The Run of Play is a blog about
the wonder and terror of soccer.
We left the window open during a match in October 2007 and a strange wind blew into the room.
Now we walk the forgotten byways of football with a lonely tread, searching for the beautiful, the bewildering, the haunting, and the absurd.
Liverpool v. Chelsea LIVE in the First Annual Head of John Arne Riise Commemorative Fixture. Just think: It was only one Liverpool/Chelsea Champions League cycle ago that John Arne Riise defiantly flung his body forward in the waning moments of a settled game, achieving a state of pure horizontal outstretch that seemed to last for hours before furiously butting the crown of his head against a not-very-dangerous ball, thus sending it directly into his own goal while the Kop looked on in horror. A lot of things have changed since then: Riise’s moved on to Roma, Liverpool have moved from the bottom of the top four to the top of the top four to the upper middle of the top four, and Avram Grant has moved into a changing sequence of rumors involving the plutocratic sub-Chelseas of Ukraine. But one thing hasn’t changed. Liverpool are still playing Chelsea in the Champions League, and we’ve got all the action, or at least a meaningful minority of the action…after the jump.
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The China Shop: Liverpool. Chelsea. Live. Here. 7:15 GMT. 2:15 US Eastern time. Verbs optional.
Accidents Waiting to Happen:
Liverpool: Reina, Aurelio, Carragher, Skrtel, Arbeloa, Lucas, Alonso, Kuyt, Gerrard, Riera, Torres
Subs: Cavalieri, Dossena, Hyppia, Agger, Benayoun, Babel, N’Gog
Chelsea: Cech, Ivanovic, Terry, Alex, A Cole, Essien, Ballack, Lampard, Malouda, Drogba, Kalou
Subs: Hilario, Carvalho, Mikel Obi, Deco, Belletti, Anelka, Mancienne
The Bull, in Prospect: If you’ve taken the time to glance at the internet at any point since the late 1960s, you’ve probably caught wind of an odious rumor to the effect that this is going to be a boring game. I understand why some people might hold that attitude, in the same way that I understand why small children don’t like fine wine: Because they are idiots. Conoisseurs know that the way to appreciate the clashes of these two teams in the Champions League isn’t by the goal or by the game or by the sequence of, say, eight games in a row over several years. It’s by observing tiny changes, won at incredible cost, over an unimaginably long period. This is the official Champions League tie of geologic time.
Nostalgia for the Future: Derek and Tommy are in full swing on ESPN2. Do you realize that since Fox has won the Champions League rights, we’ve only got five more games with these two? That won’t mean anything to non-North American readers, but for many of us, Derek Rae could barely be more a part of our basic impression of the Champions League if he were actually Zadok the Priest.
I Don’t Want to Trend Against the Prevailing “Boring” Hypothesis, But: We do remember that the last Champions League match between these two teams was a shattering extra-time thriller, right? I mean, it was almost as memorable as the Riise Match.
Tommy Smyth Offers His First Analytical Gem of the Night: Okay, try to keep this straight. Liverpool want to win the game. But they don’t want to give up any away goals. Win…but don’t concede goals. That’s the game plan. Got that?
Derek, On the Other Hand: Just called Guus Hiddink a “hungry scholar of the game.” I could kiss him.
1: And we’re off. The first minute utterly disproves the theory that this game will be dull by arranging itself as a sequence of absolutely scintillating throw-ins.
3: Liverpool win a corner, which Kuyt almost blasts into the top right corner of the net. Only a saving header from Ivanovic—pointed away from his goal, in an interesting breach of precedent for this fixture—keeps the ball out of the net.
GOAL – Liverpool!! Already! Liverpool 1 – 0 Chelsea (Torres 6) Kalou drops Fabio Aurelio, giving Liverpool a midfield free kick. The ball is lumped forward toward Torres, lumped out again by Alex, then slipped back by Aurelio to Torres, who deftly slots it past Cech. From a geologic-time standpoint, it’s almost disappointing. Decent from a football standpoint, of course.
8: And Chelsea almost answer immediately! Sloppy defending lets Kalou pick out Drogba in the box. It’s a one-on-one, but Drogba’s shot is poor and Reina keeps it out. This is officially not the Champions League fixture of geologic time.
11: Fernando Torres wins the ball 40 yards out, and takes two Chelsea defenders on a long, stuttering, patient run that they only manage to snuff out when they reach their own penalty area. That was brilliant skill from Torres.
13: Riera threatens to break through down the left, but Ivanovic battlingly knocks the ball away. The play is going on at a searing pace so far; we’ve essentially gone from the Big Bang to the formation of the Himalayas in about 14 minutes.
