Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Advantage Chelsea

A late own goal by John Arne Riise has given Chelsea the advantage, after the first leg of their Champions League semifinal match against Liverpool. Just as expected, it was a drab affair at Anfield with the two teams canceling each other out for most of the ninety minutes. Chelsea were set up with both Lampard and Ballack being deployed in advanced roles in the middle of midfield, but neither had any joy as Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano anchored the Liverpool midfield to perfection by breaking up virtually every Chelsea attack that came down the middle. Didier Drogba was double teamed by Carragher and Skrtel whenever possible and neither Joe Cole nor Florent Malouda on the flanks was able to create any chance of significance for the visitors as Liverpool dominated possession.

The first clear cut opening of the game fell to Dirk Kujt who in his characteristically clumsy fashion failed to control the ball and in the process let the chance slip. He did make amends for his earlier miss though when a Mascherano shot scooped up fortuitously for him as he slid in to give
Liverpool the advantage in the 43rd minute of the game. In the second half the home team started brightly and a Gerrard through ball gave Fernando Torres the chance to double the lead, but the star striker was unable to beat Petr Cech. Avram Grant sent on Salamon Kalou for the highly ineffective Joe Cole but this did nothing to sway the game in the visitor’s favour as Liverpool continued to press home their advantage. Petr Cech made a couple of good saves from Gerrard and Torres to keep Chelsea in the contest and late in stoppage time the immense value of the saves was felt as Riise stooped down to head past his own goalkeeper when he could have easily put his right foot through the ball and cleared it to safety. Riise’s stupidity undid all the good work of the team in the previous 93 minutes and means that Chelsea have the slender upper hand in the tie.

Rafael Benitez blamed the refereeing after the match and in particular he questioned the decision to play 4 minutes of stoppage time. Whilst his questions may be justifiable, I think Benitez has no right to complain about refereeing in Champions League games as it is the refereeing that has got
Liverpool to this stage of the competition. Besides Liverpool could have easily come out of the game with the advantage if only Rafa had done the right thing by replacing the injured Aurelio with Hyypia and moving Arbeloa into a left back position and playing Carragher in right back for the remaining period of the game. His decision to pick Aurelio as his first choice left back over Riise in the latter part of the season has worked wonders for him and I am sure he will be hoping that Aurelio is fit in time for the second leg at Stamford Bridge. Going into the second leg, although Chelsea have the slight advantage, they cannot take things for granted. I am sure Benitez who is a master tactician will have a trick or two up his sleeve. I do however expect another dull and dreary game of football at the Bridge as the two teams are likely to line up in much the same way for the second leg.

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