LONDON — Chelsea’s first game since winning the Premier League title ended in a 1-1 draw with Liverpool at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.
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Veterans John Terry and Steven Gerrard traded headers in the first half but despite heavy Liverpool pressure in the second half the Blues held on for a point as they remain unbeaten at home this season. Liverpool’s faint top four hopes are now all but over as they need to win both of their final two games and Manchester United can’t get a single point from their final matches. Not going to happen.
Here’s three things we learned from the draw in the sun in west London.
GERRARD NOT READY FOR LIVERPOOL CAREER TO END
Steven Gerrard’s farewell tour continues in the Premier League and Liverpool’s captain is putting on a show. Scoring the late winner last week against Queens Park Rangers and then equalizing for Liverpool before the break at Chelsea, Gerrard is preparing for live in Major League Soccer rather well.
In his programme notes before the game on Sunday Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho took the time to honor Gerrard and his remarkable 17-year career at Liverpool. Earlier this week Mourinho revealed how he tried to sign Gerrard while he was manager at Chelsea, Inter Milan and Real Madrid and called him a “dear enemy” and wished him well in MLS.
“I want to honor a dear enemy: Steven Gerrard. We need dear enemies to be better, to be pushed to our limits, and no one in this country was that dear enemy better than Steven Gerrard – a super player and a good man, for sure,” Mourinho said. “Against Steve, we won, we drew, we lost, we had moments of great happiness or huge disappointment. In fact, we were brothers in this passion for our game. I will miss him, it will be the last time that Stamford Bride can enjoy this dear enemy. I wish you the best, Steve – be happy in the USA with our legend Frank Lampard. The Premier League will miss you both.”
Well said, Mr. Mourinho. Despite the extremely warm reception and standing ovation Gerrard received from both sets of fans as he was substituted in the 80th minute, songs about his slip against Chelsea which ultimately cost Liverpool the PL title last season were still sung by the home fans. Gerrard was incredibly close to joining Chelsea in the summer of 2005 after the Reds won the UEFA Champions League title, but he pulled out at the last minute. The animosity towards Gerrard from Chelsea’s fans over the years meant that the man himself took the gesture of an ovation from the home fans with a pinch of salt.
“I was more happy with the ovation from the Liverpool fans,” Gerrard said. “Chelsea fans have had respect for a couple of seconds today but have slaughtered me all game. I’m not going to get drawn into wishing Chelsea fans well. It was nice of them to turn up for once today.”
At the age of 34, Gerrard may no longer be the swashbuckling midfielder which placed him among the pantheons of Premier League greats. But he is still a fine player and with just two games of his PL career to go, we will see him honored during his final game at Anfield next week vs. Crystal Palace and then for one last time in a red shirt against Stoke on May 24. Before he heads to LA, ‘Stevie G’ is giving everyone in England a final reminder of his greatness.
LOFTUS-CHEEK GIVES PROMISE TO NEW WAVE
On Sunday we saw a shinning light of Chelsea’s academy break through and make his first start for the Blues. Ruben Loftus-Cheek, just 19, started in a holding midfield role alongside John Obi Mikel and put in an assured display full of tidy passing in front of the back four. His telescopic legs saw him nick the ball back on plenty of occasions in the first half and his passing percentage was 100 percent after completing 23 passes out of 23 in the first 45 minutes and didn’t give the ball away during his 60 minutes on the pitch before being replaced by Nemanja Matic. Before, during and as he was subbed off, Loftus-Cheek received a rousing ovation from the home fans as they look for the next youngster to come through the ranks. Not since John Terry arrived 17 years ago has Chelsea produced an academy product who has gone on to play regularly. Loftus-Cheek didn’t put a foot wrong but it was more of a steady full debut rather than a spectacular one.
As is the case with all young players, he still has a lot to learn but he has proven he can cope with the pace of the Premier League after his first start. One scary moment arrived in the 23rd minute as he played a blind ball to Kurt Zouma which nearly caught Chelsea out. Mourinho wasn’t happy and made the teenager aware of his anger following the dangerous ball in front of Chelsea’s back four. Overall, it was a solid debut for the Londoner as he took no risks but proved he can become a key squad member and a solid option in central midfield next season. Long-term, Loftus-Cheek should get the nod over Mikel which will likely see the latter leave Stamford Bridge over the summer to find regular action. Chelsea has a whole host of youngsters such as Nathan Ake, Kurt Zouma, Isaiah Brown, Lewis Baker, Dominic Solanke and Patrick Bamford ready to follow in Loftus-Cheek’s footsteps. With the ascendancy of Financial Fair Play rules and homegrown players needed in squads, Mourinho may have to lean on Chelsea’s talented academy setup (who have won the UEFA U-19 championships and the FA Youth Cup back-to-back) next season instead of spending big. As we found out on Sunday, some of the kids will be able to slot right in.
DAY TO FORGET FOR CHELSEA’ SUPERSTARS
It’s safe to say that Eden Hazard and Cesc Fabregas had days to forget for Chelsea on Sunday. After a long season and with the PL trophy now in their back pocket it is perhaps understandable. From the offset there was a party atmosphere at the Bridge on Sunday. From the “We are the champions” banners hanging all around the stadium to Liverpool giving Chelsea a guard of honor onto the pitch, the strangeness of his occasion obviously impacted some of the star players on show.
Both showed flashes of their brilliance but Fabregas and Hazard gave the ball away readily and on another day would have been punished. Mourinho urged the crowd to get behind Hazard after another mazy run ended in losing the ball and, to their credit, both had chances late on to snatch three points for the Blues.
Meanwhile, as Fabregas and Hazard churned out another 90 minutes, another Chelsea superstar enjoyed an afternoon in the sun (see photo, above) watching the game with fans. Diego Costa, who hasn’t played a single minute since Apr. 4, wasn’t risked by Mourinho and why would he be in the final two weeks of the season after persistent hamstring issues over the past 12 months? Chelsea’s superstars have done the business all season, and deserve a little bit of slack when things don’t quite go to plan.