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Anfield side left with deficit at year end as Chelsea exert their authority

There is more than one way to ring in the New Year.

Samuel Eto'o scored a decisive second goal for Chelsea after escaping sanction for poor tackle earlier on. Picture: Reuters
Samuel Eto'o scored a decisive second goal for Chelsea after escaping sanction for poor tackle earlier on. Picture: Reuters

The more traditional is with the bells, although Liverpool would appear to have been left with a different kind of alarm, the sort which has risen in volume as the club slipped from the top of the Barclays Premier League and down into fifth in the space of two matches. Those fixtures comprised part of the festive calendar but have left the Anfield side feeling blue, 2-1 defeats by first Manchester City and then Chelsea yesterday each tearing at Brendan Rodgers' designs on the league title.

These had been drawn quickly and had likely been traced from the form shown by Luis Suarez, who had scored 10 goals in his four matches before alighting at Stamford Bridge. The Liverpool striker would be starved inside the London ground, a phrase one chooses to apply carefully since the Uruguayan was coming up against Branislav Ivanovic, the Chelsea defender he took a bite out of in April. The home side would muzzle Suarez this time and leave him to nibble at chances with all the vigour of a Chelsea Pensioner who had misplaced his dentures.

An extensive list of injuries would also make the match that little bit harder to swallow; a couple of the substitutes available to Rodgers seeming less of a who's who of the Anfield side and more of a who's that? A recogniseable name would flash up on the screens inside Stamford Bridge when the visitors took the lead after just three minutes - Martin Skrtel pushing a flicked shot from Suarez over the line - before his manager was left to dwell on a dwindling pool of options going into the New Year.

"I thought it was a great effort by my players," said Rodgers. "We've had two really tough fixtures against two of the strongest squads in the Premier League. To get them back-to-back at this time of year was always a big ask and with so many injuries as well. To keep the game in the balance to the very end, you have to give credit to the players.

"Of course we're disappointed at the result but right now I'm more worried about the group. We are nursing injuries and we'll see where we are tomorrow. The squad is very shallow. It shows the size of the challenge that you can lose two games and go from top to fifth but I'm confident if we can get some players back and maybe add one or two more [during the January transfer window]."

The Liverpool manager could have had a set of new players parading in front of his side's penalty area and it would not have been enough to prevent Chelsea from drawing level after 17 minutes. That goal came after a pass from Oscar deflected off Mamadou Sakho and fell kindly to Eden Hazard, the Belgian lifting a shot carefully into the net from outside the area.

That was added to midway through the first half by Samuel Eto'o but it was a goal which would arrive with baggage. The Chelsea striker had earlier caught Jordan Henderson with a poor challenge which left the Liverpool midfielder clutching at his calf, only to avoid sanction. Eto'o then emerged as a free man once more when he ran into the penalty box in time to swing a boot at Oscar's cut back. The effort then nestled in the net after squirming away from Simon Mignolet, the Liverpool goalkeeeper.

It had been a gentle touch from Eto'o but it was his earlier robust challenge which drew greater focus afterwards. "For some weeks I have been criticising him a lot internally for his failure to adapt to what the Premier League is in terms of physicality," said Jose Mourinho, the Chelsea manager. "So if he had a tackle deserving of a card it was my fault because I'm asking him to adapt to this."

The Portuguese would also change tack expertly in the middle of the interview, referring to an incident in which Hazard was challenged in the box but was not awarded a penalty. "I think there is another big case for a penalty on Hazard," said Mourinho. "Something is happening, week after week, I don't know why referees don't see it. He's a fair boy and I don't know why this is happening."

The London side will travel to Southampton for their New Year's Day fixture. They had to survive a header from Sakho which struck the crossbar after the midfielder connected with Henderson's lofted pass, a half-volley from Suarez which was turned past a post by goalkeeper Petr Cech, and then another drive from Glen Johnson. Cech was at full stretch to get his fingers to that one as the home side creaked.

Mourinho hinted that the greater pressure has been exerted on his team by a busy fixture schedule, though, with Premier League clubs obligated to play on throughout the festive period. He commended his players for coming through their latest fixture with a win which places Chelsea in third place, just two points behind leaders Arsenal.

"Premier League players in this country deserve fantastic respect because what they do is amazing," the Chelsea manager added. "To play in this period is beautiful. I love it. I keep saying I love it. The players are monsters in a good sense of the word.It is fantastic propaganda for what football is."

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