London - For Roman Abramovich, the painful irony is that, on the day he handed Liverpool £50 million for Fernando Torres, this was the sort of afternoon he was hoping to avoid.
The one in which Chelsea dominate, yet fail to close the deal. The one in which chance after chance slips away. The one in which the old warrior, John Terry, is forced to do the job the forwards cannot.
Liverpool's Luis Suarez (back L) scores against Chelsea during their English Premier League soccer match at Stamford Bridge Stadium. Credit: REUTERS
It is incredible to think that, take away Terry’s unmarked header after 20 minutes and Chelsea could even have lost this one. Having dominated the first half, they allowed Liverpool back into the game and by the end were clinging on for a point.
Four minutes into injury time, Luis Enrique Liverpool’s most consistent performer and a real aggravation for Chelsea after half-time hit a low shot which produced a vital save from Petr Cech.
There would have been no way back for Roberto Di Matteo’s team had that gone in, their own nightmare Shakhtar Donetsk moment. It may have been a travesty considering Chelsea’s supremacy, but the Ukrainian side probably felt the same about their injury-time defeat here last Wednesday.
That Chelsea are not two points nearer to leaders Manchester United is not solely Torres’s fault but a cheque for £50m usually brings some guarantee of match-winning goals. Not to mention a cheque for £23.5m (Juan Mata), £32m (Eden Hazard), £20m (Oscar) plus sundries of £9m (Victor Moses) and £3.5m and rising (Daniel Sturridge). It certainly lends fresh currency to the cliche about not being able to buy a goal.
It will not be lost on Chelsea’s owner that, for all his expenditure, the most gifted goalscorer on the pitch was in a red shirt: Liverpool’s Luis Suarez, scorer of the 73rd-minute equaliser and a threat throughout the second half once Terry had gone off injured.
The obvious gap between the possibilities for Suarez as an individual and the limitations of the present Liverpool team have led some to speculate about a parting of the ways, but Chelsea are the one suitor manager Brendan Rodgers should not fear. The combination of Terry and Suarez at the same club is potentially so toxic after recent events that a complaint from the Society of Black Lawyers may be in the post even at the thought of it.
The pair came together to significant effect on Sunday in an incident that probably changed the game. Ramires clattered into the back of Suarez, sending him tumbling headlong into Terry, who was removed on a stretcher, clearly in much pain with suspected knee ligament damage.
Until then, Liverpool had been innocuous, despite a reasonable share of possession. Chelsea shorn of Terry, however, are a different proposition and Liverpool sensed it. They came out with greater ambition after half-time, chased the game and, to the surprise of the locals, reeled it in.
Rodgers abandoned his five at the back he said it was three but, if a manager selects three central defenders and two full backs in the wide roles, their cautious outlook tends to five and Chelsea ran out of ideas. You don’t get much for £138m these days.
So who could have won this for Chelsea? Oscar (six minutes), Branislav Ivanovic (19), Torres and Hazard (27), Mata (45), Mata again (45+4), Mata third time unlucky (53), Torres (57), Torres (64), Mata and John Mikel Obi (67), Ivanovic (87) and Hazard (90).
The pick of it would be the Torres header from Oscar’s cross that was well saved by Liverpool goalkeeper Brad Jones, the Torres shot from a powerful run by Hazard, again kept out by Jones, and Ivanovic’s late header from a Mata corner.
Torres was an inch away from a significant near-post connection and Jones made a hash of a Mata free-kick that Mikel could not convert just before Liverpool scored, but Suarez’s intervention seemed to knock the confidence from the home side. The expected siege of the Liverpool goal did not materialise.
James Bond gives more away under interrogation than Di Matteo but the Chelsea manager must privately be a little concerned at such wastefulness, not least as it took an error of boyish naivety to tee up Chelsea’s only goal.
Terry was unmarked when he headed in Mata’s corner. Unmarked. That’s like bowling short down the leg side to Alastair Cook or giving Cristiano Ronaldo a free-kick on the edge of the area. It just spells trouble. It just spells goal. And sure enough it did.
Terry arrived in a huge gap between two red shirts and his header left Jones no chance. On his return to the side following his four-match domestic ban for racially abusing Anton Ferdinand it was also typical of the man. Terry has a way of responding to personal crisis that is a manager’s dream.
Di Matteo would have restored him to the team without the slightest worry he could withstand the pressure. The discomfort will set in if the medical bulletin that followed his clash with Suarez brings bad news.
Chelsea can pull off the odd game without Terry the Champions League final being a case in point but not a whole season.
Here was the proof. Would Liverpool have got a draw had Chelsea’s original back four stayed together? There was scant indication of it.
The equaliser, however, showed vulnerability. Jamie Carragher was first to Suso’s corner and Suarez got the better of Ramires to head home his 10th goal in 15 matches this season, three more than Torres, who has played three more games.
Take his goals away, say the number crunchers, and Liverpool would be in the bottom three. Put him in a blue shirt and Chelsea’s season would not be so delicately poised. Then again, the same might be said of Didier Drogba, watching from the stand. Not that the owner admits mistakes.