After Christian Benteke strolled through the Chelsea defense like a relaxed tourist admiring the ancient immobile statues in the Roman room at the Louvre, and scored to seal Liverpool’s 3-1 victory at Stamford Bridge, the home fans were not sure what to do.
Chelsea fans are not used to this. Over two spells as manager, José Mourinho was unbeaten in his first 77 home league games until April 2014, a loss to Sunderland, which was the only home league defeat that season. Last season Chelsea was unbeaten at home. This season that total has been tripled in just six matches. Judging by the display on Saturday, those fans better get used to dealing with defeat.
After Benteke scored in the 83rd minute, some home fans headed for the exits. Others responded to Liverpool chants of “You’re getting fired in the morning” with a chorus of “José Mourinho,” to the tune of “La donna è mobile”, the only opera aria English fans know. After the game, some fans simply sat in their seats and stared blankly at the field. Maybe they do that every week to avoid the crush at Fulham Broadway underground station. But they looked devastated and confused. (Although Fulham Broadway on match day has the same effect.)
If they had sat there long enough they might have seen Mourinho come back onto the field. Some 45 minutes after the game, he held a meeting with his coaches in the center circle, in full view of the cameras and any lip readers watching TV.
By then, Mourinho had shown that, like the fans, he cannot make up his mind how to react to this unfamiliar crisis. He adopted quite different approaches as first he faced the TV cameras and then the print journalists. In both cases, Mourinho attempted to be uncooperative, but in contrasting yet equally entertaining ways.
Chelsea took the lead when Ramires scored after four minutes. After that, the Blues managed only one more shot on target, and that from 45 yards by Oscar. Liverpool, which started without a striker, dominated possession. As the Reds realized how demoralized Chelsea was, they played increasingly slick soccer.
Coutinho undressed Ramires and levelled in the third of two added minutes at the end of first half. Referee Mark Clattenburg’s timing could be questioned; Coutinho’s brilliance could not.
At 1-1, Liverpools' Lucas escaped a second yellow for a trip and stayed on. Diego Costa could have seen a straight red after kicking Martin Skrtel. Costa also stayed on, though he will probably face another FA inquiry.
Benteke came on with 25 minutes left and Chelsea’s big defenders, John Terry, Gary Cahill and Kurt Zouma simply could not cope. The Belgian helped set up Coutinho’s second and then scored the final goal. Liverpool was good. Chelsea was awful.
After the whistle, Mourinho faced the camera of BT Sport which had broadcast the game and announced he had “nothing to say.”
Asked about the referee’s decisions he said “Nothing, nothing to say.”
What about Costa?
“I am sorry. I have nothing to say.”
Did he have a message to the fans?
“The fans are not stupid,” he said, and winked at the camera.
Was he a little bit more worried?
“Worried about what?”
At the press conference, Mourinho took a different, sarcastic, tack. On the result, Mourinho asked the journalist: “Did you watch the game?”
Asked about the referee, Mourinho, also responded with a question: “What do you think? You don’t get fined.”
But by now his self-control was wavering. Mourinho needed to scratch the itch. He had to blame the officials.
“There are things that are out of our hands,” he said. “You could feel that the game was, maximum, was 50-50 in spite of we were winning 1-0.”
“Two minutes extra time we concede the goal on 2 minutes 35 seconds,” he said, going into details. “In the second half everything is a consequence of some crucial moments, moments that the stadium saw, the players more than see, the players feel it. They felt it and from now what happens is just a consequence.”
Yet if Chelsea is losing simply because the officials, like the fans of pretty much every other club in England, hate Chelsea and Mourinho, how is it that his team won the league by eight points last season?
Jürgen Klopp told the BBC that he sympathized, up to a point.
“He's a great coach. I don't think anyone in this room doubts he's one of the best in the world,” the Liverpool manager said. “I feel for him of course, but it's work."
But Klopp was also clear that Clattenburg was right to let Liverpool’s attack continue before Coutinho scored. “The game is in the flow.” He told BT “He has to wait.”
As for the potential red card for Lucas, Klopp said: “You cannot win at Chelsea without luck. We had the little bit of luck you need, perhaps not too much.”
Klopp is not a coach who tries to create a siege mentality to unite and energize his teams. On Saturday he was happy and showed it, which provoked a sideline spat with one of Mourinho’s small army of belligerent assistants.
“We can do better,” Klopp said of his team. “But for today it was absolutely OK.”
Perhaps the most telling answer of the many post-match was the last thing Mourinho said as he tried to tell the camera nothing.
Asked if he could fix Chelsea’s problems, Mourinho answered with a snort of laughter and the line: “I cannot say.”
Judging from the limp, scared way his team played, it might be that he really does not have an answer.
CARELESS HANDS Manchester City stayed at the top of the Premier League after playing badly but still winning, 2-1, at home to Norwich. The match pivoted on three less than dextrous moments.
