Scroll to Photostream above left for match photos, click on the statistics tab for match stats; manager reaction below.
Chelsea were denied the chance to return to third place in the Barclays Premier League by a 97th-minute equaliser from Luis Suarez in a hard-fought 2-2 draw against Liverpool at Anfield.
Rafael Benitez, the Chelsea interim manager, got a good reception at the club he used to manage and saw his new charges take a half-time lead through Oscar’s near-post header from Juan Mata’s corner in the 26th minute.
Liverpool, energised by the introduction of Daniel Sturridge, started the second half in a lively fashion and equalised through the former Chelsea forward, who steered in Luis Suarez’s ball over the top after 52 minutes.
But parity lasted less than five minutes as Suarez blotted his copybook by handballing another Mata corner and Eden Hazard converted the penalty. That looked to be enough but Sturridge and Suarez combined again in the final minute of the match, the England forward crossing for the Uruguayan to head in.
The point kept Chelsea fourth on 64 points, a point below Arsenal but with a match in hand, and one above Spurs, who had beaten Manchester City earlier in the day.
Benitez’s affinity with Liverpool supporters has only been strengthened by his support for the Hillsborough families and yesterday he visited the memorial for the 96 at Anfield and laid flowers and a single red rose for Anne Williams. A minute's applause was held for the long-time justice campaigner, whose 15-year-old son Kevin who died in the disaster, after she passed away earlier this week just a couple of days after attending the 24th anniversary memorial service.
Chelsea's opening goal was courtesy of a near-post header by Oscar who managed to out-fox Daniel Agger and beat Jamie Carragher to head past Jose Reina inside his left post. Before that there had been little in the way of goal threat with Glen Johnson poking wide from Suarez's lay-off after the England full-back had begun the move with Jordan Henderson.
Ramires' drive was punched clear with two fists by Reina who, after the 26th-minute goal, almost fumbled in David Luiz's long-range free-kick and only just managed to retrieve the ball before it crossed the line.
Liverpool's first shot came in the 40th minute when Suarez's effort was beaten away by Petr Cech, who dealt more comfortably with the Uruguay forward’s scuffed strike on the stroke of half-time.
Philippe Coutinho was replaced by Sturridge, who was bought from Chelsea in January and instantly changed the dynamic. His first run put Steven Gerrard clean through, only for Cech to deflect the shot wide with his legs, and then he smashed a 25-yard effort against a post. But the England striker did well to get his feet in the right position to convert an awkward chance from Suarez's far post cross in the 52nd minute.
Liverpool's bubble was burst pretty quickly, however, as when Suarez handled defending a Juan Mata corner Hazard stroked home from the spot. They continued to press but the closest they came to puncturing a hole in Chelsea's defence was when substitute Jonjo Shelvey fired into the side-netting. However, Suarez produced the equaliser by heading home Sturridge's cross with the clock showing 96 minutes and 34 seconds.
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers: “[Luis Suarez] didn't have his best game, but what he does is he keeps going, keeps working, and he got the important second goal for us. In the first half we were too slow. We played with three midfield players to control and move the ball quickly but we didn't pass it well enough, we gave it away too cheaply.
"Even though we had one or two opportunities I didn't think we were at our best in the first half. I said to the players at half-time that we needed to be more aggressive in our game and show what we've showed a lot of the season. Second half, we were outstanding - we got a couple of goals and should have scored some more, maybe. Petr Cech made some wonderful saves."
Chelsea interim manager Rafael Benitez: “I was disappointed with the late goal conceded. We have to analyse why we didn't stop the cross and why Liverpool scored, but still in the normal circumstances we would have finished the game having won against a good team.
“They were pushing but we were defending well and had our chances in counter-attack in terms of dangerous situations. We don't have a great advantage but we can do it [finish in the top four] and we can win against any team.”
|27 Apr 2013||v Newcastle (A)|
|05 May 2013||v Everton (H)|
|12 May 2013||v Fulham (A)|
|19 May 2013||v QPR (H)|
|15 Dec 2013||v Spurs (A)|
|21 Dec 2013||v Liverpool (H)|