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Chelsea bite back, rally to defeat Liverpool

Eden Hazard shines once again, as imperious Blues hand Luis Suarez and company a second successive 2-1 defeat.

Julian Finney

Chelsea aren't very good, they say. Chelsea are struggling for goals, they say. Jose Mourinho is being forced to revert to trademark defensive - nay negative - tactics, they say.

And yet, at halftime of the Premier League season, Chelsea are just two points adrift of the league's summit. A summit that very well could be Chelsea's had a certain volley from Frank Lampard, six days prior, found it sensible to dip a few seconds earlier.

That's some team, I'd say.

Saturday's result, a 2-1 win against visiting Liverpool, was impressive. Most impressive.

It came against an impressive side, one that performed impressively at the Etihad on Boxing Day despite suffering a 2-1 defeat. That, my friends, is impressive use of the word impressive.

Such was the magnitude of Saturday's victory that manager Jose Mourinho roared from the touchline as the final seconds ticked away. The Portuguese encouraged - no, implored - the home support to embrace the moment. To drive the players to the finish line.

They did. The match, Chelsea's most complete of the season, featured the best of both Chelsea guises.

There was the splendid attacking furor that accompanied dynamic, almost irrepressible Chelsea in the minutes that followed the concession of another set-piece goal (courtesy of yet another embarrassing defensive lapse) in the opening stages of the match. Then there was the compact, almost impermeable Chelsea that surfaced in the second half. Like its manager, this was a side in complete control. Like its manager, this side was also not to be bullied.

Much of the pre-match conjecture centered on Luis Suarez, and rightfully so. The Uruguayan is scoring at a truly astonishing rate these days, and it was his appetite for success (and by success, I mean Branislav Ivanovic) that defined Liverpool last season. It seemed only fitting, then, that, following a wry wink from Suarez as they met to shake hands prior to kickoff, the two would tangle in the game's first flash point. As both tumbled to the ground in an effort to reach a curling free kick from Philippe Coutinho, the ball ricocheted off Ivanovic. With David Luiz, employed in midfield by Mourinho, lost in the shuffle, Martin Skrtel managed to ghost in at the near post to deposit past a helpless Petr Cech from no more than a yard out.

Skrtel accepted the holiday gift with aplomb and suddenly Chelsea, undone by yet another defensive wobble, were in a real spot of bother. Not really, though, because, as it turns out, all the hosts needed was a spark.

Sprung to life by Liverpool's early goal, Chelsea proceeded to probe and pass with real electricity. The pace of the match was relentless, and it was Chelsea which proved to be the more skillful and industrious of the two sides over the opening 45 minutes. Eden Hazard, again sensational, Oscar and Willian slashed Liverpool's backline at will, while Frank Lampard and Luiz superbly marshaled the middle of the park against a Liverpool unit playing its third match in eight days.

Warning signs came in the form of strikes from Hazard and Lampard, who unleashed a trademark effort from distance that drew a stunning save from Simon Mignolet.  Then, on 17 minutes, parity was restored through Hazard. The Belgian started the move at midfield, eyeing Willian who in turn found Oscar breaking through the middle toward goal. The Brazilian's attempted pass to Samuel Eto'o on the right was deflected, but only into the path of Hazard, who unleashed a lovely first-time curler into the top right corner. Mignolet, Hazard's fellow countryman, had no chance.

Chelsea continued to sizzle. Slick combination play left Liverpool in knots, and it wasn't long until the hosts had completely turned around the match. Good work from Luiz and Cesar Azpilicueta afforded Oscar some room on the right side of the box and the Brazilian, whose all-around game really is a joy to witness, did well to turn Mamadou Sakho and square the ball for Eto'o. Skrtel, late to respond to the striker's run, couldn't recover in time and Eto'o bundled the ball past Mignolet, who no doubt will be aggrieved not to have made the stop.

Liverpool needed a response, and though Cech did well to palm away a stinging effort from Joe Allen, who was also brilliantly denied by a diving tackle from Gary Cahill, said response was muted. The visitors found some urgency after the break, but Chelsea was measured. Composure and containment were key words, and Mourinho's men were well drilled. There were moments - Sakho directing a free header off the crossbar; Eto'o lashing a goal-bound drive off Mignolet's arm; Suarez and Glen Johnson testing Cech - but, for the most part, the second half was vintage Chelsea. Even the introductions of John Obi Mikel, who replaced an injured Frank Lampard, and Ashley Cole, who came on for the injured Ivanovic, did little to disturb the Chelsea approach.

As the match crept past 90 minutes, there was still time for more incident. On this occasion, however, it was Suarez left to seethe after being bundled to the ground by Eto'o on his way toward goal. Nevermind that Azpilicueta had already relieved him of the ball when the two collided, Suarez wanted a penalty. One wasn't forthcoming. Oscar and Lucas traded pleasantries next, and both were lucky to remain on the pitch. Soon after Howard Webb whistled for full time.

Chelsea now have secured seven out of a possible nine points over the festive period. Liverpool have three. Some things, it seems, never change.

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