Chelsea v Atletico Madrid: As it happened

With both Chelsea and Atletico Madrid’s obvious penchant for sitting back and hitting opponents on the break, tonight’s game may not be for those looking for a spectacle.

Liverpool decided on Sunday to stick to their usual style of football when Chelsea visited Anfield. One Steven Gerrard slip allowed the Blues to score through Demba Ba, and the league leaders spent the rest of the game attempting desperately to break down Jose Mourinho’s defensively watertight unit. The Blues invited Liverpool forward and then hit them on the counter, eventually culminating in Willian’s injury-time insurance goal.

Atletico Madrid haven’t suffered defeat in their past 14 games, and will have watched Sunday’s game with interest. Diego Simeone is unlikely to adopt a gung-ho approach as he knows with so much at stake the team who makes the least mistakes will progress to May’s final in Lisbon. One away goal from Atletico will force Chelsea to chase the game and leave themselves more vulnerable at the back. Simeone’s side won’t throw the kitchen sink at the home side early on, instead they will play the ball around and probe for weaknesses.

It may not make for the most glorious game of football, but last night’s meeting of Real Madrid and Bayern Munich -billed beforehand as an ad for the beautiful game- was hardly high-drama either. With the outcome decided by half-time, the second half was a tawdry affair. It is difficult to see tonight’s game being less than competitive for the duration.

Team News:

Chelsea: Schwarzer, Ivanović, Cahill, Terry, Azpilcueta, Cole, David Luiz, Ramires, Torres, Hazard, Willian

Atletico Madrid: Courtois; Torres, Miranda, Godin, Luis, Cardoso, Suarez, Koke, Arda Turan, Adrian, Diego Costa 

 

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Full time thoughts – For all the talk about Chelsea’s defensive strengths. their lack of a cutting edge up front has cost them dearly tonight. They may have struck first but Atletico responded in emphatic fashion. It would have been understandable if Diego Simeone had set up his team defensively in the second half to protect the away goal lead, but Atletico came out and attacked Chelsea in admirable fashion.

Atletico are having an excellent season and even faced with an ultra defensive Chelsea line-up tonight they were well capable of creating opportunites. All the players worked hard for each other, and collectively they deserved the victory tonight. In contrast, Mourinho’s defensive know-how is only as effective as the players who implement his instructions on the field. Eden Hazard was at fault in the build up to two of Atletico’s goals tonight. Mourinho’s decision to omit the lively Schurrle in order to play Azpilicueta in midfield will be scrutinized in depth in tomorrow’s papers.

90+5 mins – The final whistle goes and Atletico’s incredible unbeaten Champions League season continues! They will face cross-city rivals Real in the final on May 24th. What a game that will be.

90+3 mins – Chance! Hazard gets through on goal and Courtois blocks his shot with his legs. Terry blasts the follow up over the bar. Courtois desperate to keep a clean sheet.

90+2 mins –  Chelsea pumping balls into the box but Atletico deal with them easily.

90 mins – Five minutes added but there’s little chance of a Chelsea comeback.

87 mins – Atletico fans in fine voice behind Courtois’ goal. They’re already wondering how to get their hands on tickets for the final.

84 mins – Chelsea reduced to scraps. Courtois watches as an Eto’o attempt to control the ball dribbles past his post.

82 mins – Nope. There was a bit of confusion there as Sosa looked injured and Simeone wanted to check he was ok before making the substitution. The change can be made now as Turan makes way.

81 mins – Diego Simeone applauds as Arda Turan makes way for Cristian Rodriguez in Atletico’s final substitution.

79 mins – Atletico still look the team most likely to score. Chelsea looking disorganized, even in defence.

76 mins – If Atletico hold on, it’ll be the first European Cup final encounter between two sides from the same city. The entire population of Madrid will be in Lisbon on May 24th. Apart from a few sullen Getafe fans.

75 mins –  Substitutions. Diego Costa limps off to be replaced by Jose Sosa. Another midfielder on the field for Atletico. Willian is replaced by Schurrle in Chelsea’s final substitution.

71 mins – GOAL! 3-1 Atletico! Arda Turan reacts quickest to slot home a ball that came off the crossbar from his own header. Eden Hazard yet again switched off to allow Juanfran get the initial cross in. Surely that’s the end of the road for Chelsea!

69 mins – Ivanovic’s shot is smartly saved by Courtois but the whistle had already gone for a Demba Ba foul on the goalkeeper.

66 mins – Demba Ba on for goalscorer Fernando Torres, who applauds both sets of fans on his way to the bench.

65 mins – Raul Garcia comes on for Adrian. Diego Simeone shoring up the midfield.

64 mins – Adrian Lopez gets a yellow card for a needless foul near the Chelsea box.

63 mins- Chance! David Luiz’s header ricochets off of the post and Courtois parries clear. Chelsea almost managed to claw one back immediately.

62 mins – Chelsea fans look apprehensive. Can their team score twice in the next 30 minutes or so?

59 mins – GOAL! 2-1 Atletico! After getting yellow carded for marking the penalty spot (or time-wasting maybe), Costa makes no mistake. His penalty finds the roof of the net and now Chelsea need two goals.

58 mins – PENALTY! Eto’o trips Costa just inside the box. Clumsy striker’s challenge from the substitute.

57 mins – Atletico look like the side chasing the game. They’ve been liveliest in the first ten minutes or so of the second half.

54 mins – Atletico calls for a penalty as Azpilicueta appears to drag down Turan are waved away by the referee.

53 mins – Substitution for Chelsea as Eto’o replaces Ashley Cole. Azpilicueta reverts to left back.

52 minsChance! Great save from Courtois as John Terry arrives like a train to head a long free kick towards goal.

50 mins – Courtois gathers a long ball with ease with Torres challenging. The Belgian goalkeeper is playing at Stamford Bridge for the first time tonight, even though he’s technically a Chelsea player the past 3 years. Eto’o getting instructions from Mourinho.

47 mins  – Schwarzer spares the blushes of Terry and Ivanovic as they fail to deal with another ball across the face of the goal. The shot from Adrian blocked away by the goalkeeper.

20:48 – Back underway at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea must score in the next 45 mins to advance to the final.

Half time thoughts – Both lauded defences have been breached and the momentum is definitely with Atletico going in at the break ahead on away goals. For the first half an hour it was difficult to see who would make the breakthrough, and when Torres put Chelsea ahead you expected the home side to park more double deckers than Evil Knievel would jump over. A lapse from Hazard allowed Juanfran to create Adrian’s equalizer and now Chelsea need another goal if they are to progress. Atletico will defend ferociously and look to catch Chelsea on the break. The manager whose team progresses tonight will have earned their night’s wage.

