Friday, April 27, 2007

Champions League Semi-final: Chelsea 1 - 0 Liverpool

I presume that Steve Finnan was still bothered by the neck injury that's kept him out of Liverpool's last couple games, so Arbeloa slotted in at right-back, leaving a space in midfield for Bolo Zenden. For Chelsea, Paulo Ferreira got the start at right-back -- although I had the impression that Mourinho inexplicably hated him; Ricardo Carvalho proved to be fit to start and had a strong game in the centre of defence.

Liverpool looked nervous from the outset, giving the ball away far too easily. Chelsea had the better of play in the first 20 minutes or so, building up to the game's only goal. Most of their chances throughout the match came from long balls up to Drogba (and although I agreed with Rafa's decision to start Agger, I wonder if they missed Sami Hyypia's physical presence in the air). But this one, ironically, started with Carvalho bringing the ball out of defence and playing a pass through for Drogba to run on to. Agger was right with him, shoulder to shoulder, but Drogba used his strength to turn back inside and cut the ball back across to Joe Cole, who'd got a yard ahead of Arbeloa and slid in to poke it past Reina. Yes, it could've been tighter defending from Liverpool, but it was also just good play by Chelsea. Agger had a tough time dealing with Drogba all game -- well, who could blame him -- but at least he didn't look like he was going to crap his pants the way Philippe Senderos usually does.

So, yeah, Drogba was probably Chelsea's best player, but this game also reminded me how much I really, really dislike the guy. Considering that he's 6'2" and built like a tank, he sure does fall down easily. And whine a lot about how he's getting pushed around -- despite the fact that he was getting the calls in his favour, while down at the other end of the pitch, Peter Crouch would do the exact same thing and get penalized for it. The whole Chelsea squad just came off as a bunch of whining babies, really. The intrepid John Terry was still yammering away at the referee when the final whistle blew.

Like I said before the game, the problem for Liverpool was where the goals were going to come from. Up front, Craig Bellamy's main contribution was being flagged offside -- perhaps as a misguided homage to Pippo Inzaghi -- and showing off some equally misguided facial hair. (Other dodgy fashion choices: Claude Makelele's yellow boots, Steven Gerrard's hair.) Anyway, Bellam did nothing, Kuyt worked hard as usual but I'm not sure if he had a shot on goal. They really only forced Petr Cech into one oustanding save, from Steven Gerrard volley. Chelsea, in contrast, made Pepe Reina work a few times to keep his team in the game.

Liverpool had a better spell to start the second half; it helped that they brought on Peter Crouch for Bellamy, which allowed them to use the long ball as an outlet like Chelsea were. In the first half, they'd tried to play the ball through the middle a lot, and it didn' work. I've read a lot of comments that Xabi Alonso had a bad game, but I thought he was fine -- although, to be honest, I'm biased. Against a team like Chelsea, who you know are going to pack the midfield, you have two options: try to force your way through (which is hard, because they're very strong) or play around them and use the wings.

With Gerrard nominally playing on the right but drifting inside a lot, they had no outlet on that flank, which meant that everything went through Zenden on the left. He worked hard all game, but he strikes me as sort of a Dutch, left-footed version of Darren Fletcher -- in other words, the quality just wasn't there. They didn't have many other options for the left wing, since Gonzalez is still kind of lightweight for games like this, but in retrospect I wonder if they would've been better off starting Jermaine Pennant there. He did eventually come on in place of Alonso, but it was too late at that point.

Chelsea have the edge going into the second leg; although a one-goal deficit is hardly insurmountable for Liverpool, they'll be hampered by the lack of an away goal. If Chelsea manage to score at Anfield, which is not exactly unimaginable, that means Liverpool have to score three. And that, I think, is really stretching it. (A note for next week: according to the UEFA website, away goals count after regular time but before extra-time and penalties. So 2-1 to Liverpool after 90 minutes does them no good.) They did manage that 2-0 win over Chelsea in the league back in January -- they need a repeat of that performance, but Chelsea were missing half of their back line at that point. I am very, very nervous about next week.

You may have noted that I didn't bitch about the ESPN commentary in my recap of the Man Utd game; no such luck on Wednesday, because the game itself wasn't enthralling enough to keep me from noticing how annoying they were. I could have done without Seamus Malin rhapsodizing about John Obi Mikel (who, to be fair, had quite a good game, but still, shut up), or reviving the endless debate playing Steven Gerrard on the right. Here's a hint, guys: maybe he's not getting the ball much out there because HE'S NOT THERE TO GET IT. Steven, baby, learn to play your position. Please. If only so that these knobs will SHUT THE HELL UP. Also obnoxious: the "game recap" package 15 minutes into the second half. After they already showed highlights at halftime. Does ESPN think that their entire audience is suffering from short-term memory loss? Maybe some sort of post-traumatic thing brought on by having to endure the commentary. I don't know.

1 comment:

rafs said...

I think Pepe Reina had an excellent game, pulling off some marvellous saves to keep us in the running for the final. Chelsea are a very strong side to contend with, and it was always difficult to try and beat them at Stamford Bridge.

I'd like to see Benitez try and start Gerrard in the middle, with Pennant on the right. I don't think Zenden had the most fantastic game either, but we're strapped for options on the left.

The Red's next Premiership match is against Portsmouth, I'll be smiling if I at least see Harry on the bench!