15: I can’t keep up with this! First the ball’s ponging into the Chelsea six-yard box and being anxiously headed away by Alex, then it’s slicing through two Liverpool defenders to Ballack at the other end, only for Drogba to be called offside.
18: The medics have the red stretcher out on the pitch after Kalou is scissored down by Aurelio. After a few minutes, the Ivorian gets up and limps away under his own power.
20: Lampard sends the ensuing free kick firectly into the Liverpool wall.
21: Ivanovic fouls Riera deep on the left flank, but the Liverpool player takes the free kick before any of his teammates are ready.
24: Kalou, who’s apparently okay, feeds Drogba with a diagonal pass outside the box. Drogba bumps it up ahead to Malouda on the left, but the French player drags the shot well wide.
26: Just when it looks like Chelsea are about to seize the momentum, the ball finds Torres deep in Chelsea territory. As the defense converges, Torres tries a delicate, looping chip, which only very narrowly falls behind the top right corner of the goal. Cech would have had no chance.
29: A dead-eyed pass from Ballack finds Drogba in the center of the area, a step ahead of Carragher. The goal gapes at him, but Drogba assaults the ball with sledgehammer force and sends it honking into the Kuiper belt.
32: Liverpool put together a kind of Lesser Brazilian Sequence, turning Arbeloa’s throw-in into a string of consecutive passes around the Chelsea area, none of them quite dangerous enough to lead to anything.
34: The announcers briefly debate the question of whether Steven Gerrard is the best player in the world, only to conclude mysteriously that whatever the case may be, he’s done less running than Michael Essien so far.
36: Arbeloa, momentarily frustrated, takes an Anti-Lesser-Brazil shot from, I don’t know, nine hundred million yards. Unaccountably, it fails to find the net.
38: We’re not quite watching the gradual formation of a mighty river from the drip of a single icicle over hundreds of millions of years, but after the frenzy of the first half-hour, this is starting to feel more geological. Oh, wait…
GOAL – Chelsea!! Liverpool 1 – 1 Chelsea (Ivanovic 39) Chelsea get the away goal! A busted corner is knocked over the byline by Gerrard, leading to a second corner. Xabi Alonso decides not to defend this one, and Ivanovic takes a little dignified hop as he heads it home.
41: “I think this is a lot more open than a lot of people expected,” Tommy opines. You think?
43: Drogba goes bounding down the left with the ball, but his cross is hopelessly confused. Had he been able, he might have picked out Kalou, who was all alone in the center, or Lampard, who was all alone in the center.
45: Ashley Cole taps the ball out of bounds in what appears to be a defensive capacity. I mention this only because I’ve just realized that Ashley Cole is playing in this match.
Halftime: Well, it’s been a terrific match so far. It’s hard to say who’s had the upper hand—Liverpool dominated the first fifteen minutes, but Chelsea have looked more organized since then, but Liverpool’s heedless crashing counterattacks have created roughly as many opportunities. For all the pace and fury of this game, the decision-making in the final instants has occasionally been somewhat frayed, resulting in a lot of bad shots and badly taken good shots which, had they only been better, could have added several goals.
Halftime II: I’m going to make some popcorn. In the meantime, perhaps you’d be interested in learning that Messi, Eto’o, and Henry have all scored in the Barcelona-Bayern match to this point. And Messi’s scored twice. So, in a way, by the accelerated standards of the day, our game is still the closest you’re going to come to watching rock form under millions of pounds of pressure miles below the surface of the earth.
47: And we’re off again, apparently. I burned my popcorn, then came back from dealing with the flood of smoke in the kitchen just in time to see Alex vainly hurling himself at what looked like a free kick.
48: I seriously just destroyed that popcorn. I don’t even know what happened. Everything is a little faster and more dangerous than I expected today.
49: Fortunately, Siobhan makes this absolutely delicious trail mix with little chocolate chips in it. So I’m not going snackless. Thanks for all your emails.
50: Gerrard, who’s been haunted by the vengeful form of Essien all night, eludes him for long enough to blare a scudding 25-yard shot well outside the goal.
52: Drogba skips through the Liverpool area with the ball, fighting off a challenge, and hypnotizes Reina. The shot is on target, but Carragher clears it off the line at the last possible moment. That would have counted in some Liverpool-Chelsea games. In any case, as JeffG points out in the comments, Drogba should have three goals at this point.
53: In quick succession, Lampard shoots directly into Skrtel, the ball goes rocketing down the pitch, Torres fights for space, and then suddenly Torres is on the ground clutching his ankle. He seems to be all right, but it’s an anxious moment for Liverpool fans. The second half is really starting to tilt toward Chelsea.
57: Liverpool win a corner. Gerrard takes it, but the ball is harmlessly cleared into flyover territory. In the scramble, Skrtel knocks into Essien, who spends a few moments on the ground before spraying himself with water and climbing to his feet.
