Anfield was decked in red and white yesterday as Liverpool were fully expected to record a victory over Jose Mourinho's Chelsea which would all but take them to the club's first English championship since 1990, however the wheels spectacularly fell off the Reds' title charge as they were frustrated by the discipline and focus of Mourinho's defence.
Brendan Rodgers joked after the full-time whistle that Chelsea had "parked two buses, never mind one" in front of their own goal in an attempt to completely quash any Liverpool attacks. There had been weeklong battles through the press between Jose Mourinho and pretty much everybody with the Portuguese coach suggesting he would field a significantly weakened team at Anfield due to the Premier League's unwillingness to rearrange the fixture to aid Chelsea's burgeoning European campaign.
As it happened Jose Mourinho did in fact rest a number of key players including defensive stalwart John Terry but on the whole it was a strong Chelsea team, who most importantly were willing to sacrifice many of their natural games to comply with the manager's demands.
It was a fantastic display of focus from Chelsea. There is no getting away from that fact. Just take Mohamed Salah for example, a winger by trade who can double up as a centre forward when his team requires it. Yesterday Salah played almost as a defensive wing-back for the sixty minutes he was on the pitch allowing Branislav Ivanovic to move into the centre to further crowd the space Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho were hoping to work within. It was the same on the opposite flank with Andre Schurrle.
Liverpool did control the entirety of the first half with Chelsea's backline inviting pressure upon themselves by holding such a deep defensive line, however Suarez and co couldn't quite muster the blistering attacking play which has blown teams away inside ten minutes in previous fixtures. Arguably Liverpool's best chance of the half came through Coutinho who found himself surprisingly unmarked at the back post only for the Brazilian to fire a volley into the side-netting.
Liverpool were comfortably heading into the interval in full control ready to hear the encouragement of manager Brendan Rodgers with Daniel Sturridge also available to bring on from the bench should Liverpool still need a goal later on in the fixture. It was at this moment that the complexion of the game and played right into Mourinho's hands.
Liverpool's captain Steven Gerrard, the club's leader through this quite extraordinary twelve match winning streak, failed to control a routine pass from Mamadou Sakho and then proceeding to slip giving Demba Ba a free run at Simon Mignolet's goal. After hardly featuring in the match until that point the Senegalese striker passed the ball through the Belgian's legs to give Chelsea a shock lead.
This goal gave Chelsea something to defend, it was at this point that gamesmanship came into play. Throughout the second half, Chelsea were guilty of taking their time over throw-ins, free-kicks and injuries and Liverpool let it get to them. The host's became rattled and attacks became erratic and over reliant on Steven Gerrard's ability to take a shot from just outside the area, which Chelsea's defence was all too happy to allow as it kept Suarez off the ball.
Daniel Sturridge was introduced but struggled to have the desired impact and was marked out of the game which once again limited Liverpool's attacking options to Gerrard from outside the penalty area. Liverpool simply couldn't break down the bank of four in midfield and five in defence and when this system was reinforced by the introduction of Willian there was little danger of Chelsea's defenders becoming tired.
Chelsea did look shaky as the end of the match drew near however stand in goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer pulled off a string of impressive saves to deny Gerrard and Suarez and keep Chelsea in the lead.
When the ball broke to Willian deep into injury time Gerrard was the only Liverpool player back and once the Brazilian found Fernando Torres the two had a clear run at Mignolet's goal and duly finished the contest with a second goal.
Even as the iconic 'You'll Never Walk Alone' chant rang around Anfield just after Chelsea's second goal you couldn't help acknowledging the feeling of resignation around the ground. Despite there still being two matches left for Liverpool and at that time four for Manchester City, it felt as though the title had gone. It is now out of Liverpool's hands and you wouldn't bet on a team of City's quality slipping up once again with Pellegrini's team so close to the line.
"Just putting 10 players right on your 18-yard box is not difficult to coach." This was Brendan Rodgers' response to Chelsea's tactics following yesterday's 2-0 defeat however it seems slightly inaccurate. The basic concept of telling players where to stand in relation to a defensive game plan isn't difficult to coach, however getting the full defensive focus of players with an attacking nature for ninety minutes is mightily impressive.
There is an argument to be put forward that no coach other than Jose Mourinho is able to coax such desire and focus out of a Premier League team filled with individual egos and that is why his teams are repeatedly successful when setting up in such a manner.
There is no doubt that yesterday played out how Jose Mourinho had dreamt it would all throughout last week, in fact the whole week played out perfectly.
His post-match comments about the impartiality of officials after the defeat to Sunderland, whilst wholly unacceptable, ensured there was very little mention of how poor Chelsea were in that match throughout the next week. The focus was taken completely off the Chelsea team, placed on an individual who can handle such criticism and the team were allowed to focus on the trip to Anfield and duly get the desired result. Regardless of what you may think of his tactics, yesterday really was a Mourinho masterclass from start to finish.