45 mins – The referee adds no time at the end of the half so the teams trudge off with the bare 45 gone.

43 mins – GOAL! 1-1. Juanfran escapes Hazard at the back post and when Tiago’s cross finds him he squares to Adrian who scuffs the ball into the ground and into the top corner of Chelsea’s goal. The advantage has swung firmly back in Atletico’s favour! Terry and Cole could maybe have done better defending the ball across the square from Juanfran.

41 mins – Another decent delivery from Koke reaches Adrian who can’t direct the ball past Schwarzer. The Australian gathers gratefully.

39 mins – So… That was an assist by Azpilicueta. Playing in an unfamilia midfield role. Cue fawning tributes to Mourinho’s tactical genius if Chelsea win tonight.

35 mins – GOAL! 1-0 Chelsea! Willian with excellent work down the right allows Azpilicueta to find Torres in the centre. The striker’s shot deflects off Mario Suarez past the helpless Courtois. First goal Atletico have conceded in 7 games. They’ll need to work even harder to break down Chelsea’s defence now!

34 mins – Costa is getting a little annoyed with the quality of ball played up to him. The latest effort is easily dealt with by John Terry again.

30 mins – First yellow card of the night for Gary Cahill for a challenge on Costa ten yards outside the Chelsea box. Koke’s ball was dangerous but well cleared by Terry.

27 mins – Chelsea have had a lot of the possession so far but don’t seem too keen to push forward. For Atletico, Diego Costa is moving around to find the ball, but in doing so he’s leaving his midfielders one option less through the middle.

24 mins – A corner for Chelsea nearly finds its way to John Terry at the backpost. It’s cleared by Atletico for another corner but Terry complains to the referee that his shirt was pulled.

22 mins – Even cheekier shot from David Luiz as the ball comes in from the throw. He chests the ball facing away from goal and unleashes a scissors kick which flies narrowly past the far post.

21 mins – Cheeky dummy from Eden Hazard allows Ramires in behind the Atletico defence. Miranda does well to put the ball out for a throw/

18 mins – One of Chelsea’s six defenders makes a mistake and atones immediately. Gary Cahill misplaces a pass and has to scramble to block a shot from Costa close to the Chelsea goal.

15 mins – A good run from Diego Costa ends when he opts for a shot himself from a difficult angle. He might have been better served laying the ball off to the onrushing Tiago at the edge of the box.

14 mins – Willian commandeers the set-piece and scoops it over the bar. Not enough room there to get it over the wall and back under the crossbar.

13 mins – Free-kick in a promising area for Chelsea as Koke fouls Ramires on the edge of the “d”.

12 mins – You get the feeling that the longer it remains nil-nil the more each team will be happy to get men behind the ball. A goal from somewhere however… and all hell could break loose as the team behind will have to chase the game.

8 mins – Very crowded in the centre of the field early on as both teams are quick to close down the ball.

3 mins – Chance! Nearly an early away goal for Atletico. A Koke cross loops over everyone including Schwarzer, hits the crossbar and post before ricocheting off of Cahill and over the bar.

2 mins – Fernando Torres with a lovely bit of juggling in the midfield but he’s eventually disposessed. Himself and Diego Costa could be swapping clubs this summer if reports are to believed. Costa wanted by Chelsea and Torres could be used as the bait that makes his former club to bite.

1 min – Dave (alright Azpilicueta) has lined up on the right side of midfield.

19:45 – They’re ready to go at Stamford Bridge, just as soon as a minutes silence for Tito Vilanova and Vujadin Boskov is observed. Actually, it’s a minutes applause. The done thing nowadays.

19:40 – Meanwhile on RTE, Billo is commentating on Maradona taking a selfie on a phone that looks like a minion from Despicable Me. As you do.

19:35 –  Gary Neville commentating on Sky tonight. Cover your ears if Torres scores at any stage.

19:30- Ex-Chelsea midfielder Tiago starts for Atletico tonight in place of Gabi. Prolific striker Diego Costa will hope to shake off the shackles of the Chelsea defenders. If he or partner Adrian Lopez can’t find a breakthrough, David Villa is on the bench.

19:25 – Plenty of attacking options on the bench for Chelsea tonight however. Schurrle, Oscar, Ba and Eto’o all among the substitutes.

19:15 – Interesting team selection from Jose Mourinho. Six defenders (if you count David Luiz) named in the starting XI. Will there be three centre-halves with Cole and Azpilicueta as wing backs? Sky Sports reckon Azpilicueta (the Spaniard known simply as Dave) will form part of a midfield three with Luiz and Ramires.

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Merseyside mistakes, Mourinho masterclass and no-goals Norwich: 3 talking points after the weekend’s Premier League action

1. Mistakes mar excellent seasons.

No matter how good a season you’re having, one mistake can unravel much of the stellar work gone before.

Both Seamus Coleman and Steven Gerrard were named in the PFA Team of the Year last night, and deservedly so. The Irish full back has been magnificent in defence and attack for Everton throughout the campaign, and Gerrard has been a driving force behind Liverpool’s title tilt.

Yet on the same weekend that they received the PFA accolades, mistakes by the duo have helped hinder their team’s lofty ambitions. Coleman scored the second of two own-goals as Everton succumbed to Southampton on Saturday, while Gerrard’s slip on the Anfield turf allowed Demba Ba give Chelsea a lead they wouldn’t relinquish yesterday.

These errors cannot take away from the wonderful work done by both players this campaign, but they may yet prove fatal to the ambitions of both clubs on Merseyside.

 

2. Mourinho can dispense with the mind-games.

Chelsea frustrated Atletico Madrid for a full 90 minutes on Tuesday night. It wasn’t pretty, but it gave the London side the advantage ahead of this week’s second leg.

Speaking to the press in the Vicente Calderon afterwards Jose, Mourinho turned his focus to the clash with Liverpool at the weekend. Or did he? He spoke about resting players for the game in order to focus on the second leg with Atletico. Which was his real concern. But was he bluffing? Oh never mind.

The long and the short of it is that Chelsea (minus a few players due to injury) turned up at Anfield yesterday and put in another exquisite defensive performance. Liverpool had the majority of the possession, but could not break down the banks of blue shirts between them and the Chelsea goal.

Mourinho’s celebrations after Willian doubled Chelsea’s lead at the death belied his suggestion that he didn’t care about the game. It had been just another case of psychological posturing from the Portuguese coach.

The way in which he sets out his team in big games may not be pretty at times. Some might even call it hypocritical, given that Mourinho is quick to criticise clubs who park the bus against Chelsea. However the defensive displays Mourinho’s teams are able to produce when it counts show the extent of his tactical acumen.

