How things can change over the course of 90 minutes. Before Liverpool‘s 2-0 defeat to Chelsea this weekend, they were on course to win the Premier League for the very first time. But now all of a sudden Manchester City have reemerged as favorites after this weekend’s results.
Liverpool lost to Chelsea in a game where they did not even have to win — a draw would have been perfectly sufficient. It’s always easier in hindsight, but Liverpool’s approach and setup for the game was naive no matter what your philosophy is. Everybody knew exactly what Chelsea would do before the game — sit deep, be compact, give nothing away and try to steal the game on the break; and they did exactly that.
All season Liverpool have been fantastic to watch with the slick interchanges of passing, the speed, the movement and, above all else, the number of goals they have produced. They have attacked everybody, taken chances and most of the time won the game. The match against Chelsea, though, was a time to tweak a few things and make sure that even if you do not win, you most certainly do not lose.
Liverpool had won the first ten rounds of the Premier League fight. They could have jabbed and moved and taken lesser chances in this round, but instead they went for the knockout — and they lost. Now, the Premier League is in City’s hands again instead, and Liverpool will only now win the title if City slip-up and allow them too.
The first Chelsea goal was due to a slip from Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard, who has been instrumental in Liverpool being in the position they are this season. He was doing exactly what he has done all year when he unluckily slipped and allowed Demba Ba to go ahead and score for Chelsea. The Liverpool center-backs split and take up wide defensive positions, and Gerrard drops into the position between them to start off the Liverpool attacks; he dictates the game from there.
Gerrard has been a revelation this season by doing exactly that, but if that player does make a mistake, then there is no cover for him whatsoever. The center-backs are too wide to affect anything, and whether it was absolutely necessary for Liverpool to employ this particular tactic in this game is questionable. Sometimes you have to play the scenario instead, and that’s exactly what Liverpool should have done.
They should have been more cautious in their approach, and if Chelsea continued to sit deep and see out a 0-0 result because no team will commit, then so be it. A 0-0 draw would have kept Liverpool as title favorites and solidified their position at the top of the table. Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers would probably respond by saying that this is their style, their philosophy and that they will stick by that regardless — which is admirable.
But a few tweaks would have served Liverpool well for this game and cemented their position as would-be champions. Instead now it is out of their hands, but it wasn’t taken out of their hands; they gave it up. Liverpool had an opportunity to guide themselves over the finish line, but instead they have now lost that chance; the only chance they do have now is if City allow them one.