59: Reina and Terry are both down after a flying collision in front of the Liverpool goal. Chelsea had a corner which was somewhat weakly cleared away, then bashed back toward the Chelsea box. Skrtel missed his clearance, and Reina and Terry both leapt for the ball, finding instead only one another. They’re both fine, but Terry is booked for his part in the incident, meaning that he’ll miss the return leg at Stamford Bridge.
GOAL – Chelsea!! Liverpool 1 – 2 Chelsea (Ivanovic 62) A rainbow ball drops into the center of the box from a Chelsea set piece. Neither Gerrard nor Alonso are bothering to pay attention, and Ivanovic again rises to head it into the net.
66: Yossi Benayoun is being brought on for Liverpool, presumably not because he doesn’t tend to score at dramatic moments in big games. Derek, Tommy and I all agree that Liverpool could use the pick-me-up, as they’re playing with no coherence or conviction at the moment. Arbeloa, Aurelio, and Kuyt have completely disappeared.
GOAL – Chelsea!! Liverpool 1 – 3 Chelsea (Drogba 67) As if on cue, Ballack sends a gorgeous pass to Malouda, who canters down the left before crossing for Drogba, who finally gets the ball into the net.
70: The blackened ruins of my popcorn are looking more likely to advance to the next round of the Champions League than Liverpool are at the moment.
73: Benayoun was brought on for Riera, by the way.
75: Dossena is brought on for Fabio Aurelio, whose last act on the pitch is to draw a yellow card for a late foul on Kalou. He’s one of several Liverpool players who have been completely smothered in the second half. Another is Steven Gerrard.
77: Dossena, who’s been on for two minutes, has already featured in a slapstick exchange with Pepe Reina, which concluded with him nearly heading the ball into his own net in an at this point thoroughly unnecessary homage to John Arne Riise.
80: Anelka comes on for Drogba, Babel comes on for some Liverpool player or other. It doesn’t really matter at this point. I realize that there’s an almost structural tendency in live blogs to become hypercritical of whichever team is losing, but Liverpool have barely resembled the side that devoured Real Madrid and Man Utd just a few weeks ago.
82: Dossena, who’s been on for seven minutes, is jogging around with a slack-jawed expression of patient resignation on his face.
84: “He’s been a poor shadow of his usual self, Steven Gerrard,” Derek Rae comments. That’s true, but a lot of it has to do with the fact that Michael Essien has been a fully-fleshed version of his usual self.
85: Babel doesn’t so much run about on the pitch as discharge himself upon it, firing little salvos of himself in this direction or that, but so far he hasn’t seemed to know where to aim.
87: It’s still 4-0 in Barcelona, so I’m not sure this qualifies as the geologic-time game even by their standards anymore. Way to wreck my stupid central metaphor, Chelsea.
89: Lampard breaks through for Liverpool, and only some intense defending from Reina—who’s basically doing the job of the entire Liverpool back for at this point—on the edge of his own box keeps the Chelsea player from getting his team’s fourth.
90 + 1: Lampard plays Kalou through in the left side of the Liverpool area, but Kalou’s first touch is poor and the Liverpool defense, who are apparently still on the pitch, just do catch up to him. Kalou tries to plink the ball forward to the forward-dashing Lampard, but it doesn’t quite come off.
90 + 3: Benayoun, who’s looking to score dramatic goals at all moments of the day and night, swings wildly at the ball from about nineteen yards, but it disappears into the field of entropy between the shot and Petr Cech.
FULL TIME: And that’s the match, but not before Alonso makes things slightly interesting with a long-distance trumpet blast at the top right corner that forces a splendid leaping save from Petr Cech. Liverpool win the corner, but the ball flies into an asteroid belt of bodies just as the referee puts the whistle to his lips.
FULL TIME II: Liverpool fans, brave to the last, are singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” but even if that were true, it feels like cold comfort at this point. (Who will you walk with? Riera? Really? You want to?) After a relatively even first half, Chelsea were by far the better team in the second, and John Terry or no John Terry are now the overwhelming favorites to advance. Liverpool lost all pretense of organization after the break, got worse as the match progressed, and saw dismal performances from most of its star players. Essien swallowed up Gerrard the way the earth swallows a man who tries to steal the Holy Grail; Torres vanished; and, as Brian points out in the comments (but dude, pick a different name, please), Alonso’s passing was over-ambitious to the point of being deliberately wasteful.
It finished 4-0 in Barcelona, so barring a couple of significant miracles, we’ll see a Barca-Chelsea matchup in the semifinals. Which sounds exciting, especially considering that the second legs of both these fixtures will probably resemble an ice age.
by Brian Phillips · April 8, 2009