silverware. That’s the proof of your achievement but what matters above all is the fact that you are still alive in three competitions in April. And suppose you lose everything in May? It can happen, but it doesn’t change my respect for these teams one little bit. One bad month should never be allowed to obscure eight months of near impeccable performances from the point of view of collective effort.”

Indeed. Now is not the time for rash decisions. Mourinho has worked minor miracles this season; he has another League Cup to show for it, and soon we’re off to Wembley for an FA Cup final. Rest a few first team players between now and then, as Tony suggests, and there’s no reason why we can’t beat Manchester United. John Terry lifting the FA Cup above his head in the new Wembley stadium will more than ease the pain of this defeat.

And let’s not forget that we can still win the Premiership. Stranger things have happened – like Liverpool winning the Champions League from 3-0 down against one of Europe’s finest teams. It’s fated that they will meet AC Milan again on May 23rd.

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