In his latest article Eamonn Bermingham discusses a tumultuous Sunday for Liverpool FC and how Liverpool should salvage the positives out of Chelsea's vehicular tactics.
It was not without irony that the league’s best player collected the PFA gong on a day when he was anything but, against a Chelsea side drilled to upset, antagonise and inflict pain on its opponents. Equally compelling is the memory that little more than one year ago it was Suarez who upset, antagonised and inflicted pain on his opponent in the corresponding fixture; nibbling his way into the hearts of Chelsea fans.
It was the hearts of Liverpool fans that were punctured this time round; cruelly pierced by the tactics of a manager untroubled by appearances and with scant regard for the script.
The sense of injustice that both goals arrived during the additional time designed to punish Chelsea for their endless time wasting was a parody exceeded only by the sight of a cranky white-haired Mourinho gesticulating on the sideline, refusing to give the ball back to Steven Gerrard. The grumpy pensioner routine was a familiar scene for any one of the millions of kids that have kicked a ball over the wrong fence in their time.
For Liverpool fans it was a day dripping with dark humour. The timing of Gerrard’s first half slip was so lacking in credibility that you half expected Chelsea’s manager to enter the pitch from stage left in the style of the late Jeremy Beadle, carrying an oversized microphone, sporting a fake moustache and glasses. The disbelieving look on Gerrard’s face as Mourinho would remove the disguise, place an arm around his shoulder and confess to planting a banana skin in that very spot before the game. “No way! I can’t believe it. I can’t bleeping believe it. Bleeeeeep. Hahaha, no way. Bleep off.”
Alas, the Liverpool skipper wasn’t the only one to leave the stadium with the feeling that he’d just been Mourinho’d on Sunday. Clearly not satisfied with the glib analogy that Chelsea had ‘parked the bus’, Brendan Rodgers upped the ante post-match suggesting that Liverpool’s opponents had plonked two buses in front of the goal.
There will come a day in the not-too-distant future when buses will no longer suffice for the media sound-bite and teams will start parking bigger and more cumbersome transportation vehicles in front of goal.
“I thought we coped ok for the first hour, given that they’d parked an Airbus A380 in front of goal, but obviously once they wheeled out the locomotive train it became harder to find a way through.”
Inanimate objects aside, Rodgers will take several learnings from Sunday’s defeat. The notion that he should’ve played for a draw, as has been suggested in several quarters, is not one of them. Human nature has a tendency to point to a flawed process for explaining poor outcomes, but it would be lazy and wrong to suggest that Liverpool should’ve played the point that would’ve left matters in their own hands. The class of 2014 is hardwired to win games of football, and had gobbled up eleven on the bounce heading into Sunday’s showdown. Had Liverpool played for a draw and lost- a very real possibility given that Chelsea needed to win- some serious questions would rightfully have been asked of the chosen tactics.
As it happens we were undone by a couple of breakaway goals, some resolute defending and a display of gamesmanship, designed to ruffle the peacock’s feathers.
Was it hard to watch? Yes, it was lousy.
Did Chelsea do something wrong? Mourinho is undoubtedly a rascal, but the answer is no. The visitors walked on to the Anfield turf in the knowledge that those who’d gone before them had conceded an average of almost three goals per game this season.
Regardless of how much money was spent putting his team together, Mourinho knew that rope-a-dope was the only path to victory. And although there was something deeply unsavoury about the constant scheming of their players, the fact that Chelsea consistently squeezed on the elasticity of the rules is a matter for the lawmakers of the game. It was Liverpool’s job to unpick the lock and for one of the few times this season, the team failed.
Besides, the world needs villains, and football is no different. As Al Pacino said in Scarface:
“You need people like me. You need people like me so you can point your f**kin' fingers and say, ‘That's the bad guy’”
But what use is the bad guy if he can’t have a win every now and then?
When the dust has settled on this season, Brendan Rodgers will have time to contemplate the challenges of competing on two major fronts next time out. The Champions League is an unruly beast that will be tamed with nothing less than a full arsenal of tactics. And although the manager admirably says he will never delve into the dark arts like his Chelsea counterpart, the occasional spoonful of catenaccio could be just what the doctor ordered next season when Liverpool go toe-to-toe with Europe’s elite.
It remains, however, a conversation for another day. For now there is still the small matter of a league title challenge that is damaged, but not doomed.
From Fat Sam’s medieval football to the nouveau riches of Man City, Liverpool has emerged victorious against various ‘forces of evil’ in recent weeks. The run had to end somewhere.