Liverpool went into their match against Chelsea in control of the Premier League title race. Confidence was as high as it could be for a club that hasn't won the title in 24 years. Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho made it clear that he was going to use a second-choice lineup at Anfield in order to preserve his tired squad for their Champions League semifinal and he made good on that promise, even giving 20-year-old centerback Tomas Kalas his first start against the most potent attack in the league.
Two weeks after Steven Gerrard's impassioned "This does not f***ing slip now" speech, he did just that, literally falling down and crawling on his hands and knees to gift Demba Ba with a one-v-one against the keeper that resulted in a goal just before halftime. For this to come after Chelsea did more than 45 minutes of defending and milking the clock to annoy the home fans and players alike, it was a demoralizing blow and Liverpool wouldn't recover.
In the second half, Chelsea's masterful defending held up, even after Liverpool brought on Daniel Sturridge to put their attack at maximum strength. But Mourinho's philosophy that the team that has more of the ball also has more opportunities to make mistakes again paid off when Fernando Torres and Willian found themselves all alone in a two-v-one against Simon Mignolet that resulted in a tap-in on an empty net to put Chelsea up 2-0 just before full time.
Mourinho, suffering from a cold and derided all week for using a weakened team, celebrated with gloating vigor as he once again overcame his critics and wanted to be sure they suffered for their sin.
Though parking the bus will never be credited as high-octane entertainment, the discipline Chelsea displayed in maintaining composure and focus to keep a clean sheet at Anfield deserves praise. Goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer, starting in the absence of an injured Petr Cech, made huge saves that were all the more impressive coming from a 41-year-old who has been sitting on the bench all season.
With this loss, Liverpool remain two points ahead of Chelsea, who have now beaten them twice this season, with two matches left to play (Crystal Palace and Newcastle). But the bigger danger for them is Man City, who trail by three points with a match in hand while also having the edge in goal difference.
Whoever wins the Premier League title this year will have to earn it.
- - - - - - -