Mourinho is one of the best tacticians around. The mind-games may be great fodder for the media, but his ability to bring the best out of his own player renders them unnecessary.

3. Norwich impotence in front of goal to cost them Premier League place.

After Saturday’s 4-0 loss at Old Trafford, Norwich fans can’t be holding out much hope for a great escape. Their final two fixtures are Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and Arsenal at home. Supporters at Carrow Road on May 11th may turn up hoping for a miracle,. but it looks more likely that they will be bidding farewell to the Premier League for next season at least.

It doesn’t matter who the manager is, the reality being that if your three main strikers can only manage 12 goals between them all season, you’re going to struggle to stay in the league. Gary Hooper has managed eight goals, Johan Elmander three, and the beacon of hope that was Ricky Van Wolfswinkel has scored a single paltry goal since his £8.6m move from Sporting Lisbon last season.

Connor Wickham cost around the same amount when he moved to Sunderland from Ipswich a few years back. It’s taken him quite a while to come anywhere near justifying that fee, but four goals in his last three games have seen the Black Cats move outside the relegation zone for the first time since February.

A few weeks back, Sunderland looked dead and buried as a Wes Brown own goal handed Everton three points at the Stadium of Light. In the meantime, a draw against Manchester City and victories over Chelsea and Cardiff City have seen Gus Poyet’s men become favourites to beat the drop.

Norwich can take heart from Sunderland’s story, but unless they somehow find goals against Arsenal and Chelsea, they’ll be a Championship side next season.

 

 

Liverpool v Chelsea: As it happened

Another day of reckoning in a season-full of them has arrived. Three points for Liverpool today and the final few games become a victory procession for the first league title to go to Anfield in 24 years. A win for Chelsea and it’s squeaky bum time for the team so desperate to get back on the perch.

Just five points separate the sides going into today’s game. If you are to believe Jose Mourinho however, Chelsea are more concerned with beating Atletico Madrid in the Champions League than challenging  Liverpool for the league. Brendan Rodgers may be a friend of the Portuguese coach, but he won’t be taken in by Mourinho’s mind games. The Chelsea team selection may be restricted somewhat due to injuries to John Terry and Petr Cech, but whoever takes to the field, they won’t roll over at Anfield.

Teams:

Liverpool: Mignolet, Johnson, Flanagan, Skrtel, Sakho, Gerrard, Allen, Lucas, Coutinho, Sterling, Suarez. Subs: Jones, Toure, Agger, Cissokho, Alberto, Aspas, Sturridge.

Chelsea: Schwarzer, Azpilicueta, Kalas, Ivanovic, Cole, Matic, Mikel, Salah, Lampard, Schurrle, Ba. Subs: Hilario, Ake, Cahill, Van Ginkel, Baker, Willian, Torres.

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Full time thoughts – Mourinho may have started without a few key players but those that took to the field in blue  executed the game plan to perfection. Liverpool went out looking for a 12th straight win and that played right into Mourinho’s hands. Chelsea were happy to sit back and soak up the pressure and hit Liverpool on the counter. Liverpool remain top, but the advantage is now with Manchester City again. If Pellegrini’s team win their three games they will win the league on goal difference. Again.

Mourinho indicated during the week that the Champions League was the main priority for Chelsea but he forgot to tell his face after Willian’s goal. The master of mind games has done it again, but it was his game plan that won out today, not the  codology.

95 mins – Full time.

93 mins – GOAL! 2-0 Chelsea! Willian! As Liverpool press for an equalizer Willian pounces on a loose ball and feeds Torres. The Spaniard races clear and presents Willian with a tap in with Mignolet helpless. Game over. Mourinho celebrates like he actually cares about the Premier League.

92 mins – A yellow card for Jose Mourinho for something he said on the sidelines. Torres follows him into the book with a trip on Sakho.

91 mins- Suarez swerves a shot at Schwarzer which he parries over. Iago Aspas wastes the resultant corner.

90 mins – 4 minutes added on.

89 mins – Chelsea just playing the clock down now. Matic runs the ball into the corner.

85 mins – Suarez with two poor passes in quick succession as Liverpool try and force the game.

83 mins – And now Ba makes way for Fernando Torres. A smattering of boos for the former Liverpool player as Jose Mourinho makes his final substitution.

82 mins – Ba may have scored but other than that he’s having an absolute shocker. He takes far too long to spot Willian who was clear on goal. His eventual pass hits off Ashley Cole.

81 mins – Sterling wins a corner after getting behind the Chelsea defence. Another corner results as Coutinho’s shot is deflected.

80 mins – Coutinho tries to find Suarez but his pass goes just beyond the Uruguayan at the back post. Iago Aspas comes on for John Flanagan as Liverpool make another substitution.

78 mins – Suarez hangs the ball on the penalty spot and Gerrard rises to head weakly into the arms of Schwarzer. The captain is desperate to atone for the error that led to the Chelsea goal.

76 mins – And another from Gerrard. Substitution for Chelsea as Schurrle makes way for Gary Cahill. Mourinho putting more bodies between Liverpool and the Chelsea goal.

74 mins – Gerrard with another shot from outside the box. 15 minutes left to find a breakthrough.

72 mins – Suarez with a sublime turn on the byline to make some space. Nothing comes of his low drive across the box however. Chelsea with almost everyone behind the ball. Impossible to break down.

71 mins – Great ball from Gerrard across the box but Azpilicueta heads away before it can reach anyone in a Liverpool shirt.

68 mins – Suarez getting a bit annoyed with the constant dawdling on the ball that Schwarzer has been guilty of today. Tries to hurry the keeper into utilising the ball quicker.

66 mins – Constant Liverpool pressure results in a Joe Allen shot from distance. Schwarzer comfortable again. Liverpool need to find a way behind the Chelsea defence. Even as I write Gerrard has another unsuccessful pop from outside the box.

62 mins – Schurrle forces a good save from Mignolet who has had little to do in the second half so far.

59 mins – Substitution for Chelsea as Willian on for Salah. The Brazilian works hard and will be an asset defensively for the blues as well as a threat up front.

58 mins – A Joe Allen volley forces Schwarzer into a fine save. In the aftermath of the corner Suarez tries a cheeky lob which is easily managed by the Australian keeper.

57 mins – Substitution for Liverpool as Lucas makes way for Daniel Sturridge. A positive move from Brendand Rodgers.

55 mins – A deflected Gerrard shot is gathered easily by Schwarzer. That’s the Liverpool captain’s second shot in the second half as he attempts to make amends for his slip at the end of the first half.

