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Comeback kings Chelsea edge out Liverpool in Anfield encounter

Diego Costa did his utmost best to ensure Chelsea left Anfield with all three points, and the Blues’ goal hero did just that, earning a ripped shirt for his troubles before sealing the win with a fine second-half strike.

Liverpool began with what was almost a dream start. Ahead within 10 minutes, the home team stunned slightly sleepy Chelsea. Surprise starter Emre Can found space and made a speculative shot that deflected off both John Terry and Gary Cahill, before wrong-footing Thibaut Courtois.

Chelsea were quick to respond, however, in the exciting opening exchanges, with Cesc Fabregas’ corner causing a scramble in Liverpool’s penalty area. Confusion followed, but Cahill did make amends by bundling the ball over the line. Just.

Amidst a flurry of yellow cards, it was clear what a difference a season has made for both Chelsea and Liverpool. Using last campaign’s final encounter between the two teams as a yardstick, both are almost unrecognisable.

It was deja vu as the Reds appeared to have learnt little from the punishment they faced last term, attacking naively, only to face the immovable object of Jose Mourinho’s incredibly organised rearguard. The marked difference this time out was that Mario Balotelli, frustrated and lacking sharpness, was easily managed and made the Reds toothless up top.

Where last term the Blues’ backline were subjected to a barrage of Luis Suarez-led attacks, forcing them to bunker down and employ admittedly effective counters, they illustrated in this outing how their own offensive play has developed. Whilst never gung-ho, they were smarter in possession than the Anfield outfit, patiently searching for a winner, but not content to simply sit back and weather the storm.

Liverpool, to their credit, kept pressing, unwilling to settle for a draw, but it was this that was arguably their undoing, as Rodgers’ Reds dove forward. Raheem Sterling was their standout in attack, providing a consistent outlet and enjoying a duel down the right with Branislav Ivanovic, who at one point had to resort to wrestling his competitor.

The Reds had no reply to the potency of Costa, however, as the Spain striker used both his strength and ingenuity to fashion opportunities out of half chances. After a shinned bicycle kick went over, it was only a matter of time before the powerhouse found the net. Cesar Azpilicueta’s cross-shot was palmed by Simon Mignolet, who was helpless as the ball fell to the Blues’ most prolific attacker.

Taken off after a knock, Costa is clearly still being wrapped in cotton wool and perhaps not yet fully fit. Once the Brazilian-born forward is back firing on all cylinders, though, Chelsea will certainly be a sight to behold.

Rampaging right back Branislav Ivanovic was allowed far too much freedom and Eden Hazard was also a constant threat for the visitors, enjoying acres of space on the counter. His galloping runs caused havoc for Rodgers’ rearguard, but the Belgian’s end product was lacking.

Meanwhile, Nemanja Matic continues to marshal Mourinho’s midfield with authority, and frequently forced Liverpool into errors.

Chelsea did look uncharacteristically shaken at times, particularly in both the early and closing stages when their hosts had the wind, and later desperation, in their sails. For the most part, however, the visitor’s synchronised banks of blue defended as stoutly as ever.

The home team were perhaps unlucky after a scuffed Steven Gerrard shot hit Cahill’s arm, but did not receive a penalty. For all Liverpool’s attacking potential, though, and the valid excuse of their off-colour firepower, Rodgers’ Reds will need more than the return of Daniel Sturridge to compete with teams wise to their ways.