Chelsea 1: Terry 5'
Liverpool 1: Gerrard 44'
After Manchester United's win yesterday--and really, after Manchester United's win at Anfield in late March--there was finally some closure, with Liverpool's chances of a top four finish reduced to near nothingness from the slightly near nothingness it was before. With that in mind the team news was disappointing; Brendan Rodgers selected the same eleven that started against QPR, which was, unfortunately, expected, but there had remained a hope that he would buck the trend and go with a view to the future rather than maintain the status quo.
That Chelsea scored within five minutes of the opening whistle added to the disappointment, as John Terry climbed over a stationary Rickie Lambert to give the hosts the lead. It was a the worst possible way to start, and it gave Liverpool a mountain to climb in order to get anything from the match. They looked good for spells but disjointed at others, trading spells of possession with a Chelsea side that weren't at their best but still far from their worst. Without Nemanja Matic in the midfield Liverpool were able to exploit space between the lines, but as ever, the final ball and finishing touch were nowhere to be found.
At least until, like his counterpart, Steven Gerrard was the beneficiary of some lax marking on a corner, left alone to head Liverpool level just before the break. It was his second headed goal in two matches, and left him all alone as the club's leading goalscorer in the Premier League. Near the end of what's been a difficult campaign for the captain, he's still proven to be capable of getting Liverpool points, and that ended up being the case today.
It very well could have been all three on the strength of a much improved second-half performance, which saw Adam Lallana, Philippe Coutinho, and Raheem Sterling grow in influence. They still struggled to create much in the way of clear chances, but their work just off of Lambert--who once again appeared to work awfully hard but lacked the pace and quality to exert much of an influence--was encouraging, joined by a number of forward runs from the fullbacks.
Enter Matic, who effectively killed the match off. No more space, no more open passing lanes, no more joy for anyone other than Chelsea supporters, who were left to revel in their breathtaking creativity as they flashed laminated A4 signs mocking Gerrard. At least until people around them starting clapping when Gerrard was brought off for Lucas, then, as is the Chelsea supporters' way, they quickly abandoned their principles, shrugged passively, slipped the A4s back under their seat along with their iPads, and did what everyone else around them was doing.
The final half-hour of the match was most notable for the introductions of Jerome Sinclair and Jordon Ibe. While neither had much of an impact, they offered a glimpse of what Rodgers can tinker with over the season's last two weeks, and they brought some energy and excitement for those on and off the pitch. Liverpool need more than energy and excitement, of course, but with the season gone and fifth or sixth guaranteed, there's no reason for Rodgers not to experiment.
And that's the hope over the final two weeks of the season--experiment with what's there, including the youth players, and try to feature players that will be around next season in roles to which they're best suited . Giving Steven Gerrard a nice sendoff is the top priority, as it probably should be with nothing left to play for, but beyond that Liverpool and Brendan Rodgers need to show something worth watching and building upon against
QPR Crystal Palace and Stoke City.
And then comes the truly hard work of accomplishing what everyone knows needs to be done over the summer.