50 mins – Kalas nudges Sterling just inside the box and the Liverpool forward goes flying. Appeals from the Liverpool fans for a penalty but it was sheer strength from the young centre-half.

50 mins – Hectic first five minutes to the half. Liverpool again with a lot of possession but Chelsea resolute at the back. Sturridge warming up for the home side.

45 mins – Almost a chance for Liverpool already. Suarez knocks it beyond the Chelsea defence but Lucas seems to get in the way of the striker and the ball goes out for a goal kick.

45 mins – The game’s back under way at Anfield.

Half time thoughts: Chelsea have the lead but it’s against the run of play. Demba Ba’s touch has been terrible all day but Gerrard’s slip gifted him an opportunity and he stuck it away well. Liverpool have been well on top in the first half without really creating any major chances. Chelsea have been happy to sit back and soak up the pressure and it’s unlikely that will change in the second half now that they have the lead. Jose Mourinho’s men have executed their game plan to perfection so far.

If you want to win titles you have to prove your worth in games like this, so Brendan Rodgers and his side need to find a way to penetrate the Chelsea defence or Manchester City will sense blood.

45 +2 mins – GOAL 1-0 Chelsea! Demba Ba capitalizes on a slip from Steven Gerrard to race through and slip the ball under Mignolet.

45 + 2 mins – Kalas lost his marker from a Chelsea corner and had the chance to become an instant fan favourite.

45 mins – 3 minutes tacked on to the end of the first half.

42 mins – Another yellow card, again for a tackle on Raheem Sterling. This time for Frank Lampard.

40 mins – A relatively poor ball across the Chelsea defence somehow finds Sterling. The youngster picks out Suarez who curls a shot just over from the edge of the box.

39 mins – The referee Martin Atkinson talks to Chelsea keeper Schwarzer about time-wasting. His card is marked.

37 mins – Shouts for handball from Chelsea as a Salah shot strikes Flanagan. Definitely hits his hand but there was little the defender could to to get his hand out of the way.

35 mins – Fernando Torres looking on from the subs bench. Amazing to think that less than half the money Liverpool made off his sale went on buying Suarez.

30 mins – Chelsea have played quite conservatively so far. They’re content to let Liverpool retain possession and then attempt to create something on the counter.

24 mins – Cole barges into Suarez as he tries to challenge for an aerial ball. Clever from the Uruguayan striker to stand in Cole’s way. As Gerrard lines up the free-kick, the two managers have an amicable chat on the sidelines.

23 mins – Handbags in the corner between Sterling and Azpilicueta. Nothing much in it and the ball goes out for a Liverpool corner.

20 mins – First yellow card of the day. Sterling challenged Mohamed Salah to a race and the Egyptian trips him before he can run at the Chelsea back-line.

19 mins – Coutinho drags a show well wide from the edge of the box. All the game being played in and around the Chelsea defence at the moment.

16 mins – Chelsea can’t secure possession outside their own half so far.

13 mins – Big chance! The corner hits Mikel and Cole half clears off the line. When it eventually comes back in from Suarez, Sakho blasts over.

12 mins – Another corner for Liverpool. The home side has looked liveliest early on.

10 mins – Sublime no-look ball across the box from Suarez. Coutinho could have knocked back in to Joe Allen but opted to take on the shot and hits the side netting from a tight angle.

7 mins – Good tackle from Salas as Sterling looks to accelerate onto a ball behind the Chelsea defence. Corner Liverpool.

5 mins – Ashley Cole forces Mignolet into an early save. Touches the ball past Raheem Sterling on the edge of the box and lets fly. The keeper parries to safety.

3 mins – Schurrle feeling the force of a Glen Johnson challenge. Wincing on the sideline as club doctor Eva Carneiro sees to him. She’s the only team doctor most football fans can name. Funny that.

14:05 – And they’re off!

14:02 – Kop in full voice. Chelsea fans trying to make themselves heard through You’ll Never Walk Alone. Not happening.

14:00 – Teams are in the tunnel. Kalas looks calm, for someone making his full Premier League debut…

13:55 – Now all eyes on Anfield for a crucial clash at the other end of the table. Full house on Merseyside. 10 minutes to kick-off.

13:52- And it’s all over in the North East. Sunderland move up to 17th in the league, Cardiff slip to the bottom of the table. Long journey home for Bluebirds fans.

13:43 – In today’s first game, Sunderland will move above the relegation zone with a comfortable win over fellow strugglers Cardiff. 4-0 at the Stadium of Light with less than 5 mins remaining.

13:35 – Daniel Sturridge starts on the bench against his former club. The striker, with 20 league goals to his name this season, missed last week’s 3-2 victory over Norwich with a hamstring injury.

13:20 – So the teams are in and Mourinho, true to his word, has rested some key players. Cahill and Willian start from the bench, with Kalas and Salah deputising. Tomas Kalas is a Czech 20 year old with zero Premier League experience. Will he be and Ivanovic be the defensive partnership who can muzzle Suarez? Ivanovic sure hopes so.

suarez

nom nom nom

 

Toulon task may be impossible but that means nothing to Munster

Rob Penney told journalists during the week that Toulon have booked their accommodation for the Heineken Cup already. The French side might be getting a tiny bit ahead of themselves. Counting your chickens is rarely wise in rugby. Just ask the England grand slam chasing squad of 2011. That didn’t work out too well now, did it?

It was Ireland who derailed England’s hopes that year, and it is Munster who can force a Toulon employee to ring a Cardiff hotel Monday morning looking for the club’s deposit back. There’s the added bonus of a Heineken Cup final at stake for Rob Penney’s side too.

Munster were devastating against Toulouse in the quarter finals, racking up 47 points against the four times Heineken Cup champions. For all their pedigree however, Toulouse are not the force they once were, and currently lie 6th in the Top 14. Toulon, on the other hand, are top of the table with 3 games left of the regular season.

Bernard La Porte’s side disposed of  Leinster  relatively easily in the quarter final, but there is little that Munster can derive from that game. Coach Penney has said that analysis of Toulon games unearthed very little weakness to exploit.

The goal for Munster has to be for the entire team to front up on Sunday afternoon at the Stade Velodrome in Marseille. With Peter O’Mahony out for the season, Damien Varley will captain the side. Talisman Paul O’Connell compared Toulon to the All Blacks this week, saying Munster will have to play at a level beyond any they have already this season, including the rout of Toulouse.

Forwards Ali Williams and Bakkies Botha will miss tomorrow’s game but there is some positive news for Toulon on the injury front. Bryan Habana, the pacy South African winger, has been passed fit to feature after a long spell on the sidelines. Jonny Wilkinson -forced from the fray early in the quarter final- is also in line for a return.

