By Wayne Veysey at Stamford Bridge
It was instructive that Liverpool’s travelling support draped a banner reading ‘AGAINST MOD£RN FOOTBALL’ over the hoarding that separates the two tiers of the away end.
Given the pound sign in the second word, the aim was to highlight the rampant commercialism in the game, which leaves Liverpool, once conquerors of Europe, hanging on the coat-tails of their competitors at home and abroad.
Nowhere is this financial gap more evident than at Stamford Bridge, home to the club who have benefited from nearly a decade of oligarch largess.
While Chelsea post an unlikely profit for the first time in Roman Abramovich’s reign on the back of their Champions League triumph and prepare to beef up their squad with more monster signings in January, Liverpool are operating in a different financial sphere.
Foreign speculators also reign at Anfield but the frivolity of the Boston-based owners ended with the cheques that were signed off in the disastrous summer of 2011.
Clint Dempsey is yet to make Fenway Sports Group regret their puny £3 million deadline day bid for a player that cost Tottenham £7.5m including add-ons.
But the ambitions of the two opposing clubs off the pitch was reflected in events on it, despite a 1-1 scoreline that flattered the visitors.
Brendan Rodgers, once of this parish, tried to narrow the gap between the two clubs with the same left-field tactical ploy that proved so profitable for Kenny Dalglish at Stamford Bridge two seasons ago, when Liverpool chalked a notable 1-0 victory.
The 3-5-2 formation, with Steven Gerrard, Joe Allen and Nuri Sahin book-ended by wing-backs Glen Johnson and Jose Enrique, helped Rodgers’ team dominate possession, 56.9 per cent to the home side’s 43.1%.
But it meant very little. It was possession of the kind that looks good in bar charts and tables afterwards but signified nothing of note during the match itself.
Despite being below their buccaneering best, Chelsea were by far the more dangerous of the two teams. In Liverpool’s goal, Brad Jones was only made to make one really fine save, a smart parry of a flashed Fernando Torres header, but a series of shots were intercepted by last-ditch challenges or flashed just wide or over the goal, with Juan Mata and Oscar, at either end of the opening period, being the most culpable offenders.
Liverpool had the excellent Suarez, a danger to any defence, but Chelsea had nimble, clever attackers swarming over their substitute’s bench as well as behind under-pressure front man Fernando Torres.
It was not until Rodgers called Suso over from the bench to gaze at some tactical diagrams in his notebook and sent the young Spaniard on to replace the anonymous Nuri Sahin that Liverpool shifted out of their aimless passing routine.
Reverting to Liverpool’s regular 4-2-3-1, Suso took up an advanced midfield role and the versatile Glen Johnson moved from right wing-back to left midfield.
It required a smartly worked corner routine to fashion Liverpool’s first shot on target of the game – after 73 minutes – and level the scores but Rodgers’ team did not just sit back at that point.
With Luis Suarez sending tremors through the stiffening hosts’ defence every time he wriggled his hips, Liverpool finished the stronger of the teams and could even have stolen all three points had Petr Cech not stopped the Uruguayan in his tracks late on.
Jamie Carragher, who defended so stoutly in what was a rare start, reflected that a point was well deserved, but Rodgers offered a more realistic post-match assessment.
“The reality is we are a long way off,” said the Liverpool manager of the gap between his team and a top three who should have the title race to themselves.
The Merseysiders are unbeaten in six league matches as their young team make baby steps forward following a stuttering start to the campaign.
But the last three have only been drawn and a haul of 12 points from 11 games demonstrates the progress that has to be made simply to achieve the top-six finish that will be regarded as a minimum requirement by Rodgers and his line managers.
A 12-point deficit from Chelsea, never mind the yawning 15-point gap from leaders Manchester United, will hurt the Liverpool supporters, as will Rodgers’ view of his former employers.
“It’s a difficult place to come. They’re European champions – a fantastic club,” he added.
Liverpool need no invitation to remind Chelsea that they can reflect on the kind of rich history that their rivals cannot.
But, in the modern era, Chelsea have pulled away. Little wonder Liverpool fans yearn for another age.
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