Chelsea came from behind to earn a vital three points in the Premier League title race with a 2-1 triumph over rivals Liverpool on Sunday.
Martin Skrtel had put Brendan Rodgers’s men ahead at Stamford Bridge inside five minutes but strikes from Eden Hazard and Samuel Eto’o secured a fourth consecutive home win for the Blues to give their championship hopes a boost.
Liverpool – who had only lost once in their previous six outings at Stamford Bridge – stormed out of the blocks and took the lead via Skrtel’s close-range finish.
But Chelsea were ahead before half-time with a wonderful curling effort from Hazard and Eto’o’s side-footed strike from six yards turning things around.
|VIEW FROM STAMFORD BRIDGE
|By Greg Stobart
Chelsea may not have hit their best this season but they are truly in the title race after a victory that moves them to within two points of the top.
You could tell what it meant to Jose Mourinho as he whipped the Stamford Bridge crowd into a frenzy in the final minutes and even stepped on the pitch to accuse Luis Suarez of diving late on.
This was an excellent performance from the Blues, particularly in the first half, with Eden Hazard embodying a performance of attacking intensity and craft.
After Martin Skrtel had poked Liverpool ahead, Hazard equalised with a stunning effort before Samuel Eto’o poked in the winner in the 35th minute.
But Eto’o might easily have let Liverpool back into the game had referee Howard Webb spotted the Cameroonian’s stupid challenge on Luis Suarez in the penalty area towards the end. Brendan Rodgers has already landed himself in hot water over recent criticism of officials but the Reds manager will be furious that Webb did not award a spot kick.
But this did feel like one game too many for Liverpool in the busy festive period. Their star performers, especially Luis Suarez, seemed off the pace and the introduction of academy product Brad Jones for his debut highlighted the lack of depth in their squad.
Both sides had opportunities in a lively second period, with Liverpool having legitimate claims for a penalty turned away when the Cameroonian appeared to haul down Luis Suarez in the area.
However, it was Chelsea who emerged victorious with Jose Mourinho’s men – who now sit third in the table – closing the gap on leaders Arsenal to two points, while the Reds lie fifth after back-to-back top-flight defeats.
Frank Lampard replaced the suspended Ramires in one of four changes for Chelsea, while Liverpool named Daniel Agger in place of Aly Cissokho.
Liverpool were awarded an early free kick when Eto’o upended Jordan Henderson, with replays suggesting that the Cameroonian was perhaps lucky to escape punishment, and, from the resulting set-piece, they went ahead. Suarez’s header was only partially blocked by Branislav Ivanovic and Skrtel reacted quickest to tap home a close-range rebound.
Chelsea almost had an immediate response when Simon Mignolet saved Hazard’s initial effort but the ball deflected goalwards and required Glen Johnson to clear.
The hosts continued to attack and the pressure finally paid dividends after 17 minutes – Oscar driving at the defence and his intercepted pass falling kindly for Hazard, who curled expertly into the top corner.
Liverpool were struggling for fluency and the home fans were celebrating again on 34 minutes as Eto’o completed the turnaround. Oscar was the architect again, crossing low this time into the six-yard box where Eto’o squeezed the ball beyond Mignolet.
Searching for a swift response after the break, the visitors almost levelled when Mamadou Sakho’s looping header rebounded off the crossbar.
After surviving that scare, Chelsea almost extended their lead after 54 minutes as Eto’o collected Hazard’s throughball and forced Mignolet into a near-post save.
Oscar then flashed an effort wide of the far post while, at the other end, Petr Cech had to be on his guard to parry Johnson’s low, left-footed drive.
Liverpool were unlucky not to be awarded a penalty with time running out when Eto’o cut across Suarez in the penalty area but referee Howard Webb waved away the protests.
Oscar was also fortunate to escape with just a yellow card for a lunge on Lucas Leiva in injury time but Chelsea held on for the win.