With such an array of talent at La Porte’s disposal, a game-defining moment could come from anywhere. However, it is difficult to ignore the threat of Steffon Armitage. The back-row combines mobility and power to frightening effect, and his work at the breakdown and with the ball in hand contributed hugely to Leinster’s downfall in the quarter final. Munster must aim to nullify his influence as much as possible if they are to advance to May’s final.

Crucially important to Munster in this regard will be CJ Stander. The South African replaced injured captain O’Mahony in the victory over Toulouse and put in a man-of-the-match performance. Tomorrow’s game will be the former Blue Bulls player’s first Heineken Cup start. If Toulon are going to go the way of Toulouse, both he and Munster will have to put in a superhuman effort.

Toulon are favourites, and deservedly so.  And yet, Munster have made a mockery of such tags before. For the travelling supporters and those watching at home there will be one creed tomorrow

“To the brave and the faithful, nothing is impossible.”

Moyes sacked: 3 basic reasons why.

Two tweets brought to an end David Moyes’ 10 months in charge of Manchester United.

And with that “the chosen one” was discarded.

It seemed an uneasy fit from the start. Alex Ferguson may have anointed Moyes as his successor, but that didn’t necessarily mean he would be a similar success. The younger Scot had done stellar work at Everton with limited resources, however managing a global phenomenon like United was something altogether different.

He was handed a six year contract however, with the idea of establishing a legacy like Ferguson’s. At the time many football fans and analysts praised the length of the contract as it would allow Moyes to put his own stamp on the club. So what has prompted his departure with less than a year of that contract gone?

1. Results.

The first reason is the easiest to quantify. As of now, Manchester United are in seventh place in the Premier League. They are 13 points behind Arsenal, who occupy the final Champions League spot. Moyes’ supporters may point to a lack of quality in the United squad bequeathed to him by Ferguson, but it is almost exactly the same roster as that which won the Premier League last season.

Home form in the league was not what United fans have come to expect. Losses to Everton, Newcastle, Spurs, Liverpool and West Brom at Old Trafford helped destroy any European ambitions for next season.

Losses to Swansea in the FA Cup, Sunderland in the Carling Cup, and Bayern Munich in the Champions League  compounded the misery for Moyes in a season which actually began with some silverware in the shape of the Community Shield.

 

2. Playing Style

Manchester United under Ferguson could play a defensive game if necessary. Andre Pirlo was critical in his autobiography of Ferguson’s tactic of deploying Park Ji Sung to man-mark him in a big European game. However United were always a threat going forward, they played the game at a high tempo and could catch opponents on the break should they show the temerity of attacking the Red Devils.

Under Moyes, United played an uninspiring brand of football. There was rarely the sense that they could come back if they went behind in a tie. Build up play was too slow, there was too much emphasis placed on crosses into the box.

The final straw for United fans (and perhaps the board) came on Sunday when they travelled to Goodison Park to face Moyes’ old club Everton. His successor Roberto Martinez has the Toffees playing an exciting brand of football that has seen them challenging Arsenal for fourth place.

Never in over a decade of Moyes’ reign at Goodison, not the thirty-odd years beforehand, had Everton done the league double over Manchester United. After winning 1-0 at Old Trafford earlier in the season, Martinez’ men coasted to victory at the weekend. To an outsider, it would have appeared that the home side were the defending league champions. United’s build up play was turgid and unimaginative, and they rarely looked capable of penetrating a well organised Everton defence.

The contrast between the two sides must have been difficult for United supporters to take.

The Grim Reaper looks on at Goodison Park on Sunday

The Grim Reaper watches on at Goodison Park on Sunday

3. Personality and experience

There is no denying how well Moyes did at Everton. He came across as a man in total control, and earned plaudits from all over due to the fighting spirit he instilled in his team. They finished fourth in the league in 2005, a remarkable achievement given the resources at Moyes’ disposal.

That gave them the opportunity to play European football, but a loss to Villareal in the Champions League qualifier was followed by an early UEFA Cup exit at the hands of Dinamo Bucharest. Subsequent UEFA Cup experience between 2007 and 2009 followed, but the two games against Villareal were Moyes’ only experience at the top level of European football.

He didn’t seem able to handle the increased scrutiny that comes with the Old Trafford job. He rarely looked comfortable at press conferences, and horrified United fans when he said that Manchester City were playing at a level United had to aspire to. It may have been the truth, but it wasn’t a wise admission to make publically.

United’s squad is in need of a major overhaul, and without Champions League football as an incentive, prospective players will look at the manager in charge as a key factor in whether they move to Manchester. Ferguson, Mourinho, Guardiola. They all have an aura about them that entices top players. Moyes, for all his qualities, does not.

 

Lucky loans, Coleman’s class, and mid-table mediocrity: 3 talking points after the weekend’s Premier League action

Loan players strike again:

After all the talk about players loaned from Stamford Bridge, there was a touch of irony that it was Chelsea who suffered at the hands of a loan player on Saturday. One from title rivals Liverpool no less. Fabio Borini scored the penalty which gave Sunderland a much needed three points and condemned Jose Mourinho to his first home defeat in 77 games.

There may have been controversy over whether Chelsea should have been awarded a spotkick before Sunderland were, but Gus Poyet and his team won’t mind. Their luck had to change sometime.

The defeat for Chelsea means they must go to Anfield and win next week to stand a chance of winning the Premier League. Brendan Rodgers might have enough forward talent at his disposal right now, but the least the Liverpool manager could do is send Fabio Borini a very large Easter egg.

 

Seamus Coleman’s wonderful season:

His manager recently described him as one of the best full-backs in the world, and his man of the match performance against Manchester United will have done Seamus Coleman’s burgeoning reputation no harm either.

The Donegal man has scored six goals in the league from right back this campaign, but it is his marauding runs from his own half deep into enemy territory that have really caught the eye. He has a wonderful ability to control the ball at pace and an eye for a pass too. It was his through ball that set up Kevin Mirallas for Everton’s second goal today.

Leighton Baines has been a key player for Everton for a long time now, and with Coleman on the other side of the defence the Toffees can probably claim to have the best full back pairing in the league.

Irish fans will hope that Coleman can be as effective in a green jersey as he has been in blue when the qualification campaign for Euro 2016 begins in September.

 

Mid-table a kind of purgatory:

When there’s nothing left to play for bar league position, it seems that some teams find it difficult to motivate themselves for the end of season run-in. Spurs, Manchester United and Southampton have all been unpredictable in the last few games, but no team seems to be looking forward to the summer holidays as much as Newcastle United.

