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Blog - Kicking and Screaming

Liverpool's crying shame as they collide with Chelsea's bus


There were so many tears shed in Liverpool this weekend that I wouldn't be surprised if the Mersey River went from fresh to salt water. First, the blue side of the city decided that it was much more sporting to kick the ball into their own net as Everton managed two own goals in their 2-0 loss to Southampton, once again helping Arsenal to claim its annual fourth-place-really-is-the-prize-we-care-about sweepstakes. Then, the red half descended into a blubbering mess when The Legend That Is Steven Gerrard did what he always does against Chelsea in a big game and supplied an inadvertent "assist" on the goal that might have crushed the life out of Liverpool's brave challenge for their first Prem title since Kenny Dalglish looked more like a Basset Hound and less like a Shar-Pei. In the end, Chelsea prevailed 2-0. - FC Writers: Who's winning the Prem? - Brewin: Mourinho's antics stun Liverpool - Kelly: Liverpool must learn a harsh lesson - FC TV: Blues park the bus Much like pets who sense an earthquake ahead of their human owners, Liverpool's supporters this past week carried the haunted look of those resigned to meeting their impending doom -- furrowed brows, sunken eyes and cuticles chewed to the nub. After 24 years of pent-up frustration, the physical twitches are even more understandable than the mental gymnastics of misery. The league title, once the inherent birthright of all Liverpudlians, had disappeared around the same time as the Sex Pistols, only unlike Sid Vicious and Johnny Rotten, there hadn't been anything resembling a reunion until this season. And to claim their rightful place in the Kop pantheon, all manager Brendan Rodgers' Jedi knights had to do was to extend their scintillating run to 12 wins on the trot against none other than Jose "Darth" Mourinho and his Chelsea Death Star. The buildup began with Mourinho announcing he would play a "weakened team" because Chelsea needed to save their best players for the second leg of their Champions League semifinal against Atletico Madrid this coming Wednesday. Of course, Mourinho's idea of a "weakened team" was 10 battle-hardened internationals -- and Tomas Kalas. The 20-year-old Czech defender, who earlier this week proclaimed he was nothing more than a plastic cone on the Chelsea training ground, was making his first Premier league start so that John Terry could rest in his evil lair. Kalas' assignment? Oh, just to shut down the league's leading goal scorer and Player of the Year, Luis Suarez. No pressure, Tomas. None of this pregame bluster had any discernible impact on Rodgers, who claimed to have slept like a baby the night before. Maybe that's because he cut his coaching teeth as Mourinho's Chelsea assistant for three-and-a-half years, a stint he compared to "being at Harvard University." It should be noted that he made this observation before the august Ivy institution relaxed its standards by hiring Sir Alex Ferguson as a lecturer. If Harvard had any sense of humor, it would ask Mourinho to teach a course in the dark arts. The Special One brought a level of cynicism to Anfield that is usually the sole purview of my relatives. As far as Mourinho The Professor was concerned, if the league's most fearsome attack could breach Chelsea’s back 10, then his star pupil Rodgers had learned his lessons well and Liverpool deserved to be champions. If not, then the Blues would be happy to wait for the Reds to become increasingly frustrated and then hit them on the counter. Unfortunately for all of us who believe in peace, justice, fairness and the miracle of a healthy liver, Mourinho got it right. For 45 minutes, Liverpool held its nerve in what was undoubtedly their biggest game ... since two weeks ago versus Manchester City. Then the Reds had displayed their champions-elect character by digging out an emotional 3-2 victory that had brought tears to Gerrard's eyes as he exhorted his players in the postgame huddle to "not let it f---ing slip." \ What a cruel sense of irony the soccer gods must have to let Stevie G himself slip so spectacularly against Chelsea a fortnight later -- and in first-half stoppage time, no less, after three minutes had been added on due to the Blues' farcical time wasting. So pronounced were the delaying theatrics that seemingly every Chelsea shoelace had to be retied during their goal kicks, free kicks and throw-ins. You'd think that a man with Roman Abramovich's resources could afford industrial strength shoelaces considering he spent $35 million re-signing Nemanja Matic in January for a second time. But clearly