April 27 2014 ISN -LIVERPOOL, England – Chelsea dented Liverpool’s Premier League title hopes and maintained its own pursuit of the trophy with a 2-0 victory against the leaders on Sunday.
A resilient Chelsea successfully nullified a team on an 11-game winning streak, and Demba Ba seized on Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard’s slip in first-half stoppage time to score the opener at Anfield.
After Chelsea withstood a series of attacks, Liverpool striker Daniel Sturridge gave the ball away in the 90th minute to allow a rapid counterattack that Willian completed to inflict the Reds’ first loss since their game at Chelsea four months ago.
Now the destination of the trophy is no longer in Liverpool’s hands.
Chelsea is two points behind Liverpool with two games remaining, but it is Manchester City who could be the big beneficiary. The 2012 champions are six points behind Liverpool in third, having played two games fewer and with a superior goal difference. City was playing on Sunday at Crystal Palace, which Liverpool visits next Monday.
It’s a long time to dwell on a defeat that will suppress the fervour that had been growing at Liverpool that the club’s 24-year league title drought was coming to an end. Even three hours before kickoff, thousands of Liverpool fans lined the streets, preparing for the team’s arrival at Anfield. It had the air of a victory parade, but whether the real thing takes place next month is now a lot more uncertain.
Publicly, Chelsea coach Jose Mourinho had insisted that the Champions League is the club’s priority, with key players rested ahead of Wednesday’s semifinal second leg. Chelsea drew 0-0 at Atletico Madrid last week. Tomas Kalas, who had made just two appearances for Chelsea previously as an 89th-minute substitute, was handed his debut but was surprisingly assured alongside Branislav Ivanovic in central defence.
Mourinho’s defensive tacticts may be seen as anti-football by some, but also demonstrated his abilities to successfully set up a team to be well organized and frustrate opponents. The home fans felt too often, though, that Chelsea players were time wasting as they saw Liverpool’s title momentum end.
While Chelsea defender Ashley Cole’s curling effort forced the first save of the game from Simon Mignolet, there was little attacking ambition from the visitors. Liverpool controlled the game, but without the speed or fluency of recent weeks as the hosts couldn’t find a route to goal.
In the opening 15 minutes, Phillippe Coutinho volleyed into the sidenetting and Mamadou Sakho’s shot was cleared off the line by Cole before he misfired the follow-up from six yards.
Chelsea had a strong penalty claim dismissed when Mohamed Salah’s shot was blocked by Jon Flanagan’s hand before being gifted a breakthrough from the most unlikely of sources.
The last time Liverpool played here Gerrard was caught on camera telling the players: “This does not slip now.”
But it was Gerrard, usually the reliable heartbeat of the team and inspirational one-club player, who slipped in possession near the halfway line in the third minute of stoppage time, giving away the ball to Ba. With Gerrard unable to chase him down, the Senegal striker charged through on goal and coolly placed the ball past Mignolet and into the net.
However much Liverpool tried to batter through toward the Chelsea goal in the second half, the defence held up well.
Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, a second-half substitute, are the leading scorers in the league with 50 goals between them, but they rarely came close to equalizing.
Not even when facing 41-year-old goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer, deputizing for the injured Peter Cech, who repelled Joe Allen’s first-time volley with a low diving save just before the hour.
A rasping strike from Gerrard was also thwarted and a downward header by the captain lacked power to trouble Schwarzer.
As the end neared, Suarez could not connect with Coutinho’s cross, and the Uruguay striker saw a shot turned over in stoppage time before Chelsea stunned Anfield again.
Former Liverpool striker Fernando Torres launched the breakaway, drawing Mignolet off his goal-line and then passing to Willian to slot the ball into the net — and sending Mourinho racing down the touchline to celebrate with section of away fans.