The Magpies have lost their last five games in the league, most recently at home to Swansea on Saturday. Their poor run of form has coincided with Alan Pardew’s stadium ban, but a lack of motivation has to be a factor too. They have been at the wrong end of some hammerings lately, but on Saturday it was a lack of focus which let them down. Wilfried Bony struck twice for Swansea at the end of each half, with Newcastle players seemingly thinking of the comfort of the dressing room.

Newcastle fans are getting restless, and rightly so. Liverpool fans will be happy though. If Newcastle are this lacklustre with a few games to go, how bad will they be when they come to Anfield for a potentially crucial clash on the last day of the season?

Everton v Manchester United: As it happened

Today’s game comes from Goodison Park, where the focus will be two-fold. How will Everton fans react to David Moyes’ first visit back to the club he managed for over a decade? And can the home-side get back on track in the race for a Champions’s League spot?

Roberto Martinez’ side fell to a 3-2 defeat to Crystal Palace in midweek which leaves them a four points behind fourth placed Arsenal, albeit with a game in hand. The Toffees beat United 1-0 at Old Trafford in December, and a win today would give them their first league double over the Manchester side in over 40 years.

United, for all the criticism aimed at them this season, have the best away record in the league. They have lost only four of their 17 games on the road.  They are looking for a fifth successive away win today, which would help them in their bid for European football next season. They lie seventh, six points behind Spurs but with a better goal difference and two games in hand.

Everton will be hoping Romelu Lukaku can come up with a goal or two today. Last time he played a game at home against United, he was playing at the Hawthorns for West Brom on the last day of last season. In Alex Ferguson’s last game in charge, the Belgian international helped himself to a hat-trick in a crazy 5-5 draw. Ferguson’s successor will hope the United defence holds firmer today.

While Moyes did an excellent job with limited resources during his time at Everton, fans on Merseyside have been privy to a prettier style of football this year. The Toffees have not suffered as a result of Moyes leaving, but the work the Scot did during his time at the club shouldn’t escape supporters at Goodison this afternoon.

Team News: 

Everton: Howard (c), Baines, Distin, Stones, Coleman, McCarthy, Barry, Mirallas, Barkley, Naismith, Lukaku. Subs: Robles, Hibbert, McGeady, Deulofeu, Osman, Garbutt, Alcaraz.

Man Utd:  De Gea, Jones, Smalling, Evans, Büttner, Carrick, Fletcher, Nani, Kagawa, Mata, Rooney. Subs: Lindegaard, Giggs, Hernandez, Welbeck, Valencia, Fellaini, Januzaj.

You may have to refresh the page to update content. New posts will appear at the top. Comments on the games can be posted underneath or tweeted to me at @AlanKeane23.

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Full time thoughts: A dominant performance from Everton and they keep the momentum up in their chase for Champions League football. There was less of the intricate passing that has been a key trait of the side this season, but a combination of fast counter attacks and long balls to Lukaku were equally as effective against a lacklustre United.

It was an unhappy return to Goodison Park for David Moyes, and his side simply didn’t do enough to trouble Everton today. There was little imagination on show when it came to trying to find a way past a solid home defence. There is nothing really left for United to play for this season, and their fans will be counting down the days until the transfer window opens and new players can be brought in. It remains to be seen if Moyes will be the man trusted with splashing the cash, however.

93 mins – Substitution. Aiden McGeady gets a few second as he replaces Kevin Mirallas for Everton.

91 mins – Smalling has remained in an advanced position and Wayne Rooney finds him with a perfectly weighted cross from the right. The defender should do better, failing to find the target with a header from close range.

90 mins – 4 minutes added on at the end of the 90.

89 mins – Seamus Coleman gets the seal of approval from former right back Gary Neville. The Sky Sports pundit names the Donegal defender his man of the match. Well deserved.

87 mins – Chance! Rooney gets himself one on one with Tim Howard but the keeper saves well. First real chance of the afternoon for United.

86 mins – Mata gets the ball in space but plays an ill-advised ball to Hernandez behind the Everton defence. He should have realised the Mexican was offside. Lazy play from the Mexican.

81 mins – Mirallas nutmegs Fletcher and wins a free for obstruction. Everton well on top and look increasingly comfortable with the minutes tick away.

80 mins – Coleman again finds space down the right and finds Lukaku on the penalty spot. His shot is blocked away for a corner.

78 mins – Chance! Everton have a numbers advantage as they break from deep. Coleman releases Naismith and his low drive from just outside the box forces a superb save from De Gea who got down quickly to his left.

76 mins – Chance! A cross from the right finds Naismith who has lost  his marker Valencia. The chance is a little difficult as the ball is slightly behind him as he connects but he still should have hit the target.

75 mins – Smalling concedes a corner under pressure which comes to nothing for the home side. However Everton are definitely on top as we reach the last quarter of an hour.

74 mins – Substitution. Last throw of the dice for Moyes as he brings on Welbeck for Kagawa.

71 mins – United have passed the ball almost double the amount of times Everton have this afternoon. 445 to 225. Unusual for a Martinez team to be outpassed at home but they’ve still been more clinical with the possession they’ve had. United still haven’t really created a clear cut chance.

69 mins – Substitution for Everton as Ross Barkley is replaced by Leon Osman. The youngster has put in a good shift at the left of midfield today, although he would more than likely have preferred a more advanced role. It’s all about the collective cause for Everton however, and Osman will contribute solidity in the last twenty minutes or so.

67 mins – Offside called against Mata as he attempts to get on the end of a dinked cross from Kagawa. Howard punches clear in any case.

66 mins – Wonderful powerful run from Ross Barkley as he thunders through the United defence. He’s forced wide however and his shot from a difficult angle fails to trouble De Gea.

64 mins – McCarthy might feel aggrieved after Rooney escapes a caution for the same sort of tackle on the Everton midfielder.

63 mins – Fletcher, in a central position shoots horribly wide after some inventive build up play down the left from Hernandez.

61 mins – Lukaku shoots straight at De Gea after latching onto a through ball.

60 mins –  Substitutions for United. Valencia and Hernandez come on for Evans and Nani. Valencia goes to right back with Chris Smalling joining Phil Jones in United’s central defence.

59 mins – Yellow card for James McCarthy for a sturdy tackle on Mata. The Irish international gets the ball but his trailing leg takes a decent chunk of Mata.

56 mins – Alcaraz rises highest from a Baines corner but can only head straight at De Gea.

52 mins – Baines trips Nani on the edge of the box. Mata’s free kick strikes the wall and Everton clear.

50 mins – Coleman another long run from the Everton defence. He gets inside the box to take a shot but can’t find the target.