Norwich defended with discipline until the 67th minute when the Canaries allowed Nicolás Otamendi to fly free in the penalty area. The burly City center back slammed a header past John Ruddy from 10 yards. Surely that was the cue for the traditional City rout.
Instead, Norwich rallied. After 83 minutes, Joe Hart jumped to gather a cross. In mid-air he attempted to adjust his grip on the ball, as if groping for a non-existent handle. As the ball wriggled through his fingers, Hart, in a panic, grabbed again only succeeding in throwing the ball towards his net. Cameron Jerome pounced. This was a chance even he could not miss. He poked it over the line for his fourth goal in 34 Premier League appearances for Norwich.
Norwich clung on until the 89th minute. Then its grasp proved weak. This time Ruddy dropped a cross. As the ball rolled away, the goalie chased, like a small bird hopping after a wind-blown leaf. At the edge of the area he swung a boot at the ball and missed. That left Raheem Sterling with a clear sight of goal. He shot. Russell Martin dived, reached and saved. Martin is not the goalie. He saw red. Yaya Touré converted the penalty kick.
There was still time for Hart to atone for his error by saving a deflected shot and for Aleksandar Kolarov to miss a second City penalty. The home team had played badly and won.
ARSENAL CLIMB The team in hot pursuit also played badly and won.
Arsenal was outplayed in the first half at Swansea but survived. Bafétimbi Gomis hesitated and squandered a one-on-one against Petr Cech, who also made a couple of good saves.
Like City, Arsenal broke the deadlock with a free header from a corner. Olivier Giroud was left alone close to goal and nodded the ball in. If Swansea had stationed defenders on the posts, the ball would have been blocked. There are tactical reasons for not defending the posts at corners but the chief one seems to be a desire give the other team soft goals.
Lukasz Fabianski, the Swansea goalie, then emulated Hart and dropped a cross, though he was being distracted by an affectionate hug from his former teammate, Giroud. Laurent Koscielny popped the ball in.
Joel Campbell, marked his first league start for Arsenal by scoring his first league goal for the club. Arsenal had blown Swansea away with three goals in 14 minutes for its fifth straight league victory. The ugly loss at Stamford Bridge on September 19 seems light years away – for Arsenal as well as Chelsea.
BAD TURN One attraction of Andy Carroll is that not only is he a threat in the opposition penalty box, but he should bolster hi team’s defense at set pieces.
On Saturday, Carroll made his first start for West Ham since February and his bizarre play, as he wasted three chances to clear after a free kick, led to the crucial first goal in a 2-0 defeat at Watford.
In the 39th minute, Carroll leapt to meet a high ball into the area but could only head it weakly sideways. As the ball came back, Carroll tried to volley it clear and whiffed. The ball sat at his feet near the goal-line. Carroll could have belted it behind for a corner or sideways for a throw. Instead he attempted a Cruyff turn.
Carroll, as the saying goes, has good feet for a big man but he is no Johan Cruyff. In any case, even the supremely confident Dutchman might have thought twice about pirouetting a couple of yards from his own goal. As the statuesque Carroll spun slowly, Nathan Ake stole the ball and drove it across goal. Odion Ighalo scored. Ighalo added a second at the start of the second half. James Collins was later sent off for whacking Ighalo.
West Ham, which seems to have trouble against weaker teams, slipped out of the top four. Watford moved into the top half of the table and five points ahead of Chelsea.
DEFYING GRAVITY With West Ham losing and sterile Manchester United playing out is third consecutive goalless draw, this one at Crystal Palace, where goalie David de Gea was, again, the man of the match, the door was open for Leicester which was at West Brom.
Before the fight back kings could win again, they needed to fall behind.
Leicester achieved that in the 30th minute when Salomón Rondón headed the home team in front. Now Leicester was in position for another comeback victory.
One reason Leicester is so dangerous is that it has two of the most dangerous strikers in the Premier League.
Riyad Mahrez struck twice early in the second half, though the second looked suspiciously offside. That took Mahrez to seven Premier League goals, tied for second with Ighalo.
The one man who has more goals is Jamie Vardy. He added the third to take his tally to 11. The goal meant Vardy has scored in eight straight games. In the brief history of the Premier League, only two men have scored in as many consecutive matches. One is Daniel Sturridge, though it is difficult to believe that he could ever have played in eight straight games without getting injured. The other is Ruud van Nistelrooy who achieved the feat twice and whose longest scoring streak was 10 matches.
Vardy’s goal came in the 77th minute, which gave West Brom time to attempt a comeback of its own. Rickie Lambert converted a penalty and later hit the post. But Leicester clung on to win, 3-2. The Foxes and Vardy are defying gravity. They are making Claudio Ranieri loom a rather good manager. How would he do at Chelsea?