The headlines will scream that Torres is back and that Hodgson’s reign begins here. The truth is that, so far this season Chelsea have been poor away from home. Frighteningly dominant at home, the clubs travels have taken them to three top half sides (Manchester City, Villa and Liverpool) and have failed to even score against all three. This is not to say that the champions are not still easy favourites to reclaim their title but it is an issue that Ancelotti must address.
The reason that the away form of Chelsea is so interesting is the sheer dominance they exhibit in all their other games. Coming into this game their form was W W W W W L W D W W. F 27 A 3. By any standards that is terrifying. Yet City, Villa and Liverpool were all well worth their points on the day. Liverpool had a game plan, executed it well and deserved the win.
As Zonalmarking notes Chelsea looked much better with Drogba on the field (having failed to muster a single shot on target in the first half) and the second half was a case of Liverpool hanging in there. However without the Ivorian Chelsea looked disturbingly toothless. One possible explanation would be that Chelsea are missing Frank Lampard. Many people have commented how little Chelsea seem to be missing Lampard but his absence might be becoming a problem.
There was a notable lack of midfield runs which the Englishman provides. Zhirkov, Ramires and Mikel are all excellent players but don’t get up to support the strikers in the same was as Lampard or Essien. Against Liverpool they were actually dominated by the Gerrard, Lucas and Meireles triangle. Kuyt and Lucas in particular had superb games and Chelsea were missing Lampard and Essien as well has Drogba recovering from a bug but still for a squad with the depth of Chelsea this is a cause for concern.
As United proved in the 2008/9 season, it is possible to win the title and have a poor record against your direct rivals (although calling Liverpool and Villa direct rivals is charitable) but it doesn’t make the challenge any easier. United in 2008/9 finished bottom of the Top Four Mini-League but took 70 out of a possible 72 points against all the teams lower than 7th. This might be the way that Chelsea have to do it this season.
Chelsea is not a club in crisis. They are still top by two points and have gotten tricky away visits to Eastlands and Anfield out of the way, something title rivals United have yet to do. Three results can be put down to simply anomaly similar to United giving away a two goal lead on three occasions already this season. But Ancelotti might just feel a lot better at the sight of Lampard bombing forward forward from midfield in support.