Chelsea’s rope-a-dope could end Liverpool’s title hopes

First there was the outrage at the under-strength side. Chelsea are 'enemies of football', 'disrespecting the Premier League', with 'no class'. Then there was the outrage at the tactics.

Chelsea’s rope-a-dope could end Liverpool’s title hopes

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April 28th, 2014

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Whether it was parking the bus, double-parking the bus (something even the bizarre layout of Hammersmith bus station makes awkward), or just being plain ‘negative’ – well you can take your pick.

And finally there was the biggest outrage of all – that this jumped-up under-strength Chelsea side had the temerity to go to the home of the champions-elect and win.

Chelsea are used to causing outrage. It seems to go with the territory.

Agreed: spoiling the media love-in, where journalists utterly out of touch with match-going fans state the opinion that ‘most neutrals want Liverpool to win the league’, is never going to go down well.

But amid the defensive masterclass, the tactics born to frustrate and anger, the Mohammad Ali-style rope-a-dope gameplan that lured a psychologically weaker opponent to waste their fight before delivering a late knockout punch – the truth is that Liverpool undid themselves.

“No slips – we go again,” are the words that will haunt Steven Gerrard until the day he dies.

For it was his slip, that of Liverpool’s own home-grown King of The Kop, that cost Anfield probably its only chance in the foreseeable future to host a championship-winning side.

“Steven Gerrard – he’s done it again,” sang the away end, referencing the midfielder’s own goal to their benefit in the 2005 League Cup final, and the back pass to let in Didier Drogba for a crucial goal in the 2010 title race.

Next season will be different for Liverpool.

Recovering from the decline that saw them dumped out of Europe, they will ‘go again’ in the Champions League – and slips are all the more common when a manager who has never won more than a trophy for coming third in the second tier of English football has to play twice a week all season.

The chances of Chelsea capitalising in this year’s campaign remain incredibly slim. They still need both Liverpool and Manchester City to drop points in a run-in that is short on games.

City are the biggest beneficiaries – they only have to win three games to be champions.

That means three points each time: at a very wobbly Everton (who may, conceivably, have a reason to be generous to City), at home to a woeful Aston Villa, and at home again to a West Ham with nothing to play for.

But it goes much further than that.

In depriving Liverpool of what seemed the certainty of their first title in 24 years, Chelsea have offered one of the greatest things any team has ever given English football.

Liverpool are roundly despised by the fans of other clubs that go to games. The arrogance of their fans, the talk of ‘history’ (actually built on the gambling revenues of the poor), the behaviour of a section of a set of fans who routinely brick visiting coach windows and throw excrement at visiting supporters.

It seems odd that Manchester City could be seen as people’s champions, but by comparison it is a walkover.

Chelsea, meanwhile, are left with players rested to get on with the matter in hand – battling for their third consecutive European trophy and upholding the UEFA coefficient of the Premier League.

Their presence in those echelons is equally unpopular: UEFA hated the spectacle of them winning the 2012 trophy – the signs clear on Michel Platini’s face.

Chelsea will lap up that antipathy from the authorities. After all, causing such outrage appears to be one of the club’s favourite pastimes.

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