49 mins – Smalling gets a yellow card for coming out the better of a 50/50 with Barry.

47 mins – Kagawa stings the hands of Howard with a long range effort. The keeper gathers at the second attempt.

45 mins – First chance of the half for Rooney. The striker finds himself in possession close to the Everton goal but he can’t make enough room to get the shot away.

17:12 – Second half begins. Alcaraz replaces Distin in Everton’s first substitution. No changes yet for United.

Half time thoughts: Everton may not have had the majority of the possession in the first half but they have made the most of the ball when they’ve had it. Seamus Coleman has been a constant threat down the right, with neither Kagawa or Buttner able to keep tabs on him. Kevin Mirallas has worked tirelessly down the right flank for the home side, tracking back on numerous occasions. The home side have created chances too with simple long balls over the top, where Evans and Jones have struggled to deal with Romelu Lukaku.

United have kept the ball well in the middle third, but they just haven’t been able to find a way through the tight Everton defence. Crosses from either side have yielded few positive results, and maybe Wayne Rooney needs to stay closer to goal rather than dropping back into an already crowded midfield.

In the second half as United chase the game, Everton will have more chances to break with the speed of Coleman in particular a key asset. It’s set up to be an unhappy return to Goodison Park for David Moyes.

45 mins – A Rooney corner ricochets off Gareth Barry and into the arms of Howard. That’s the last meaningful action of the half and the teams leave the field.

42 mins – GOAL! Mirallas. Juan Mata takes Baines out of it witha  late tackle. Clattenburg plays advantage as Everton advance with the ball. Coleman has the time to pick out Mirallas with a fine through ball which the winger dispatches low across De Gea into the far corner. Everton fans using the medium of song to question whether David Moyes is viewing the game.

38 mins – The home side were almost in again. They break from the midfield but Mirallas slips at  the edge of the box before they can take full advantage of a 3 v 3 situation.

35 mins – Everton have created 7 chances to United’s one so far. Intricate interplay down the right between Coleman, Naismith and Mirallas almost results in chance number 8 for Lukaku. The Belgian can’t get on the end of Mirallas’ cross.

32 mins – United have had a lot of possession in this first half, but the majority of it has been in the middle of the park. The away side lacking a cutting edge so far.

30 mins – Yellow card for Phil Jones for the handball by the way.

26 mins – PENALTY! Third time lucky for Everton. The home side break and Lukaku lets off a shot from the edge of the box. Phil Jones dives to block and the ball clearly hits his hand. Leighton Baines takes the penalty and drives it straight down the middle to keep his 100% scoring record from the spot this season. 1-0 Everton.

21 mins – Big chance for Everton! Lukaku does extremely well under pressure from two defenders to head a ball into the path of the unmarked Naismith. He had enough time to take a touch but puts his first time shot well over.

18 mins – Another shout for handball but referee Mark Clattenburg having none of it. A snapshot from Naismith hit Johnny Evans on the elbow as he dives to block it but again there was little he could do. No complaints from Everton players in any case.

17 mins – Nice diagonal ball from Rooney finds Smalling at the byline. He manages to pull the ball back across the box, but Howard gathers easily.

15 mins – Shouts from Everton fans for a handball as Chris Smalling tussles with Lukaku in the box. Looked to hit the defenders hand but he didn’t seem to know much about it.

14 mins – Nani, Kagawa and Mata showing some nice passing and movement in tandem early on for Manchester United.

10 mins – Seamus Coleman is the player most likely to make an impact so far. His runs down the right have been Everton’s best outlet in the first ten minutes.

8 mins – A Coleman cross eventually makes its way to Barkley. He blasts his left footed half-volley well over the bar.

7 mins – Fairly even in the opening minutes. Neither side able to make progress beyond the middle third.

2 mins – First rampaging run from Seamus Coleman. The Donegal native glides past Kagawa and Buttner before mis-hitting his cross.

1 min – Chris Smalling is at right back for Manchester United. Phil Jones starts in the centre of defence.

16:10 – And they’re off!

16:08 – Moyes gets booed by a sizeable portion of the home fans as he emerges from the tunnel.

16:07 – Teams are out on the field. Minutes to kick-off.

16:05 – Nani in the Manchester United side today. Moyes must be hoping the Portuguese winger can keep one of the Everton full-backs quiet. Coleman and Baines have ten goals between them this season.

16:00 – After Arsenal’s convincing 3-0 win away at Hull, the onus is now on Everton to get a win and keep up the pressure on the Gunners. Two Podolski goals after Aaron Ramsey’s opener leaves Arsenal four points ahead of Everton with a game more played.

15:45-

15:40 – Marouane Fellaini only makes the bench on his return to Everton, following his £27.5m move to Old Trafford on transfer deadline day last September.

15:35 – 

 

 

Bale trumps Neymar in far from classic El Clasico cup final

Last night’s El Clasico was the third of the season. Even without the hyperbolic talents of one Cristiano Ronaldo, football fans worldwide were hoping for a classic to match Barcelona’s 4-3 victory last month. King Juan Carlos was in Valencia for the occasion, and two footballing superpowers lined out in the cauldron of the Mestalla to fight it out for the Copa Del Rey, or the Kings Cup.

Ultimately however, El Clasico take three was a pre-dominantly drab affair lit up intermittently by the sheer talent of the players on display. There were no hatricks, no sendings off, and little of the drama we have come to expect when these two rivals meet.

Football supporters were left to dine on tidbits of the extraordinary. A Xavi turn here, a Benzema flick there. Barcelona look disjointed at this moment in time and Real Madrid were content to play on the break. And it was Carlo Ancelotti’s game-plan that proved decisive. A quick counter in the 11th minute, supplemented by clever one-touch play from Bale and Benzema, released the marginally onside Angel Di Maria whose low strike could only be palmed into the bottom corner by Pinto.

Young Barcelona defender Marc Bartra scored an equaliser on his El Clasico debut, losing his marker Pepe to head past the helpless Casillas midway through the second half. Yet it was Gareth Bale who was to have the final say in the Copa Del Rey final.

Even with an impressive 19 goals and 13 assists to his name this season, the Welshman has come in for criticism at times from the Madrid faithful. The accusation levelled against him was that he didn’t turn up in the big games. With a trophy at stake and such illustrious opponents opposite, Bale answered his critics last night.

Barcelona had pinned Madrid back in their own box, but some careless play allowed Los Blanco’s to break out out with the ball. Bale gathered on the left wing and passed the ball into space beyond Bartra. It’s something that every football follower has seen the former Spurs winger do, but that doesn’t make it any easier to stop. Bartra bodychecked Bale, who bounced off the field of play and kept on running. It may have been a less direct route than he would have liked, but he still had enough pace to burn Bartra and he finished calmly through the legs of Pinto.

