Chelsea vs. Liverpool: The Advert for Football!
Anyone who had the privilege of watching Chelsea play against Liverpool this past week must surely be in love with the beautiful game of football. The two teams tied 4-4 on the night, though Chelsea held a 7-5 aggregate lead through a two-game set with plenty of twists and turns.
After the first leg, after which Chelsea came away with a sizeable lead, many thought that Liverpool would rest key players and concentrate on the league. And before the game, with Gerrard not even on the bench, you wouldn't have been blamed if you thought that was the case.
But it was not how the game turned out.
After a jittery start from both teams, Liverpool seized control. Benayoun's delightful flick put Torres in on goal, but the Spaniard blazed over.
Still, Liverpool would not have to wait much longer for their goal, as Fabio Aurellio's free-kick soon after was brilliantly put into the bottom corner when everyone else was expecting a cross (including the stranded Petr Cech).
With Liverpool lifted by their goal, Aurellio floated another ball into the Chelsea box, and it fell to Martin Skrtel. The big Slovakian centre-half ballooned his chance over the bar, but it did not matter, as Branislav Ivanovic, the hero of the first leg, manhandled Alonso in the box.
Alonso then dusted himself off and smashed home the penalty, making the score 2-0 Liverpool.
Later, with just over a half-hour gone, Guus Hiddink made his move by having Nicolas Anelka replace Kalou, but it made little difference in the first half as Liverpool remained in control. The halftime whistle couldn't have come at a better time for the Londoners.
A tense second half was sure to follow.
Chelsea returned early from the break and started the faster of the two teams, and with Anelka playing down the right, he broke past Aurellio and crossed low into the box. With no real danger, Didier Drogba flung himself in front of the last defender to clip the ball past Reina and received a little help from the Spaniard's hand. Chelsea climbed back to within one, 1-2.
As with Liverpool's first-half double, Chelsea's goals were not a million miles apart. A long ball up to Drogba was launched and resulted in a free kick 30 yards from goal with an angle to straight for a cross.
Too far for Drogba? Yes. Too far for Lampard? Yes. Too far for Alex? Definitely not. The Brazilian centre-half thundered the ball past a sprawling Reina, almost taking out Carvalho on the way.
With the score now at 2-2, Liverpool needed to score twice more.
The next chance of the game fell to Ballack. A quick counter soon came from Chelsea, as Malouda put just enough on his cross-field pass to beat Carragher and find Drogba, who showed his pace and strength to leave the Liverpool captain-for-the-night a yard behind.
Drogba then found an on running Ballack, who tamely shot at Reina.
Chelsea were now in the ascendancy, and with only half an hour to play, the game seemed to be heading the way that was predicted before the start. And as Liverpool tried to play their way out of defense, their task was made even harder.
A loose pass found its way to Ballack, who delicately threaded the ball to Drogba, who skipped past Skrtel, before pulling the ball back to a waiting Lampard. The game was near over there, at 3-2.
Liverpool now needed three goals, and only quarter of an hour remained. Benitez appeared to throw in the towel as David Ngog replaced Fernando Torres.
But then, there was a pot shot from Lucas, a deflection off Essien, and Liverpool was back in it as the match came eevn at 3-3.
Then the ball came out to the left to find Riera, who shimmied and crossed. Kuyt then burst in front of his man and headed home, making it 3-4. Liverpool had a sniff, though there were just eight minutes on the clock. How Benitez must have wished that he had left his talisman striker on the pitch a bit longer!
A thrilling five minutes followed before Drogba, the star of the night, nipped in to take the ball on the Chelsea right, skipped past another challenge, and allowed Anelka to find Lampard in the box.
Lampard then did what he does best. A curling shot looped over Pepe Riena, off both posts and into the back of the net.
It was now 4-4, and on any other night, that would have been the end of the action.
But there was still time for a scramble in the Chelsea box. The ball fell to substitute Ngog, who toe-poked the ball toward goal from 12 yards. The shot was looking destined for the bottom corner until Michael Essien dove across the goal to head the ball clear. It was a stunning play to end a stunning game.
If there are still any doubters after a game like this that football is indeed the most beautiful game, then please, watch a replay. It will turn you.
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