Film noir: Chelsea, Gerrard cast Liverpool fairy tale into darkness

Clive Brunskill

Laughing, laughing. I cannot stop laughing.

The script was, as Gary Neville would say, written in the stars.

Liverpool, the people's anointed champion, scoring goals for fun and winning over neutrals near and far, were poised to hoist a league championship trophy for the first time in more than two decades. Three matches remained - win them and the crown, so longed-for, was draped in red.

Shame. Chelsea never really have done scripts.

Jose Mourinho balled up the original treatment for Sunday's cinema-worthy encounter and promptly tossed it into an Anfield waste basket. A True Romance, as so many expected (and sought), was not in the cue cards. Instead, Merseyside was treated to a glorious, glorious nightmare.

Don't Look Now, Steven. The horror may never pass.

Yes, this match will be defined not by what Chelsea accomplished - though what the visitors accomplished was no doubt stunning - but what Steven did.

Poor Steven. He can't help it - the man just absolutely loves the Chels.

Some time ago (four years and a week to be exact), Steven Gerrard, a man who has come to define current generation Liverpool, slid a lovely pass into the path of Didier Drogba to help ensure Chelsea a third league championship of the Roman Abramovich era. Today, Liverpool's long-term captain, a cornerstone of the Reds' recent resurgence, decided the time had come to cock up again.

Gerrard's fatal slip, which allowed Demba Ba to open the scoring and promptly sent Anfield into hysterically convulsive chants, came in first-half stoppage time. Stoppage time that existed solely a result of the visitors' measured approach to the match.

Life's a bit funny, ain't it?

There was nothing humorous about Chelsea's approach to Sunday's event. Calm, measured, impervious - the visitors were bulletproof on this day.

Touted as unstoppable at home, Liverpool came into the game as a shoe-in, if not for victory but for goals. Not one, mind you, but most expected a sprinkling of tallies against a Chelsea squad that would be severely weakened ahead of a midweek Champions League semifinal second leg against Atletico Madrid. Indeed Chelsea was weakened - as weakened as a club of Chelsea's profile and makeup can be - but it mattered little. The performance, one through 11, was exemplary.

Tomas Kalas epitomized the effort. The 20-year-old Czech defender had played more added time than regular time in his Chelsea career, but stepped to the forefront here with an imperious display alongside Branislav Ivanovic. Cesar Azpilicueta was once again impeccable. Ashley Cole, seemingly put out to pasture only a few weeks ago, reminded everyone why he's still the best left-back in England, while Mark Schwarzer proved again to be a reliable goal tenant for the injured Petr Cech.

Ahead of them, Nemanja Matic, John Obi Mikel and Frank Lampard worked tirelessly. So, too, did the likes of Andre Schurrle, Mohamed Salah and Willian. Demba Ba and decision-making do not go hand in hand, but the Senegalese threw himself about with little consideration for his own well-being Sunday and ably pounced when gifted a rare opening by Gerrard. Fernando Torres, well, didn't screw it all up. Quite the opposite in fact.

This was collective excellence, drilled at Cobham under Mourinho and executed with aplomb in the pressure cooker that is Anfield.

There was, too, a bit of walking, some cramp, a fair few fouls and a lot of referee Martin Atikinson pointing to his watch. Anfield was incensed throughout. Gerrard had a word with Mourinho early on. Luis Suarez sarcastically clapped the visitors' array of tactics from the halfway line (pot, kettle, black). It was Chelsea doing Chelsea and doing Chelsea really bloody well.

Rarely has Suarez looked so deficient this season. It was a testament to the effort put forth by Mourinho's men. The Uruguayan tested Schwarzer with a volley as the second half progressed, but had little else to chew on. As the hosts risked more and more in search of an equalizer, Chelsea's resolve only heightened. And as the clock inched into extra time once again, a counter presented itself to Torres who, as he had at the Camp Nou a few years prior, displayed the necessary composure to seal the result.

This time, however, the Spaniard laid off the ball to the advancing Willian, who walked it into the net to set off a rapturous Mourinho touchline celebration.

That's 16 out of a possible 18 points collected against this season's top four, and yet another twist in what has become one of the stranger, more amazing, title races in memory. Mourinho was again quick to rule Chelsea out of the running after the match, but we know better. Anything can happen over the next two weeks, and considering what we've already seen this season, anything will happen.

On to Wednesday night then.
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