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Liverpool Still Controls Destiny Despite Chelsea Loss

Naturally, I am annoyed that Liverpool lost 0-2 to Chelsea yesterday at Anfield in a match when a victory would have inched the Merseysiders closer to their first league title in 24 years and nudged the title out of the visitors’ reach. Instead, Chelsea’s title charged was rekindled; albeit it was Manchester City with their game in hand that many say benefited most.

I am more annoyed, however, by the failure of tactics on the part of Brendan Rodgers as well as the failure to see the bigger picture. Rodgers was scathing in his criticism of the way the Londoners played. Two buses parked, he said.

Indeed, there were moments early in the game when Chelsea had as many as nine men packed inside the penalty box. More annoying was the blatant time-wasting that the Chelsea players were allowed.

That said, did Rodgers really expect Chelsea to play any other way; and if he did, does that not make him tactically naïve?

A lot is being said about Manchester City’s game in hand. The truth of the matter is that City’s game in hand does not mean anything more than potential points. Who is to say that City will even win it?
Arsenal, Spurs and, recently, Manchester City were all blitzed by Liverpool inside ten minutes by playing expansive football. Mourinho has always been a proponent of the pragmatic game.

Did Rodgers really expect Chelsea to play openly just to accommodate Liverpool’s title charge, especially when the match was sandwiched between two European ties and Mourinho was missing important players through injury?

Besides, Liverpool themselves used the infamous park-the-bus approach at the Nou Camp in season 2000-01 of the UEFA Cup on their way to winning the title. Ditto in season 1975-76 whilst the Reds were still enjoying their Golden Age.

The big picture really is that Liverpool have not won the league in 24 years; and seven points were needed from the last three matches to ensure the title. While I have nothing but admiration for Rodgers’ philosophy and the way Liverpool have played this season, yesterday was one occasion when tactics for a singular match should have taken precedence over philosophy.

Taking seven points meant being allowed to drop two points from any of the last three matches. I would rather have gladly dropped those two points against Chelsea than against Crystal Palace or Newcastle United in the final two matches.

At this point in the season, I do not for one moment believe than any Liverpool supporter would have taken it against Rodgers had he laid out his team to play as cautiously as Chelsea did. All that really matters now are the points, which ultimately decide where the championship goes.

Granted, Demba Ba’s opening goal came from a Steven Gerrard literal slip. That said, Liverpool players were not only mostly upfield but also distanced from each other to have offered cover to make up for Gerrard’s error.

Liverpool under Rafa Benitez played two classic tactical and attritional battles with Chelsea in the Champions’ League in the last decade. Neither match was for the purists and therefore not a spectacle for the neutrals to enjoy.

These matches were more like games of chess when one side moved forward at speed when possession was gained but withdrew quickly into a tight formation the moment possession was lost. Essentially, these two games were premised on not making mistakes whilst waiting for the other side to make one.

From a tactical vantage point, the two clashes were fascinating to watch. The question is, of course, does Rodgers have the nous to have sent Liverpool out the same way yesterday?

Arguably, Livepool’s football really only started to flow when Rodgers ditched the death-by-football Barcelona-esque short passing game approach and made his team sit back more so that the speed of Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling could be put to better use in counterattacks.

Against Chelsea, though, how do you sit back against a team that refuses to come out? The answer will have to be that you do give the ball to them and see what they do to it. You kiss sexy football goodbye for one game, stay compact and do not commit too many players forward.

If you score, fine; but it is better if you prevent them from doing the same. A singular point would have been better than none, particularly as Crystal Palace and Newcastle are both very, very beatable.

Despite all that has been said in the English media about how Liverpool have lost their grip on the title after the loss to Chelsea, the fact remains that the Reds remain firmly on course to win their first title since 1990.

A lot is being said about Manchester City’s game in hand. The truth of the matter is that City’s game in hand does not mean anything more than potential points. Who is to say that City will even win it? Everyone thought struggling Sunderland were a certain three points for the other Manchester club; but in the end the Citizens were fortunate to even get a point from it.

Liverpool, meanwhile, are still two points ahead of Chelsea, the defeat notwithstanding. I say the Reds are still firmly in control of their own destiny!

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