Liverpool's tactical naivety and Gerrard error ensures champagne stays on ice
Rodgers played into Mourinho’s hands by doing exactly what he was expected to do
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho keeps the ball from Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard during yesterday’s match at Anfield. Photograph: Peter Powell/EPA
“Make Us Dream” had become an unofficial slogan of their unexpected title charge. But Anfield’s fevered dream gave way to a cruel reality in the last minute as Daniel Sturridge lost possession and suddenly almost €100 million worth of blue-shirted striking talent was bearing down on the Liverpool goal.
A former Liverpool player, Torres, drew the goalkeeper, then passed to his right and a player Liverpool tried and failed to sign last summer, Willian, passed the ball almost apologetically into an empty net.
The “weakened” Chelsea team, assembled at a cost of more than €250 million, had beaten Liverpool’s €145 million first-choice available XI. The iron logic of 21st century football had reasserted itself.
Of course, the second goal was only rubbing it in. Chelsea were already leading 1-0 thanks to Steven Gerrard’s nightmarish mistake.
Gerrard fought desperately to redeem himself, but in the end his struggle would encapsulate Liverpool’s wider failure. He shot at goal nine times but eight of those were from outside the box, like 21 of Liverpool’s 26 attempts in the game.
It was another tactical triumph for Jose Mourinho – and it followed precisely the same template as all his other tactical triumphs. When are other managers going to notice?
Rodgers in denial
Judging by his comments yesterday, we shouldn’t expect Brendan Rodgers to be the first. Sky’s Geoff Shreeves asked the Liverpool manager whether Mourinho’s tactics had decided the match. Rodgers: “No, ’cause I don’t think it’s a tactic to just . . . If you have players behind the ball I think you could get anyone to ask a team to just
. . . defend on the edge of the box.”
Not a tactic? Rodgers should watch the Champions League, where defend and counterattack is the dominant style of three of this year’s four semi-finalists.
Chelsea’s defensive method is rooted in Mourinho’s profound belief in human fallibility. His team says: we will focus on not making any mistakes. You can focus on winning the game. We have faith that eventually you’ll make a fatal error.
Gerrard’s mistake might have looked like an act of God, but to Mourinho it was part of the plan. It was the moment for which his team had been waiting. They didn’t know what form their chance would take, but they believed it would come and knew they would take it when it did.
Rodgers said it was going to be difficult if Liverpool didn’t get an early goal because Chelsea could not otherwise be tempted out defence.