Jose Mourinho’s script does not vary. Every club he has managed, the modes operandi has been the same. Shift the focus from his team to himself, irritate, aggravate and niggle until everybody has taken their eyes off where they should be (at the players on the pitch) and moved them to the self-proclaimed special one.
On Sunday afternoon, Mourinho succeeded once again – lulling his opposite number Brendan Rodgers and Liverpool FC into a false sense of security with numerous whispers of a “weakened team” and how attention would be on Wednesday’s Champions League encounter against Atletico Madrid. The Chelsea team sheet was anything but weak, with international players in every position – yes, a couple of key players were absent through injury or suspension but Brendan Rodgers would have wished he had similar depth in his thin squad.
There were numerous complaints about ‘anti-football’ and Rodgers himself whined about ‘two parked busses’ in the post-game analysis, but the only finger pointing should be directed at the Liverpool manager who failed to provide a plan B for his players. Chelsea played an almost identical style against Manchester City at the Etihad stadium – disciplined defending and then looking to counter quickly when the opportunity arose. If Rodgers had studied the video of that game, it was not apparent as his team tried to play their usual quick-passing and pacy attacking game that has blitzed many before them this season.
This time, however, they were up against a well-disciplined and organized defence and there were no gaps or spaces for Suarez, Sterling and Coutinho to break into. Like Barcelona’s latter years, Liverpool were found to be a bit of a one-trick pony and had little variety to offer going forward.
Talismanic captain Steven Gerrard, who has had a fine season in the twilight of his career was ironically the one who gave Chelsea their breakthrough as he mis-controlled a pass, then slipped as he attempted to recover, which allowed Demba Ba the chance to sneak in and slot past Mignolet. As he attempted to make good his error, Gerrard spent most of the second half trying to score screamers from outside the penalty area instead of trying patiently to unlock the Chelsea defence.
Liverpool also missed the hard running and energetic presence of the suspended Jordan Henderson. However, this should not detract from a fantastic display from the Blues who followed their managers instructions and provided a near-perfect performance. The only blot in the match report was the time-wasting and gamesmanship tactics employed by Chelsea from the first whistle – although many will comment that this is what the “modern game” is all about now.
Brendan Rodgers showed his naïveté at this level – playing for the win, when a draw would have sufficed. Mourinho showed his experience at the top level by employing the correct tactics to overcome his opponent.
Liverpool fans may still dare to dream, but they need the blue half of Merseyside to do them a huge favour by beating Manchester City to have a chance of remaining in the title chase. The way results have gone this season, impossible is nothing.