Posts Tagged ‘Dirk Kuyt’

Liverpool 1-1 Chelsea: Reds Take a Huge Self-Inflicted Slap in the Face (UEFA Champions League Semi-Finals, Leg 1)

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2008

Well what do you know? Just when they seemed to have obtained a hard-fought (and boring, to be honest) tactical victory on their home soil, and when it looked like Chelsea had thrown in the towel, disaster struck the Liverpool Reds. The melody of “You’ll never walk alone” instantly transformed from a chant of victory to a song of consolation, when the 94th minute diving header of Jon Arne Riise entered Pepe Reina’s net and negated Dirk Kuyt’s opener in the 43rd.

The 1-1 final scoreline, in this UEFA Champions League Semi-Final first leg, is not only a huge slap in the face for Rafael Benitez and his boys’ efforts, but goes to reward (perhaps undeservedly) a Blues team which, throughout the 90 minutes of the match, had not done much to find the back of the net. Avram Grant will certainly look forward to the return leg at Stamford Bridge next week, as Chelsea are now favorites to advance to the final in Moscow.

Tactically, the two teams stepped on Anfield’s pitch with almost similar line-ups: Fernando Torres and Didier Drogba served as Liverpool’s and Chelsea’s striking reference points, parked in front of a thick central midfield barrier and 4-man backline defense. Compared to pre-match expectations, the only last-minute change came on Benitez’s part, who had to deal with the non-ideal conditions of Sami Hyypiä. Starting in the Reds’ central defense therefore were Martin Škrtel and Jamie Carragher, with Álvaro Arbeloa replacing the Englishman on the right side.

The match started at a very slow pace, also because Liverpool and Chelsea are two teams knowing each other perfectly and with their fair share of previous encounters, all punctuated by intense battling but (alas) often not a great deal of spectacle (the horrendously boring Semi-Final Second Leg from last year’s Champions League comes to mind). To make matters worse, the referee for tonight’s match was Austrian Konrad Plautz, the kind of guy that calls every single contact (much contrary to Premier League standards) and prevents the game from picking up pace.

As a result, there was not much worth the mention in the initial 40 minutes of the match. Liverpool controlled ball possession a little bit better, and created a good opportunity when Dirk Kuyt was sent forward by Xabi Alonso, but the tall Dutchman missed his control and the chance went begging. Chelsea on their part reacted timidly to their opponents’ domination, but had a great chance when an early Frank Lampard cross found Joe Cole alone inside the box. The English winger however, perhaps not realizing he had time to control, attempted a speculative on-the-run volley which went horribly amiss.

5 minutes from the end, we finally saw some real action. In minute 43 Gerrard found space to slide the ball to Fernando Torres, but the Spaniard’s finish found the steady hands of Petr Cech. The Chelsea keeper could do very little however 2 minutes later, when a lost ball by Lampard allowed Liverpool to re-take possession on the edge of the box, and feed Javier Mascherano. The Argentine sent a looping pass forward towards Dirk Kuyt, at which point Claude Makelele decided to do his “jump-at-the-ball-but-don’t-touch-it” bit, and succeeded admirably. The Liverpool striker hit the ball on the bounce, and beat Cech under his legs. 1-0 Liverpool at the break.

In the second half Liverpool really pushed on the gas pedal, realizing the Blues were now passive spectators and seemingly had a very tough time at keeping possession. Whenever a Chelsea player controlled the ball he would immediately be pressured by one or two opponents, forcing John Terry & colleagues to skip midfield altogether and send the ball directly to a lonesome Didier Drogba. The Ivorian striker did what he could at the top of the Blues’ attack, but with very little support from the Chelsea players and an always ready Jamie Carragher to block his progress, Drogba was being contained and Pepe Reina having a quiet night.

The absence of Michael Essien (suspended) was becoming all too evident in the Chelsea midfield, so Avram Grant decided to break the situation by inserting Solomon Kalou for an inconclusive Joe Cole. The change produced immediate effects because the Blues finally stuck their heads out of the hole, and began counter-acting their opponents’ pressure with fast & accurate one-touch passing combinations. Finally, Reina had some work to do as Lampard and Ballack drew nearer to the Liverpol box, and Florent Malouda came very close to obtaining the equalizer.

On the other end, the fact that Chelsea were now pushing up created more space for Liverpool, which was very nearly exploited by Steven Gerrard’s top-corner-bound half-volley (brilliantly saved by Cech) and Fernando Torres’s close-range finish (also saved by the Czech keeper). The final minutes were getting vibrant, but then dropped in pace again as both teams seemed content with the result (Liverpool because they were taking a 1-0 home lead into the second leg, and Chelsea because… well losing by one away wasn’t all that bad).

Until the last second of stoppage time, when a throw-in on the left-wing was sent towards Solomon Kalou, who turned around and crossed towards goal. Trying to clear the ball into corner, Jon Arne Riise (on for the injured Fábio Aurélio) threw himself into a diving header which, alas for Reds fans, slammed hard into the roof of the net leaving Reina dumbfounded. 1-1, utter disbelief among Liverpool ranks and joy for Avram Grant. Next Wednesday’s return leg at Stamford Bridge should be quite interesting indeed…


[Match Highlights]
 Chelsea F.C.
GOALSCORERS: 43’ Kuyt (L), 94’ Riise o.g. (C)
LIVERPOOL (4-2-3-1) Reina – Arbeloa, Carragher, Skrtel, Fabio Aurelio (62’ Riise) – Mascherano, X.Alonso – Kuyt, Gerrard, Babel (76’ Benayoun), F.Torres. (bench: andje, Hyypia, Crouch, Pennant, Lucas Leiva). Coach: Benitez.
CHELSEA (4-3-3): Cech – P.Ferreira, R.Carvalho, Terry, A.Cole – Ballack (86’ Anelka), Makelele, Lampard – J.Cole (63’ S.Kalou), Drogba, Malouda. (bench: Hilario, Shevchenko, Mikel, Alex, Belletti). Coach: Grant.