The white half of the Mestalla erupted, and from his vantage point in the stands, the injured Ronaldo smiled a smile of approval.

Neymar had a chance to level things at the death, but one on one with Casillas he managed to hit the post when it seemed easier to score.

That miss summed up the Brazilian’s night. None of Barcelona’s starting forward three made much of an impact over the 90 minutes. Messi looked uninterested, Fabregas didn’t have the pace to threaten the Madrid defence, and nothing went right for Neymar. He lost possession far too easily, his movement rarely gave Barcelona’s midfield an option, and his shooting rarely troubled Casillas.

During a game in which footballing afficionados couldn’t compare the gifts of Messi and Ronaldo, it was only natural to focus on the lead supporting actors of Neymar and Bale. On the basis of last night’s performance the €100m Spurs commanded for Bale was a savvy investment for Madrid, while Neymar has much to do to prove he is worth whatever it was that Barcelona spent on him.

3 talking points after weekend’s FA Cup and Premier League action

Pressure is on Liverpool from here on out.

Yesterday’s victory over Manchester City makes Liverpool the outright favourites for the title. They may still have to play Chelsea but their form is such that they should fear no one at Anfield.

In the run up to yesterday’s crucial clash with City, Brendan Rodgers did all he could to take the pressure off of his side. He pointed to the expectations of both sides at the beginning of the season and told the press that all the scrutiny was on Manuel Pellegrini’s expensively assembled outfit. Rodgers can’t expect anyone to buy the “no pressure line” from here on out.

It doesn’t matter if you start the season hoping to make the Champions League or to just avoid relegation; if you are top of the table with 4 games left the pressure is no longer on the teams below you. No matter how understanding your fans are, or how calm the players appear in interviews, expectations rise and nerves jangle.

Liverpool go to Norwich next weekend with the Canaries desperately battling against the drop. Jordan Henderson, a stand out performer all season, is suspended for three games after a rash tackle late on yesterday.

It goes without saying but every game Liverpool play from here on out will be tougher than the last. The weight of 24 years is upon them.

Arsenal celebrate close call against Wigan.

Arsenal players’ celebrations in the aftermath of Saturday’s FA cup semi-final were worthy of FA Cup champions. Perhaps it was the adrenalin coursing through the veins following a penalty shoot-out, or relief at still being in the hunt for silverware this season, but celebrating a win over a Championship side (even if they are current FA Cup holders) is not something to shout about.

It’s unlikely that former Arsenal captain Patrick Vieira, or indeed his nemesis Roy Keane, would find something worth celebrating in such a narrow win. For much of Saturday’s game it looked like Wigan would be on their way to a second consecutive FA Cup final. The Latics were aggressive and persistent in closing down Arsenal and in players like Callum McManaman they had the ability to worry the Gunners’ defenders.

Arsene Wenger may yet leave at the end of this season, and if he is to leave Arsenal the gift of a first trophy in almost a decade then his side will have to perform much better in May’s decider against Hull City.

Luck plays a part at both ends of the league.

Everton went to Sunderland at the weekend desperate to leapfrog Arsenal into the fourth and final Champion’s League spot. Their opponents needed a win to kickstart a climb from the bottom of the table.

The two sides huffed and puffed for the majority of the game, with few standout performers. Gerard Delofeu was perhaps the most likely to make a difference and in the 75th minute it was his cross that deflected off of Wes Brown and past a stricken Vito Mannone.

With such tight margins at the top and bottom of the table, that one goal could go a long way to seeing Sunderland relegated and Everton playing in the Champions League. Such is football.

Advantage Liverpool in race for Premier League title

Ten wins out of ten for Liverpool, and even if it wasn’t a ten out of ten performance today, all associated with the club won’t care. A 3-2 win against Manchester City leaves them five points clear at the top of the Premier League table.

Steven Gerrard was close to tears after the final whistle, the Liverpool captain debriefing his side in front of an ecstatic Kop. There is no player who deserves a league title more, but for vast swathes of the game today Manchester City looked like they might take the driving seat in the race for Premier League glory.

Liverpool started the brighter, with Raheem Sterling bamboozling Vincent Kompany and Joe Hart in the box before coolly converting in the sixth minute. Manchester City’s cause wasn’t helped by the loss of Yaya Toure with less than a quarter of the game gone. A knee injury led to him being replaced by Javi Garcia, with Fernandinho taking the Ivorian’s position as the most advanced central midfielder.

Garcia simply doesn’t have the mobility of Toure or Fernandinho, and throughout the rest of the first half Liverpool ran at City again and again. Minutes after Toure went off Martin Skrtel doubled the home side’s advantage with a header from a Steven Gerrard corner and it looked like Liverpool  could do to City what they have done to many teams at Anfield this season and run riot. Pellegrini’s men were thankful for the half-time whistle.

The second half seemed to be from a different game entirely. City began to dominate the midfield exchanges, with David Silva in particular a constant threat. It was he who made the breakthrough, prodding home in the 57th minute from a James Milner cross. Milner had come on for Jesus Navas and offered a little more physicality as City pressed for an equaliser. It was Silva again however who created the second goal for his side, when neat link-up play with Samir Nasri allowed him the space to get a shot off on goal. Glen Johnson’s attempt to block only served to divert the ball beyond Simon Mignolet.

The Kop was quieter now, and with Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge not really able to make an impact on the game Manchester City looked the more likely to take the three points. Suarez in particular would have concerned Brendan Rodgers, as the Uruguayan was booked very early on and was involved in a few incidents throughout the game. He may have cut down on his diving antics for the most part but on one or two occasions today he was fortunate that Mark Clattenburg did not brandish a second yellow.

Liverpool did what title contenders must however, and scored against the run of play. Much of the credit will have to go to a player who will want none. City captain Vincent Kompany snatched at a clearance in the box and only found the onrushing Coutinho. The Brazilian still had much to do with the ball slightly behind him but the number 10 finished with aplomb.

In the closing stages Pellegrini pushed Garcia forward as City pressed for another equalizer, but even a Jordan Henderson sending off for a rash challenge late on was enough to derail Liverpool. On a day of remembrance for the 96 souls lost in the Hillsborough tragedy, Liverpool have given themselves the opportunity to make the perfect tribute 25 years on.

Chelsea still have to come to Anfield in a few weeks time, and there are enough games left for there to be twists and turns in the title race yet. Brendan Rodgers may play down the significance of today’s win, but with each victory the expectation grows on Merseyside. How Liverpool deal with the pressure will determine whether or not they lift the Premier League trophy on May 11th.