Champions Chelsea dash Liverpool’s top four hopes with draw

Premier League champions Chelsea put any concerns over a complacent performance to rest as they held Liverpool to a 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge, all but extinguishing the Reds’ hopes of securing a top four finish.

Brendan Rodgers’ boys now sit six points behind rivals Manchester United with two games left to play, but also have to overcome a substantial goal difference as they are 14 adrift of their northwest competitors.

It was a day for debuts at Stamford Bridge as Jose Mourinho handed Blues starlet Ruben Loftus-Cheek a first full league start and Reds academy graduate Jerome Sinclair also enjoyed his maiden bow, coming on as a substitute in the 68th minute.

Despite the dazzling youngsters on display, however, this feisty battle at the Bridge belonged to two club stalwarts and skippers in evergreen John Terry and departing Steven Gerrard.

Tenacious Terry became the highest scoring defender in Premier League history in just the 5th minute of this duel, after rising above Rickie Lambert to put his boyhood club ahead.

Stand-in left back Filipe Luis was just one of Chelsea’s changes for this clash, and justified his inclusion with a superb cross-field pass to a rampaging Willian, who forced a corner.

Catalan schemer Cesc Fabregas put the ball in the box and Terry’s strong header found a way past Simon Mignolet and Gerrard, who were both left scrambling on the line.

As sidelined Diego Costa watched on from the crowd, the hosts continued to put in crunching tackles and showed no sign of champions malaise, in particular taking advantage of Emre Can, who looked unnatural for the Reds in a roaming right back position.

It was Gerrard, given a standing ovation by Stamford Bridge, who provided the bookend to an enthralling first half, as Liverpool fought back. The Merseyside midfield marshal capitalised on a free kick given away just before the break by meeting Jordan Henderson’s delivery to head past Thibaut Courtois.

Emboldened by the equaliser, Liverpool started the second half strongly. Raheem Sterling’s fancy footwork bamboozled the Blues’ backline, but Brazil playmaker Philippe Coutinho could not convert his pass, instead firing wide.

The midfield magician seemed determined to make something happen, however, and was unlucky to see his 88th minute strike deflected into Courtois’ path.

Substitute Jordan Ibe also provided drive, energy and urgency, but the youngster’s rampant runs continually hit a Blue wall, summing up his side’s play in the second half. For all their attacking intent and half chances, the Reds could not find another way through Chelsea’s rearguard.

The hosts also had fluffed chances through Willian, who twice wasted fine positions by shooting wide, with end product continuing to be a problem for the industrious attacker, who put in a fine shift otherwise.

In the end, Mourinho’s men comfortably saw off Liverpool’s threat, and the Reds must now lick their wounds and begin ringing the changes ahead of next campaign.