Liverpool 0-2 Chelsea: 5 Underperformers for Brendan Rodgers' Reds
A tactical shut-out from Jose Mourinho's Blues was more than enough to secure the three points in a disastrous encounter for Brendan Rodgers' Liverpool side, both goals stemming from well-drilled defensive displays and well-taken chances.
The plaudits will go to Mourinho in the aftermath—the way in which he structured his side to diligently contend with Liverpool's oft-overwhelming attacking outfit is characteristic an experienced tactical remit.
Unfortunately for Rodgers, a large proportion of his starting line-up underperformed at this very crucial stage—while the Reds still hold the majority of the cards in this title race, this result will no doubt affect their confidence eminently.
Here are the five biggest underperformers for Brendan Rodgers' side this afternoon.
5. Lucas Leiva
The one name to stick out of Rodgers' starting XI as ill-fitting was Brazilian midfielder Lucas Leiva—a perhaps unfortunate victim of Steven Gerrard's positional change, the ex-Grêmio man has found himself at odds with a more advanced midfield role of late.
This didn't change against Chelsea. The 27-year-old struggled to provide any form of attacking thrust as he operated alongside Joe Allen further towards the Blues' penalty area.
In an immeasurably tough fixture, with Mourinho's men pulling out all the stops defensively, Lucas failed to provide any kind of magic to help his attackers. A solid defensive player at his best, the Brazilian has really struggled since his return from injury.
4. Mamadou Sakho
Many would agree that, on natural ability, Mamadou Sakho is the Reds' most valuable defensive option, and the Frenchman will certainly form a consistent base in Liverpool's back four for years to come.
Deployed alongside Martin Skrtel in this tie, however, the 24-year-old endured a torrid 90 minutes.
Perhaps a victim of his own confidence, the ex-PSG man allowed himself to be bullied by an on-form Demba Ba—who acted as Chelsea's lone frontman—and often came out second-best when it came to duels both in the air and on the ground.
In one instance in particular, the imposing centre-back allowed Ba to win a corner after misjudging the pace of the Senegalese striker. At the other end of the pitch, Sakho was unfortunate to miss a decent opportunity after good work picking up a loose ball in the box—while the Frenchman can't be blamed in that case, his performance throughout left a lot to be desired.
3. Luis Suarez
Niall Quinn spoke at half-time in the Sky Sports studio and opined that Liverpool's big players would need to be at their best to salvage a result against a solid Chelsea side.
While Mourinho's banks of four worked confidently to suppress Liverpool's attacking might, players like Luis Suarez, Raheem Sterling and Phillipe Coutinho began to look visibly frustrated.
Suarez—so often the scourge of Liverpool's opponents this season—failed to conjure up anything to wholly inspire a Reds charge, and as a result the side's attacking thrust diminished.
The majority of the credit has to go to the performances of the Chelsea back four, and Mark Schwarzer in particular, but the Uruguayan looked subdued throughout. Deprived of a full 90 minutes alongside partner-in-crime Daniel Sturridge, Suarez had to make do with feeding off scraps throughout proceedings.
2. Phillipe Coutinho
As per Ben Jefferson of The Daily Express, prior to this tie, Phillipe Coutinho outlined the importance of putting up a fight in order to win the Premier League title at this most important of junctures: "The players know how important these remaining games are, and we will fight and do our best on the pitch to make winning the league happen."
So often the big-game performer at the tail end of this season—with the winner against Manchester City a particular highlight—the 21-year-old seemed to feel the weight of the pressure more than most against Chelsea.
Uncharacteristic of his natural game, the Brazilian produced wayward pass after wayward pass, disrupting any opportunity for the Reds to mount an attack on Chelsea's goal.
When it did come off, it was almost spectacular—an inch-perfect ball behind the Blues' defence needed the slightest of touches from a stretching Luis Suarez to force an equaliser—but Coutinho looked way off the pace in this vital encounter.
1. Steven Gerrard
Liverpool's captain will be pilloried for his mistake, leading to Demba Ba's goal just before half-time, but it was the way in which Steven Gerrard reacted which will be most disappointing for Reds fans.
At this monumental stage in both his career and the club's season, Gerrard seemed to blame himself for a mistake any player could have made and as a result took it upon himself to try to single-handedly bring the Reds back into the game.
So often throughout his career—at Istanbul; the 2006 FA Cup Final; against Napoli in the 2010 Europa League—Liverpool's Captain Fantastic has produced career-defining performances almost single-handedly. However, this wasn't the case against Chelsea on Sunday.
Far too many long range attempts from the 33-year-old often stymied Liverpool's attacking build-up, and more often than not these resulted in easy saves for an inspired Mark Schwarzer.
It is now up to Gerrard to pick himself up from this setback and foster a renewed belief among his teammates as Liverpool look to pick up wins against Crystal Palace and Newcastle respectively to give themselves a chance of winning the Premier League title.
Gerrard and his teammates will, perhaps justly, be criticised for underperforming on this big stage, but it will be in how they react in the following two fixtures where their destinies will be forged—for better or worse—and the Anfield faithful will need to stay behind them as ever.