To score four goals, and still be in with a shout with five minutes remaining of an 180-minute tie – that looked over after 90 – was an incredible effort by the Reds. It did the club proud on the eve of such a significant anniversary.
I was all set for a brave display but somewhat relaxed low-scoring draw, and then had to contend with nerves appearing 30 minutes into the match; it was going horribly wrong as far as my calmness was concerned, as the Reds powered to a 2-0 lead. I hadn’t even considered a two goal advantage on the night, let alone one so soon.
For me, a draw over the two legs would have been the fair result. Chelsea clearly outplayed Liverpool in the second half at Anfield, but not by the margin the Reds outplayed the Blues in the first-half at Stamford Bridge; where were all the tacky plastic flags then?
That said, Chelsea were excellent in the second 45 last week, and that was where the tie was won.
By the time Liverpool were searching out the late goals in the second leg, the shape of the team was rather pear-like, so the sucker punch was always on the cards. But it took a disciplined display to get the game to such a knife edge to start with.
The difference was that Liverpool just couldn’t get that crucial third goal either side of half-time, when Petr Cech was hanging on like a child’s dislodged milk tooth twisting on the slenderist slice of gum. They got a goal soon after, and from that point stepped up about five gears; having been in reverse to start with.
Drogba, who got the vital strike, is one of the few players I genuinely despise. Part of it is because he’s so good, so unplayable, when his head is right, and the damage he’s done to Liverpool in the past; but that part is ‘hate-respect’, which I reserve for those capable of giving our defenders nightmares.
His attitude in the first half of the season stank, and while that was Chelsea’s problem, it does show his two-faced character. But how the hell do you defend against him when he acts like he does on the pitch? It’s just ludicrously unfair.
If he stays strong, the defender bounces off his considerable frame like a rag doll on the bumper of a speeding 4×4. If the defender uses any kind of strength back, Drogba, if he can’t get through on goal, collapses in a heap and holds various parts of his body. So defenders have to stand off him given his tendency to just collapse, and no wonder he powers past them as a result.
All players milk situations a little, go over when there’s sufficient contact, and even the occasional dive has to be accepted given that no team – no player, even – doesn’t go to ground too easily now and again, but he takes it past professionalism and into a whole new realm. In every match he collapses six or seven times.
In the first half he rolled off the field, then back onto it to get the game stopped. He’s a beast of a man when he wants to be, and acts like Samuel L Jackson’s featherweight character in Unbreakable the rest of the time.
And despite his histrionics, six goals and four substitutions, only three minutes of time was added. So much for 30 second per goal and substitution.
But the overriding emotion as a Liverpool fan, on an already emotional week, is one of pride and of spirit. Everything was always going to pale into insignificance with remembrance of what took place at Hillsborough, but Liverpool, as a team, reminded us all why we love football so much in the first place.
Everyone in a red shirt bust a gut. It was especially pleasing to see Lucas score, when so many Liverpool fans were moaning on message boards before the game, and for the Reds to net two in the final ten minutes without either Gerrard or Torres. And I was pleased to see Kuyt yet again pop up with what could have been a remarkably vital goal.
It was a shame Ngog’s late drive at 4-4 was cleared off the line, as it would have given him a big boost as he starts to look the part, and possibly won the Reds the game, even if Chelsea would still have edged through.
And while the home side showed character in the second half, Liverpool’s remarkable never-say-die attitude to games this season, with yet more late goals, shows that there is something special brewing; anyone who still thinks it’s an accident, or that these are ‘lucky’ late strikes needs to wake up. It’s about fitness, quality, belief and unity. It’s about being a very good side.
I do dismay when I encounter some reactions to Rafa’s team selections before the game; the negativity that can be spouted even before a ball has been kicked.
He picked a side to play the same way that they had at Old Trafford and at home to Real Madrid; and yet again, the Reds scored four goals, and could have had many, many more. For part of the game, I was wondering if Cech’s headgear had fallen over his eyes, so disoriented did he seem. (I know Pepe made a mistake on the first goal, but lord help us if he ever gets that nervy).
The top scorers in the Premiership, and now four goals against both Real Madrid and Chelsea in Europe, and yet still Rafa’s criticised for his team being defensive.
You don’t win by a three-goal margin by being gung-ho to start with – you do it by playing sensibly; as we saw in the final stages, by the time Liverpool did go for broke, there were gaps at either end, as the game was stretched beyond breaking point. You can’t start matches like that.
If you have two ‘holding’ midfielders, part of that is to allow everyone, particularly the full-backs, licence to bomb on. You need to be solid in order to play fluent winning football; you need to stop the opposition to get possession.
The manager got it spot-on, and I have no complaints about the performance. And so much for Chelsea’s man-marking at set-pieces, too.
While I think an aggregate draw would have been fair, I’ll admit that Chelsea did enough at crucial times to feel that they deserved their victory. However, it just needed one more chance at 4-3 on the night to fall Liverpool’s way, and no-one could have argued with them having deserved the most remarkable comeback since Istanbul.
Rest up this weekend while the other teams do battle, and put in the same intensity against a potentially very dangerous (but hopefully jaded) Arsenal next week, and the season as a whole could still go down to the wire.
When you keep refusing to give up, miracles can happen.