Liverpool fans could be forgiven for feeling a frustrating sense of déjà vu.
For the second time in four days their team fell to a 2-1 defeat away from home against one of the title-challengers despite taking the lead, and once again Mignolet should be questioned for his failure to prevent the winning goal finding the back of the net. However, the starkest similarity that Liverpool’s defeat to Chelsea yesterday has with their loss at the Etihad on Boxing Day is the puzzlingly poor refereeing.
Howard Webb, supposedly the best referee in the Premier League and one of the best in the world, decided not to show a card of any colour to Samuel Eto’o, despite the Cameroonian making two challenges that could quite easily have seen him shown a straight red. To make matters worse, one of his spiteful tackles was in the box on Luis Suarez and, although Webb had a clear view of the incident, he took no action.
Furthermore, Terry should have been penalised for a foul on Suarez in the box and Oscar was leniently only shown a yellow for a late two footed challenge on Lucas in the dying stages. Even Chelsea had cause to complain, as Lucas admittedly fouled Hazard in the box eleven minutes in. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that on the balance of decisions Chelsea clearly benefitted more from Webb’s incompetence than the Reds, whatever the notoriously cunning Blues’ boss Jose Mourinho claims.
The game began at a thrilling pace and remained thoroughly entertaining for neutrals throughout the first 45 minutes, although Kopites would have been disappointed by the hosts’ dominance, despite the visitors taking the lead only three minutes in. After Eto’o scrapped his studs down Henderson’s shin pads, an offence which ought to have earned him a red card, Coutinho whipped in the resulting free kick and Skrtel was the first to react and tapped home the loose ball from close range.
Chelsea’s response was swift and emphatic. The Blues instantly went up the other end and forced Johnson to make a goal line clearance. Hazard then should have been awarded a penalty for Lucas’ foul on him in the box and Mignolet had to be on top form to tip Lampard’s fine strike over the bar, before the equaliser eventually arrived on 18 minutes when Hazard curled home from the edge of the box to level the score line.
|Skrtel scores early on|
|Mignolet made a great save from Lampard's shot...|
|...but was to blame for Chelsea's second|
The comeback was complete on 33 minutes. Liverpool were complicit in their own downfall, though, as they conceded an eminently preventable second goal only half an hour after they had taken the lead. Eto’o beat Skrtel to Oscar’s cross and toe-poked towards goal. Mignolet got a strong hand to it and should have stopped his effort but only succeeded in turning it into his own net. It was frustratingly bad from the former Sunderland stopper, who otherwise performed relatively well and made some notable saves.
Sandwiched in between Chelsea’s two goals, Liverpool crafted an intelligent attacking move that forced Cahill to make a world-class tackle to deny Joe Allen just as he was about to pull the trigger from six yards out, but apart from that the Reds’ attacking edge was comparatively blunt and Rodgers had work to do during the half time interval.
Sakho’s looping header against the crossbar seven minutes after the restart was encouraging; however the Merseysiders were soon hampered by injuries that highlighted the need to bring in reinforcements in the New Year. While Chelsea have squad depth that enabled them to replace the injured Branislav Ivanovic with England left back Ashley Cole in the first half, Liverpool were left to throw on 19-year old Academy graduate Brad Smith for his senior debut when Joe Allen picked up an injury on the hour mark.
Why Rodgers decided not to bring on his £7 million summer signing Luis Alberto instead of Smith is a mystery, although it might be a subtle hint to the Spaniard that he is surplus to requirements and a cry for FSG to get their chequebook out in January. Sakho was also added to Liverpool’s already extensive injury list in the dying moments when he pulled his hamstring and had to be replaced by Toure.
In their pursuit of an equaliser in the final half hour, the most notable events came when Liverpool were denied not by Chelsea, but by Howard Webb. First, he refused to point to the spot after Terry had clambered all over Suarez as they contested to reach Coutinho’s free kick. As if that decision wasn’t bad enough, with 10 minutes remaining Webb had the perfect view of an off the ball swipe at Suarez from Eto’o in the area but entirely ignored the unbelievable incident.
|Suarez isn't impressed with Webb's explanations|
When Oscar then went in two-footed on Lucas but was only shown a yellow card Liverpool fans knew they weren’t getting the rub of the green and it wouldn’t be their day. They were just thankful that substitute Torres saw his low shot saved by Mignolet, since a goal for that traitor would have rubbed salt in the wounds inflicted on us by both our opponents and the referee.
As irritating as it is to lose two games against close rivals in large part due to unimaginably bad officiating, there is nothing we can do now but look forward to an inviting run of fixtures in January, which should propel Liverpool back into the top four, particularly considering how small the margins are between the teams at the top of the table.
Despite defeats away to City and Chelsea, the season is by no means over for Liverpool.