Liverpool victorious in the Battle of the Bridge.

Liverpool vs. Chelsea: Judging by their epic battles in the UEFA Champions League in recent years, this game is always of huge importance. Today was of no less importance than normal, albeit for slightly different reasons.  With the two Manchester clubs moving clear of the rest, competition for the remaining UEFA Champions League places is fiercer than ever. With Spurs, Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea and even Newcastle currently battling it out, a win here was crucial for both sides to keep them in the hunt. Here are some thoughts from Boner’s Brain on this afternoon’s match:

Liverpool’s first half display was excellent. Kenny Dalglish has attracted some criticism for some of his tactical decisions, but he got their approach spot on. Deploying Craig Bellamy with Luis Suarez up front and bringing Maxi Rodriguez in was the right selection. Many people have spoken about the space Chelsea leave in behind their back four and their susceptibility to pace. Those three caused Chelsea a lot of problems, and along with Charlie Adam linked up well to produce the first goal.

With that in mind, whilst Liverpool’s squad has a long way to go to match some of the other sides in the league, Maxi and Bellamy are more than useful players to be able to bring in.

Lucas Leiva and Charlie Adam might not be perceived as world beaters by many, but both were excellent today. Their work rate and effectiveness in exacting Liverpool’s game plan cannot be overstated.

As well as pace going forward, Liverpool pressed Chelsea high up the pitch, denying them time and space to bring the ball out. Liverpool were obviously targeting John Terry’s lack of finesse in possession and David Luiz’s tendency to over-complicate matters to allow them to create chances. The goal came from forcing Chelsea into a mistake and dispossessing them close to the penalty area. In truth Liverpool could easily have reaped more reward from their excellent pressing.

On that note, David Luiz is highly entertaining to watch.  Unfortunately for Chelsea fans, it’s for all the wrong reasons. I might be slightly old fashioned in my view here, but a basic requirement for a defender is surely to be able to defend? He might as well have a red nose and big shoesLuiz is incredible in possession of the ball, but seems hell bent on trying tricks and dangerous passes in all the wrong areas and at all the wrong times. He also seems to lack any basic defensive abilities or intelligence. He is very petulant as well. It seems the Brazilian wants to get involved in altercations with anyone who has the temerity to challenge or go near him.  You can’t help but feel he is seconds away from a scrap, a defensive mistake or a lapse in concentration all of the time. As I said, hugely entertaining but not in a good way.

It is currently fashionable to put the boot in to John Terry. I’m afraid I am no different. Some of his decision making is suspect and his reliance on throwing his body around reeks of desperation for a player on the wane. Having said that, I suspect anyone playing alongside David Luiz in a back four would cut a desperate figure.

Andre Villas-Boas has had a lot of attention for the way he sets Chelsea up. I’ll deal with the “high line” problem in a moment. One thing I will say is that he deserves a lot of credit for changing things around at half time. He recognised and accepted that things weren’t working and introduced Daniel Sturridge for Jon Obi Mikel. Whilst I don’t personally feel Sturridge had a great game, the change of shape allowed Chelsea to get Juan Mata and Florent Malouda into the game a lot more. The second half was definitely Chelsea’s and Villas-Boas should be praised for that. If his team had managed to pull off a win he wouldn’t be getting touted for the sack this evening.

This perceived trouble with the high defensive line that everyone keeps banging on about is not, in my opinion entirely down to the coach. Yes, it’s his system. Yes, he might want to think about looking at alternatives. Yes, it seems to be causing them problems. However, despite the presence of players like Bellamy, Liverpool are hardly known for their swift counter-attacking football. They were pacier than usual today, but still hardly lightning fast. What I would say is that the reason this system breaks down is due to a number of individual errors in Chelsea’s back four. That is hardly Villas-Boas’ fault. He might need to think about who he deploys in said back four though.

Glen Johson’s winner was undoubtedly a touch of class. Charlie Adam’s pass, Johnson’s first touch and then composure to finish with his “wrong” foot (should a footballer have a wrong foot?) were out of the top draw. It was a great moment for the former Chelsea man.

However, and I’m afraid it’s a recurring theme; if you are being completely sober and critical, some of the defending was brainless. Malouda made no effort to track back and pick up Johnson. Ashley Cole’s challenge was half-hearted at best and allowed Johnson to beat him far too easily. John Terry’s decision to go to the line rather than being nearer to Cole to cover was as baffling as it was comical.

Defensively, I’m afraid Liverpool hardly covered themselves in glory either. On the Chelsea goal, Johnson allowed Malouda far too much space to carry the ball into, whilst the normally reliable Jose Enrique was not picking up his man, allowing Daniel Sturridge to score at the back post.  As I’ve mentioned above with David Luiz, defenders who can defend seem to be highly rare these days. I myself can’t understand it.

Liverpool winning was a good result for Spurs. With four sides all locked on 22 points and Newcastle on 25, Spurs winning their games in hand gives them a great advantage over the other contenders. Harry Redknapp will be delighted with today’s outcome.

So there you have it. It was another highly entertaining game in the English Premier League. Entertaining in a different way to the Chelsea vs. Arsenal or Manchester United vs. Manchester City games, but thoroughly enjoyable nonetheless. I think Liverpool just about deserved the win. Right then, who’s for Tottenham vs. Villa tomorrow?

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