Premier League – Chelsea cruise to brink of title

Chelsea moved to the brink of the Premier League title with a comprehensive 2-0 win against Liverpool at Anfield.

Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard‘s woeful back pass let Didier Drogba in to open the scoring just after the half-hour, before Frank Lampard made it two on 54 minutes.

Manchester United‘s win at Sunderland ensured the title race goes to the final weekend, but Carlo Ancelotti’s men will be crowned champions if they win at home to Wigan on Sunday. If United fail to beat Stoke, Chelsea are almost guaranteed the championship – although they are only one point clear, they boast a goal difference advantage of nine.

Liverpool, who were the better side before Gerrard’s error, faded badly as the fatigue of their extra-time Europa League exit to Atletico Madrid on Thursday took its toll.

Conspiracy theorists suggested in the week that Liverpool would not exactly mourn a Chelsea victory, which would help prevent United from winning a record 19th league title.

But Liverpool are a proud enough club not to fall into the trap of making the purpose of their existence merely to frustrate their biggest rivals, and their poor performance was down not to a lack of effort, but to a lack of ability.

However Liverpool started brightly, with Alberto Aquilani very lively and Chelsea looking unusually hesitant in midfield.

Aquilani hit a long shot off the crossbar while Yossi Benayoun and Maxi Rodriguez were also enjoying themselves on the flanks.

Maxi created Liverpool’s best opportunity of the game when he lofted a sweet pass through for Aquilani, who hesitated when the situation demanded a first-time shot and Branislav Ivanovic got a telling foot in.

But it all changed on 33 minutes, Gerrard attempted a pass back to Pepe Reina but did not spot Drogba lurking at the edge of the box. The Ivorian seized on the ball, rounded Reina and slotted into the empty net.

Liverpool were suddenly deflated as Chelsea found their stride.

The absence of Glen Johnson with a calf strain meant Javier Mascherano was pushed into the makeshift right-back role in which he has never excelled, and his positional play left much to be desired.

Salomon Kalou proved a constant menace cutting inside from the Chelsea right, and felt he should have had a penalty in first-half stoppage time after a Mascherano error saw him played through on goal.

He got beyond Lucas but stumbled over after a tangle of legs and referee Wiley waved play on. Chelsea protested furiously – with manager Carlo Ancelotti unusually animated – but had Kalou’s first touch been better he might have made it two without the referee’s assistance.

The second period started much as the first ended, with Kalou pulling strings down the left. He jinked inside Mascherano, scuttled down the by-line untouched and played a low cross in front of goal, but Nicolas Anelka could not turn it in.

Anelka turned provider to create the killer goal. He was played onside on the right side by the hapless Mascherano on the other side of the pitch, then squared for Lampard who put the ball between Reina’s legs from close range.

Liverpool folded completely thereafter, failing to create anything of note and getting little support from fans seemingly desperate for the season to end. They failed even to get a shot on target until the 91st minute.

While the home side were anaemic, Chelsea closed the game down with consummate professionalism, to secure a result that will surely see them crowned Premier League champions.

Alex Chick / Eurosport