Chelsea vs. Liverpool: 6 Things We Learned
For the second match in succession. Liverpool took the lead at the home of one of the Premier League's big hitters, only to lose 2-1.
Following the loss to Manchester City on Boxing Day, the Reds fell at Chelsea on Sunday to slip to fifth place in a congested table as the Blues moved up to third.
Just as at the Etihad Stadium, though, the Reds were left cursing their luck, as refereeing decisions didn't go their way in what became a titanic tussle.
Martin Skrtel gave Liverpool an early lead after Chelsea had failed to deal with a set piece, but a fine equaliser from Eden Hazard was then followed by Samuel Eto'o's close-range effort which squirmed beyond Simon Mignolet.
The Reds pressed for a way back into match into the second half, but they were turned down on two penalty shouts from referee Howard Webb following tussles between John Terry and Luis Suarez and then Eto'o and Suarez.
Brendan Rodgers and Liverpool were left cursing their luck, but Chelsea registered a huge win in their battle to stay in touch with the top two places in the table.
Here are six lessons learned from Stamford Bridge:
Hazard Can Produce in a Big Game
Having been on the periphery of things at Arsenal only to emerge to score a somewhat fortunate winner against Swansea on Boxing Day, Eden Hazard was in the spotlight at Stamford Bridge.
The Belgian emerged to produce the goods for his club in a big game. With Liverpool seeking a foothold in the clash, having gone 1-0 up so early on through Martin Skrtel, he produced his composed, measured finish beyond compatriot Simon Mignolet to register Chelsea's leveller so soon after they'd fallen behind.
Hazard should take today as a benchmark, and as long as he keeps this kind of form up, there is no reason to believe that he won't be a key man for the Blues in the months to come.
Reds Get a Ref Deal Again
Brendan Rodgers had been incensed by the performance of referee Lee Mason and his fellow officials in Liverpool's Boxing Day loss at Manchester City, via BBC, and this time Howard Webb was the man in the firing line.
In approaching such a crucial period of their season without key members of their squad, the Reds were going to have to be lucky to get anything from the Etihad and Stamford Bridge. But to the baffling offside decision against Raheem Sterling at City you can now add Webb's refusal to give a penalty following a clear trip from Eto'o on Suarez late in the contest here.
Rodgers and Liverpool can't afford to dwell on these instances, though, and must instead move on to a second half of the campaign in which they'll hope to receive a little more fortune in the big games.
Luiz Can Become Mourinho's Destroyer
Perhaps it was out of a stubbornness and determination not to repeat a tactic that his predecessor Rafael Benitez often used to good effect, but Jose Mourinho had been reluctant to play David Luiz in midfield during this campaign.
Without the suspended Ramires here, though, the Portuguese boss decided that Luiz was the best option to counteract a vibrant Liverpool attack which had shone so well at Manchester City.
It worked, too, with Luis Suarez in particular kept pretty quiet as Chelsea sought to kill off their opponents in a clash which was so dependent on who could win the midfield battle.
Luiz won it for Chelsea, and thus his team earned the three points.
Liverpool's Squad Is Stretched to Breaking Point
The newest Liverpool debutant, Brad Smith, was an unused substitute in Liverpool's defeat at Manchester City and here was joined by the even younger Jordan Rossiter on the bench.
The presence of the 16-year-old Rossiter so close to the world-renowned stars amongst Chelsea's replacements should, of course, be celebrated from the youngster's point of view, but it was hard to escape the lack of depth in Liverpool's squad.
Steven Gerrard, Daniel Sturridge, Jose Enrique, Jordon Ibe and Victor Moses were all missing for the Reds here, but whereas clubs such as Chelsea can shrug off such absences, Liverpool cannot.
The Reds even saw an early injury to Branislav Ivanovic lead to him being replaced by England's left-back Ashley Cole.
That, perhaps more than anything else, underlines the battle that Rodgers has in trying to keep up with the elite.
Chelsea Are Well Placed Going into the New Year
Unconvincing at times they may have been, but Chelsea are two points off the top spot going into 2014 and look in no mood to let their lofty position slip.
Jose Mourinho's side are still not easy on the eye, but once they get going, they can be a winning machine the likes of which can't be replicated elsewhere in the Premier League. The strong suspicion has to be that victories such as today's simply come as second nature to them.
A tricky trip to Southampton awaits next, before Chelsea face three league games that you'd expect them to win, including a home clash with Manchester United in three weeks' time.
Liverpool Can Regroup and Go Again
There is enough energy, enthusiasm and, judging by a debut for Brad Smith, youth in this Liverpool team to suggest that the Reds can put their two recent defeats behind them and go again in their challenge for a top-four spot.
Having narrowly lost to two of the elite teams in the division, the Reds now face a winnable set of fixtures in which the next true test will likely be a Merseyside derby at Anfield at the end of January.
Regardless of these two losses, Brendan Rodgers and the Reds have still progressed markedly during 2013, so much so that a Chelsea v Liverpool league clash actually felt like a big, potentially decisive game again here.
And it's been a long time since Reds fans have felt that.
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