Mourinho was looking to distract Liverpool from the task at hand. Why else would he hold on to a ball that had rolled out of touch until Steven Gerrard and Jon Flanagan had to forcefully grab it from him at the six-minute mark? Referee Martin Atkinson pointed at his watch so frequently that he looked like a man with OCD running 38 seconds late for his train. Plus, many of the Chelsea players had clearly taken the Didier Drogba refresher course in muscle spasming as the men in blue kept dropping to the turf at well-timed intervals. If ever there is an Olympic sport in synchronized cramping, I know who my money would be on. Still, as calculated as Mourinho can be, I doubt that his tactical master plan included Gerrard gifting Chelsea the first goal. Liverpool defender Mamadou Sakho collected the ball near the halfway line and played a routine square pass to his captain, who had his head up looking to start the attack. Imagine his horror when he realized that the ball had rolled under his foot and into the acre of space where Chelsea's lone striker Demba Ba was lurking with a clear sight of goal. Desperate to recover, poor Stevie G fell over in a fashion so bumbling that it brought back delicious memories of John Terry’s pratfalls in Moscow and against Robin van Persie at the Bridge. (By the way, what is it with England captains and their inability to remain upright in critical situations?) Gerrard's living nightmare ended with Ba calmly slotting his shot between Simon Mignolet's legs and into the net. Anfield fell silent as despair engulfed their favorite son, who had valiantly rolled back his 16-year clock this season to become the living heartbeat of the Liverpool resurgence. Any normal, good person wanted this elusive first title for Gerrard, which just goes to show how cold-hearted Chelsea fans are. They giddily chanted: "Gerrard does it again, Gerrard does it again." For all his big-game heroics and inspirational leadership, Stevie G has a history of howlers against the Blues. His own goal helped Mourinho lift his first Cup for Chelsea in 2005, and his horrific back pass to goalkeeper Pepe Reina allowed Didier Drogba to swoop in and score the goal that gave the Blues the 2010 title over United. Then, as now, Gerrard tried to make amends by launching long-range Hollywood potshots that were hit more in hope than in conviction. And because of the respect he commands, his teammates deferred to him, playing speculative balls into a penalty area packed tighter than the agonizing thoughts in a Liverpool supporter's head. The Reds had no one -- not Luis Suarez, not Raheem Sterling, not Daniel Sturridge -- who could break down the blue wall Chelsea had erected at the edge of the penalty area. Liverpool's vaunted attacking trident was rendered toothless by a Blues defense featuring the Czech man-child Kalas and the underrated Serbian warrior Branislav Ivanovic. The irresistible force had met the immovable object. It's what Mourinho does away from home, and while you don't have to like watching it, you have to marvel at the organization and discipline that has resulted in the Blues conceding zero goals at Anfield, the Emirates, Old Trafford and the Etihad in the league this season. "Everyone and his dog knew that Chelsea would park the bloody bus today," said Mickey, the lifelong Liverpool fan who tends bar at New York's Football Factory. "What else is Mourinho going to do? Try to outscore the best attacking team in the league?" Once again on Sunday, I found myself surrounded by a boisterous mob of Liverpool fans in the bar's packed mosh pit. The 100-plus red-clad supporters' pregame rendition of "You'll Never Walk Alone" was a magnificent bellowing of hope, a siren call of belief. But as the clock ticked down to the final minutes, their voices sagged like Gerrard's shoulders as he realized neither he nor his team would find redemption against Chelsea. And one final indignity awaited in stoppage time. With everyone but Mignolet pouring forward in search of the equalizer, the Reds left themselves exposed at the back, and when Willian stole the ball at the edge of the Liverpool box, there was nothing in front of him but sunlight and Fernando Torres. A quick outlet pass to the former darling of the Kop and the two were off to the races. As the Spaniard bore down on goal, he selflessly squared the ball to the Brazilian for a tap-in, igniting a wild celebration on the Chelsea touchline. Suddenly, there was Mourinho tearing down the field toward the away end, thumping the crest on his jacket in defiant joy. Like Gerrard, the Special One had done it again. As the delirious Chelsea fans at my pub sang, "The wheels on the bus go round and round..."