Chelsea 2 Liverpool 1
Liverpool's Luis Suarez shaking hands with Chelsea's Branislav Ivanovic before the game yesterday.
Suarez, facing Chelsea for the first time since he bit the Blues' defender last season, has been condemned by Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho for diving. Pictures: Getty
Things are beginning to look very familiar at Stamford Bridge. Jose Mourinho is fashioning a side that is already getting up to speed in the art of winning while his condemnation of Luis Suarez, who he accused of diving, recalled the manager’s feistiest days during his first spell at Chelsea.
In a match that boasted more controversy than quality – Mourinho’s barb at Suarez was matched by Brendan Rodgers’s claim that Samuel Eto’o should have been sent off and his Liverpool side were denied a stonewall penalty – it was the Portuguese’s side that did enough to fashion a deserved victory, even after falling behind to a second minute Martin Skrtel goal.
Eden Hazard, the game’s outstanding player, and Eto’o led the Chelsea recovery with the goals that ensured Mourinho’s team were in control of the game before half-time. And having taken the lead, the collective efforts of the home side ensured there was never likely to be a way back for a Liverpool side clearly affected by strains placed on the squad by a series of injuries to key players.
For once, even Suarez, facing Chelsea for the first time since he bit Branislav Ivanovic last season, was ineffective, although Rodgers was convinced the player should have won a penalty late on when he was tripped by Eto’o as the Liverpool striker chased down Cesar Azpilicueta. Television replays suggested the visitors’ complaints were valid, although Mourinho saw things differently.
“It’s not a tackle,” said the Chelsea manager. “Azpilicueta had the ball, he was leaving the box with the ball, and now he [Suarez] is doing an acrobatic swimming pool jump to try and get the penalty because he’s so clever he knows he’s in the penalty area with the Liverpool supporters behind.
“The referee is 10 metres away and the only mistake he made was not giving him a yellow card.”
Warming to his theme, he added: “I think the player is amazing. Amazing. A very nice boy. He does everything to win, and Brendan has done a very good job with him because he’s changed. No doubt. He’s changed.
“But when you are losing, the nature comes out of the player. The wild nature, the cultural nature of the player. Culturally, people from that area, they like it. Not just that area. There’s a corner in Europe, where I belong too, where they like [that].”
Rodgers, part of Mourinho’s backroom staff during the Portuguese’s first spell in England, responded in kind. “Let’s talk about the first Eto’o incident [the Chelsea striker fouled Jordan Henderson in the second minute] when he should have been sent off,” said the Liverpool manager. “I know we scored from it, but that was a wild shank where he’s come down on his knee and shin and didn’t even get a yellow card. That’s the first wild challenge.
“The second one, Luis will always provoke a challenge from defenders in the box. That’s why he’s world-class. What he wouldn’t expect is it coming from somebody off the ball. He blocks him. That could have been a penalty on another day as obstruction in the area. But he will defend his players. I will defend mine.”
Plenty to get angry about, then. But when the dust settled, it was Chelsea who struck a potentially telling blow in the title race and maintained their standing two points behind leaders Arsenal. It wasn’t particularly pretty but, just as at the Emirates Stadium last Monday and again against Swansea on St Stephen’s Day, it was effective.
Liverpool could not have wished for a better start. Less than two minutes into the game, Eto’o crunched into Henderson, allowing Philippe Coutinho to float the resulting free-kick in towards Suarez at the near post. Suarez’s diving header was deflected by Branislav Ivanovic’s leg and Skrtel reacted first to knock the ball in from close range.
There was purpose and urgency in Chelsea’s response, however, and they were eventually rewarded in the 17th minute when Hazard produced an equaliser of exceptional quality, angling a rising drive into the top right hand corner.
Liverpool had lost their early zip and a second home goal came in the 34th minute when Mignolet made his second significant error in two games, although the keeper was also entitled to point his finger at the unconvincing protection provided by his back four as Oscar was allowed to turn and square a low cross towards Eto’o who nipped in to stab the ball home in front of Skrtel. As poor as the defending was, though, Mignolet should not have let a tame effort squirm under his outstretched arm.
Both sides had opportunities in the second half as the temperature of the game rose from testy to decidedly fierce but it was Mourinho’s side who always looked the more likely winners.
CHELSEA (4-2-3-1): Cech 7; Ivanovic 6 (Cole 30, 5), Cahill 7, Terry 7, Azpilicueta 6; Luiz 7, Lampard 6 (Obi 46, 6); Hazard 9, Oscar 8, Willian 6; Eto’o 6 (Torres 86, 6).
LIVERPOOL (4-1-4-1): Mignolet 5; Johnson 5 (Aspas 83, 6), Skrtel 6, Sakho 6 (Toure 90), Agger 5; Lucas 6: Sterling 7, Allen 6 (Smith 61, 5), Henderson 7, Coutinho 5; Suarez 5.
Referee: H Webb.
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