Liverpool’s Champions League dream slips away after draw at Chelsea

Goal scorer Steven Gerrard gets standing ovation when substituted at Stamford Bridge

Chelsea 1 Liverpool 1

For Liverpool the game is up. An afternoon which had begun with the visitors lining up in a guard of honour for the newly crowned champions ended with Champions League football effectively out of their reach, the deficit from the top four now six points with two games to play and goal difference counting against them. Chelsea, unflustered but hardly at their persuasive best, would not be beaten.

This contest rarely fired, the play rather patchy with neither team boasting the composure or quality in the final third to conjure a winner. The old guard of John Terry and Steven Gerrard did supply first-half headed goals,but the highlight of the occasion was arguably the Liverpool captain's departure 11 minutes from full time to a standing ovation from all corners of the ground, a response which had José Mourinho purring for his "dear enemy" who will not grace this stage again. Liverpool must plan for life without their veteran as well as elite European competition next season.

Terry's opener had been thumped in early, Cesc Fàbregas's corner veering into the penalty area for the centre half to rise too easily above Rickie Lambert and plant a header down and beyond Simon Mignolet and Gerrard on the goal-line. The goal was Terry's 39th in the Premier League, establishing him as the highest-scoring defender in the revamped top flight.

The champions might have been reduced in number even by then, Fàbregas having caught Raheem Sterling on the right ankle within the opening 20 seconds with Andre Marriner initially flashing a red card at a bemused Mikel John Mikel in the confusion which ensued. The Spaniard could count himself somewhat fortunate.

The visitors' response to the concession had actually been impressive, sparked as it was by the elusive Philippe Coutinho who spat shots at goal for Branislav Ivanovic to block and Thibaut Courtois to save. Parity was restored only when their own captain made his presence felt. Ivanovic's foul on Adam Lallana earned a free-kick which Jordan Henderson arced over the muddle in the six-yard box. Gerrard, having edged away from Mikel, was unmarked as he nodded down and in.

Liverpool, the team with more at stake, were the more urgent in pursuit of a winner thereafter. Coutinho sidefooted wastefully wide having burst on to Sterling’s delivery, the England winger having darted diagonally from right to left to reach the by-line.

Yet the second goal would not come, even with Jerome Sinclair flung on for a Premier League debut alongside Jordon Ibe. That six-point deficit from Manchester United will not be bridged in the games that remain. This season will yield Europa League football at best.

(Guardian service)