Belfast Telegraph

Reds top-four hopes dashed

Steven Gerrard will not be Liverpool's saviour this season after a 1-1 draw at Premier League champions Chelsea effectively ended the visitors' hopes of a top-four finish.

Liverpool needed to inflict Chelsea's first home loss in the league this season to keep their slim chances of qualifying for the Champions League alive, but the visitors fell behind to John Terry's header after five minutes.

Gerrard, described by Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho as a "dear enemy" ahead of their final bout, equalised with a header before half-time, but it was not enough for the Reds at Stamford Bridge.

Brendan Rodgers' side are six points behind fourth-placed Manchester United with two games to play and a goal difference of 14 to overcome, meaning they will almost certainly be playing Europa League football next term.

Gerrard plays his final game at Anfield next Saturday against Crystal Palace before leaving for Major League Soccer, while Chelsea's victory tour continues at West Brom on Monday week.

Terry's season will finish by lifting the Premier League trophy on May 24, something Gerrard will now never do.

The Blues last season ended Liverpool's hopes of a first championship in 24 years and Gerrard has not been allowed to forget it.

Gerrard's slip allowed Demba Ba to score in that fateful fixture at Anfield and he was the subject of plenty of songs on Sunday.

Mourinho subsequently spoke of football's authorities wanting Chelsea to be "the clowns in the circus" on a day which felt like a coronation for Liverpool in a fixture which came in close proximity to the Blues' Champions League semi-final.

Twelve months on and it was Liverpool - unchanged following their win over QPR - who felt like clowns, standing either side of a blue carpet to form a guard of honour.

Terry scored with ease, with Gerrard taking advantage of similarly slack marking in a contest which lacked the usual intensity between these familiar enemies.

Gerrard was replaced 11 minutes from time, with Mourinho leading the applause, which swiftly drowned out the boos, as the match ended level.

Chelsea made five changes, with midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek given his first start, while Diego Costa was not risked and is unlikely to feature again this term.

Chelsea showed there would be no let-up despite sealing the title with three matches to spare and poor defending contributed to Terry's opening goal.

The Chelsea captain climbed above Rickie Lambert to meet Cesc Fabregas' corner and his header beat Gerrard on the line.

It was Terry's fifth Premier League goal of the season and 39th in all, taking him beyond David Unsworth's record for a defender.

Fabregas had in the first minute been booked by referee Andre Marriner for a late challenge on Raheem Sterling and then tugged the Liverpool livewire back, only to escape further censure and a possible dismissal.

Martin Skrtel, Adam Lallana and Lambert all received bookings for various misdemeanours in a disjointed contest.

Thibaut Courtois saved from Philippe Coutinho and Simon Mignolet denied Fabregas before Chelsea were forced into a change as Kurt Zouma hobbled off to be replaced by Gary Cahill.

Gerrard, who appeared to be struggling with the pace of the game, slipped when challenging Fabregas down Chelsea's right, much to the delight of the home support, who then sang "Steven Gerrard, he slips when he wants".

The Liverpool skipper's riposte was a goal. After Branislav Ivanovic was booked for a foul on Lallana, Jordan Henderson floated a free-kick to the far post and Gerrard, unmarked, headed in.

There was no celebration after his team-high 12th of the season.

Coutinho fired wide from Sterling's tee-up early in the second period as Liverpool resumed strongly.

Chelsea were dangerous on the counter-attack, though, and Willian fired wide in a move which began when Gerrard lost out to Fabregas.

Liverpool's defence next opened up for Fabregas, but he scuffed his left-footed shot at Mignolet before then having an effort blocked by Skrtel.

Eden Hazard next skipped past Gerrard but was crowded out as he tried to find space to shoot.

It was the Liverpool captain's final action as he was replaced by Lucas.

Coutinho's deflected effort temporarily sent Courtois the wrong way, but the goalkeeper recovered, and Henderson volleyed wide as the winner never came for Liverpool.


From Belfast Telegraph