Thursday, May 01, 2008

Champions League Semi-Final: Chelsea 3-2 Liverpool (aet; 4-3 agg)

I feel compelled to point out that if it hadn't been for John Arne Riise's own-goal in the first leg, Liverpool would have gone through on away goals after this result. But on the other hand, I do realize that if it hadn't been for that goal, Chelsea would have reacted more strongly after Liverpool scored here, and it would have been a totally different game.

Liverpool-Chelsea matches tend to be brain-meltingly dull, but this one was the exception. The first 90 minutes were nothing out of the ordinary, but extra time more than made up for it. Chelsea started out better, although it was Liverpool with the first real chance on goal, Steven Gerrard sliding the ball through to Fernando Torres, who took an extra touch that gave Petr Cech time to come out and smother the shot. Chelsea also had a couple early shots, sent just wide of the Liverpool goal, with the ball skidding on the wet turf -- not an easy night to be a goalkeeper.

I think Rafa's pre-game comments about Drogba and his propensity for falling over may have backfired, because he was obviously determined to prove Benitez wrong, and -- although you might not give up as many free kicks -- he's much more dangerous when he stays on his feet and fights for the ball. Drogba went shoulder to shoulder with Skrtel early on and injured him in the process. He had to be replaced by Sami Hyypia not long after, and although Sami's not a bad replacement, it meant Liverpool had to play a deeper line and give Chelsea more space in midfield. (I think it may be a sekrit Chelsea strategy, actually: Get Drogba to take out one of the opposing centre-backs early on, like with Nemanja Vidic last weekend.)

And of course it was Drogba who scored the opening goal for Chelsea. Frank Lampard fed the ball through the defenders to Salomon Kalou -- as Arbeloa slipped on the wet pitch -- and his shot was saved by Pepe Reina, but only parried right to Drogba, who beat Reina at the near post as he scrambled to recover. And then Drogba ran over to celebrate right in front of the Liverpool bench, because he's klassy like that.

The goal was a blow, but it didn't really change much for Liverpool, because they still needed to score just to survive to extra time. They got more into the game as the first half went on, and they came out strongly after halftime. Steven Gerrard still wasn't seeing as much of the ball as I would've liked -- as in the first leg, Makelele was sticking to him like glue -- but he started dropping deeper and having more of an impact on the game. Then, after just over an hour, it was Yossi Benayoun -- a surprise inclusion in place of Ryan Babel -- who set up the equalizer for Liverpool, deking out a couple of defenders and playing Torres in on goal. Torres didn't hesitate this time, finishing beautifully to tie the game.

So then of course you figure it's going to go to extra time and then the inevitable penalties, right? Liverpool were still pushing forward, looking for a second goal that would send them through, but I think they would've been quite content to win it in a penalty shoot-out. Chelsea put a bit more pressure on Liverpool in the last 15 minutes, but for whatever reason they didn't really look like they cared about winning in regular time.

Anyway, into extra time we go. Hold your breath. Almost immediately, Michael Essien scored for Chelsea from a corner, but it was disallowed because Drogba was offside (along with a handful of other players) and standing right in front of Reina, blocking his view, which apparently counts as interfering with play this week even though it didn't when Birmingham did the exact same thing a little while back. Anyway, it might've been a controversial decision, if not for the fact that Chelsea was awarded a penalty just a couple minutes later, after Hyypia tripped Michael Ballack in the box. Frank Lampard stepped up to take it, and scored, sending Reina the wrong way -- and I can't even make fun of his ├╝ber-emotional goal celebration today because his mum's just died. (Actually, I will be magnanimous and admit that he had a pretty good game. Bah.)

I was still clinging to hope at this point, because Liverpool had almost 25 minutes to score again, and that would send them through on away goals. Some of that hope died, though, when I saw that Rafa had taken off Torres and replaced him with Ryan Babel. Not that I have anything against Babel, but why would you take off your top scorer when you desperately need a goal? (Apparently he was injured, but I don't know. Take the risk for 20 minutes; it's not like you'll need him for your last two league games.) Also, how shafted must Peter Crouch have felt? I think the early substitution of Skrtel kind of forced Rafa's hand, but I can't help questioning his decisions a bit.

Anyway, Babel made an immediate impact, as he was taken down in the Chelsea box, Essien just barely got a touch on the ball and there was no penalty. Instead it was Chelsea who scored again, just before the end of the first half of extra-time. Nicolas Anelka dinked into the six-yard box -- with Riise stood there appealing for offside, like, PLAY THE WHISTLE, YOU MORON -- and squared the ball for Drogba, who put it away despite being surrounded by Liverpool defenders at the time.

With 15 minutes left, there was time for Liverpool to produce another miraculous comeback, and they probably should have had a penalty of their own, when Hyypia was tripped in the box by Drogba -- no touch on the ball this time, but no penalty either. Ryan Babel did score, just a minute later, with a well-struck shot from all of 35 yards out -- which Cech probably should've saved, especially since he got his hands to it, but we'll take that, thank you very much. In the end they just ran out of time, and despite throwing everything they had at Chelsea, they couldn't find another goal. They did manage to score -- not once but twice -- at Stamford Bridge, which is more than they'd previously done under Rafa, but nevertheless it wasn't enough. I could barely watch the post-game stuff because all the Liverpool players just looked so gutted. Football sucks sometimes.

By the way, I don't give a shit about the debate over whether Avram Grant is getting the credit he deserves as a manager, or whether Roman Abramovich is bored with his toy and likely to sell the club. I just fucking hate Chelsea. That's all.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Benitez was excellent at winding up Drogba before the game. The result Drogba was inspirational.