On the weekend we would have been playing away at Liverpool, we recall a trip to Anfield six years ago that derailed the Reds' title challenge and featured a notable Demba Ba goal in front of the Kop...
Before the current pandemic hit football, Chelsea were scheduled to play away this weekend at Liverpool, the league leaders. It is generally one of the most anticipated trips when the fixtures are published in June, and six years ago on Sunday 27 April 2014 was no exception.
Back then, Liverpool were closer than ever before to winning the Premier League for the first time. Going into the third-last weekend of the season they were six points clear of Manchester City, who had played one game fewer and were also behind the Blues in second. The Citizens faced a trip to Crystal Palace later the same day.
To witness the scenes outside Anfield an hour or two before kick-off was to assume the Reds had already sealed their success: hundreds of supporters lined the road along which club coaches approached the stadium, holding flags and banners, letting off flares and creating an hostile atmosphere for the Chelsea team.
In contrast, Jose Mourinho had suggested the game was not the main priority for the Blues, who were to entertain Atletico Madrid in the second leg of the Champions League semi-final at the Bridge, a tie poised at 0-0. He also had suspension and injury concerns, but it was still a surprise when he drafted in a promising 20-year-old, Tomas Kalas, at centre-half against a strike-force led by Luis Suarez. With Europe in mind, Gary Cahill and Willian started on the bench.
What followed, though, was a tactical masterclass in obduracy that tore up the hosts’ 11-game winning streak. Especially effective was the trap set for Steven Gerrard, the deep-lying central midfielder who demanded the ball from team-mates and initiated virtually every Liverpool move.
Chelsea sat deep, blocked his long-passing opportunities and stayed in readiness to close him down when the opportunity arose. It was Demba Ba who did so most famously. As Mamadou Sakho passed to Gerrard, who had dropped back to receive, Ba raced towards him. Distracted, the Reds skipper first let the ball under his boot, then slipped as he turned to chase after the Chelsea forward. The Senegalese made no mistake, and a legendary Premier League moment was born.
At the back Kalas had set the visitors’ tone early on with a magnificently-timed tackle on Raheem Sterling, and there have been fewer more focused performances by a Blues team. The icing on the cake came as Liverpool resorted to desperate crosses into the box in the second half, pouring forward and leaving little cover at the back.
When another attempt was cleared, Fernando Torres sprang his former club’s offside trap and stormed towards the box, setting substitute Willian up to make it 2-0. It was a sensational result, and the Demba Ba ‘slip’ song was sung for years afterwards and in every ground.
‘They parked two buses, rather than one,’ Reds boss Brendan Rodgers sarcastically observed, after pre-match euphoria had made way for his counterpart Mourinho celebrating wildly with traveling fans.