The end of history

THERE is a song the Liverpool faithful like to sing, to the tune of ‘Lord Of The Dance’, which is reserved especially for those occasions when they come up against Chelsea.

The essential tone is set by the opening two words, one of which is ‘off’, before the song goes on to gleefully mock the west Londoners because “you ain’t got no history”. (Which would doubtless have come as news to Osgood, Cooke, ‘Chopper’ Harris and the rest, not to mention – if ancient history is more your thing – Ted Drake).

Still, the reality is that Chelsea have a little less history to reflect on this morning, after Liverpool ended their 86-game unbeaten Premier League run at the Bridge, a record which stretched all the way back to February 2004. And thanks to Xabi Alonso’s deflected goal, Luiz Felipe Scolari has also tasted defeat for the first time as boss of the Blues.

And, despite the somewhat fluky nature of the winner, you can’t really say that Chelsea have any grounds for complaint.

They may have dominated possession for long periods, especially in the first half, but in a game of few clear-cut chances, the best all fell to the visitors, Steven Gerrard’s rasping drive drawing a fine save from Petr Cech and Alonso coming even closer to doubling his and Liverpool’s tally with a free-kick on the hour mark which rebounded off the post.

By contrast, Chelsea’s first serious goal opportunity only arrived in the 72nd minute when Ashley Cole miscued his shot after a cushioned header from substitute Franco Di Santo had for once chiselled open a space in Liverpool’s rock-solid defence. Otherwise all you need to do is count the number of meaningful saves which had to be made by Pepe Reina – zero would be about right – to know the story of this game.

The result is a wake-up call for Chelsea and all those who already had them installed as champions elect. A couple of weeks ago I spoke to Richard Dunne, in the aftermath of Liverpool’s comeback victory over Manchester City, and the Irishman was unconvinced that what he’d seen of the opposition in that game indicated that the Merseysiders might finally be on course to end their long title drought.

Without prompting, he deflected my attention elsewhere. “Chelsea are miles ahead of everyone else at the moment,” was his scrupulously professional verdict.

Time to reflect anew, then. One game doesn’t make a season, let alone a title, but Liverpool’s win at the Bridge was telling in significant ways.

After a virtual second-string Chelsea side had walloped Middlesbrough 5-0, there were other respected voices in the game suggesting that the Londoners’ strength in depth was such that they could cope with the kind of absence of stellar names which would severely hamper their title rivals.

Faced with a spirited, well-organised and counter-attacking Liverpool side, the picture was very different. Up front, Chelsea especially missed the physical presence, athletic power and aerial threat of Didier Drogba.

In stark contrast, Liverpool were able to win this without Fernando Torres and, even when their lone frontman Robbie Keane came off, his replacement, Ryan Babel, was not far off making the final scoreline more emphatic in Liverpool’s favour. So while there was panache to Chelsea’s passing in the spells when they dominated the ball, there was always a distinct lack of penetration.

More worryingly perhaps, even with his first-choice and much-vaunted full-backs at his disposal, Scolari’s team failed to get around the back of the Liverpool rearguard with any regularity.

A little bit of history unmade at the Bridge, then, but we’ll know much more about the balance of power at the top when Chelsea come face to face on Wednesday with their other big title rivals.

That would be the high-fliers of Hull City, of course.


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