Liverpool's Luis Suarez a man apart as Chelsea lose ground at top of the table
Chelsea 1 Liverpool 1: Luis Suarez celebrated his equaliser alone in front of the travelling Liverpool support, his team-mates electing to head back into their own half and prepare for the onslaught of the last 20 minutes of the match.
As it turned out, the image of a man apart suits Liverpool’s leading striker rather well.
He has scored in his last four games for Liverpool, 11 in all this season, although his club have won just one of those nine matches in which he has scored. Without him yesterday, they would have lacked the sharp edge to open up their opponents and been unable to turn a fairly forgettable first-half performance into a draw. Every time he received the ball a world of possibilities opened up.
With a nudge in the back of Ramires to create the space to score, Suarez bought himself enough room to head in a corner from Suso that was flicked on at the near post by Jamie Carragher on 72 minutes. The Uruguayan was not the only decent performer in a Liverpool second half – Steven Gerrard, Raheem Sterling and Glen Johnson all played well – but it always felt like if a goal was to come, it would come from Suarez.
When Brendan Rodgers says that he would not change Suarez for any other player you can see his point. In fact, this current Chelsea team with Suarez rather than Fernando Torres as their leading striker would be a whole different package. As it is, the European champions have now slipped to third in the Premier League behind the usual suspects from Manchester after the brightest of starts to the season.
Torres worked hard yesterday, especially when it came to chasing down Liverpool’s midfielders, but there is not the same menace about him as there is about Suarez when he gets the ball. Suarez might even have won it for Liverpool with four minutes of the game left had Petr Cech not succeeded in closing him down and getting a toe to the ball which cannoned back off the Liverpool man.
On 35 minutes, it was Suarez who fell on top of John Terry’s right leg, causing the Chelsea captain’s knee to twist unnaturally. Having scored the first goal of the game, Terry, on his return from his four-match suspension for the racial abuse of Anton Ferdinand, went down in the kind of distress that you rarely see from the breed of old-school centre-backs to which he belongs.
Eventually they carted the Chelsea captain off on a stretcher and he will have a scan on that knee today to assess the extent of the damage. At the point that he left the game it was hard to imagine anything other than a Chelsea victory, but gradually Liverpool fought their way back into the game and after Suarez scored the equaliser they might even have won it. With a five-man defence, with Carragher at the centre of it, Rodgers’ side struggled in the first half, not least from the corner that Terry scored from. On that occasion, Daniel Agger and Johnson – marking Terry and Branislav Ivanovic – got themselves tangled up and allowed the Chelsea captain to steer his header in off Brad Jones’s left-hand post.
In midfield, Joe Allen found himself caught in possession too often. Alongside him, Nuri Sahin was not a profound influence on the game, certainly not in comparison with the likes of Juan Mata and, to a lesser extent, Oscar in the first half. Mata’s delicate touch on the ball was evident every time it was at his feet, which was not quite enough from Chelsea’s point of view.
In time added on at the end of the first half, Mata slipped the ball through Andre Wisdom’s legs and then struck his shot over. Before then Torres and Eden Hazard had missed chances when another goal from Chelsea would have put the game out of sight. Liverpool hung on, and with Suarez there was always hope.
Rodgers changed his team to a more orthodox 4-4-2 in the second half, with Suso on in place of Sahin after the hour and Sterling pushed up alongside Suarez. The goal came when Carragher did well at the near post to flick the ball back across goal and Ramires allowed himself to be eased out of position by Suarez.
The draw gives Rodgers 12 points from his first 11 games. He will not want reminding that Roy Hodgson, his much-maligned predecessor who came before Kenny Dalglish, had 15 points at this stage of the 2010-2011 season with his 11th game in charge yielding three points at home to Chelsea. Liverpool are currently in 13th place, level on points with Stoke City but it is not as bad as it could have been. That is down, in no small measure, to Suarez, whose instincts got Liverpool out of a fix again.
At the end of the game, once the stadium had cleared, Didier Drogba came down from his executive suite and walked down the tunnel wearing the kind of thick black spectacles that he never required to locate the opposition’s goal in his eight years at the club.
Chelsea still miss his presence – which team would not? – and while Torres’s performances are marginally improved he is still not the answer. The striker was not happy to be substituted for Daniel Sturridge yesterday, although it was the right decision. What Chelsea really needed from their No 9, what Drogba provided on so many occasions was the killer blow, the second goal, but it never came.
After the stadium had cleared, Terry emerged from the tunnel on crutches and proceeded to cross the pitch slowly on his way to the exit. In the past his injury would have been a concern for the England manager but those days are over. Nowadays there is just Chelsea for him, and he will know better than most that they had enough chances to win this game before Suarez intervened.