Liverpool’s loss to Chelsea on Sunday marked the latest setback in romantic soccer’s long-running war against pragmatism.
Despite controlling play for 90 minutes at Anfied, Liverpool fell 2-0 to a Chelsea team which set out to frustrate and negate its high-powered attack.
Following the game, Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers could barely hide his disdain for the strategy Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho employed against his team.
“Jose’s happy to work that way, to play that way, and he’ll probably shove his CV in front of me and say it works, but it’s not my way of working,” Rodgers said, according to PremierLeague.com. “I like to take the initiative in games, try to dominate and let players express themselves. Our game is based on (being) offensive, being creative, as opposed to stopping.
“It (Chelsea’s approach) is a defensive style, the polar opposite to how we work, and hopefully over time our offensive mentality and aggression will get us long-term results.”
Mourinho saw things differently.
“It was about winning,” he told Sky Sports after the game. “We deserved to win, no doubt about it. It’s as simple as this.
Chelsea’s victory validated the effectiveness of a strategy known in some circles as “anti-football,” and the Blues were within their rights to play that way given their injury problems and selection issues amid succession of big games in April and early May.
The outcome and the response of both managers stoked the flames of a rivalry which has heated to a boil over the last 10 years. Chelsea didn’t end Liverpool’s title charge, but it took destiny out of the Reds’ hands and gave it to Manchester City. Sunday’s game was always going to be a kingmaker, but only time will tell if Mourinho’s strategy actually spoiled the fairytale ending to the season that Liverpool hopes to author.
Despite the defeat, Liverpool’s title credentials remain intact. The Reds cemented themselves among the Premier League elite over the course of months and won’t lose that status because they failed to win a big game.
The Liverpool-Chelsea result merely adds another twist to the most thrilling Premier League campaign in recent memory. There will be no coronation for Liverpool, Chelsea or Manchester City. There will be no pregame honor guards. This season’s standings will be decided on the last day (May 11), and it’s fitting that this fascinatingly strange season would end that way.
Liverpool fans, neutrals who are backing the Reds and soccer romantics will turn their noses up at Chelsea’s victory, saying it was undeserved or the best team didn’t win. It happens all the time in soccer. The underdog — yes, you read that correctly — uses negative tactics to defeat a more powerful opponent. As was the case in 2012 during its improbable run to the UEFA Champions League title, Chelsea did it particularly well on Sunday. It will do so again in the future with the arch-pragmatist Mourinho at the helm.
Liverpool will face such tactics with increasing frequency in next season’s Premier League, domestic cups and Champions League. The next step in the Reds’ evolution will be to discover a way to overrun that approach and win 10 out of 10 games against teams that bunker in. A little luck can get them there. Like the 2013-14 Premier League title itself, they’re not far away from that point.