Chelsea strengthened their grip on the Premier League title race as they came from behind to win at Liverpool.
Emre Can’s deflected shot gave Liverpool an early lead but Gary Cahill swiftly levelled for Chelsea with the help of goalline technology, confirming that Reds keeper Simon Mignolet had carried his effort over the line.
Diego Costa – a one-time target for Liverpool who had a running battle with Martin Skrtel throughout – secured the three points for Jose Mourinho’s side midway through the second half to maintain their unbeaten league record.
Chelsea were superior overall, although Liverpool will complain bitterly they should have had a late penalty when Cahill appeared to handle Steven Gerrard’s shot.
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers made seven changes to the weakened side defeated by Real Madrid in the Champions League this week – but his ploy of making the Chelsea game a priority failed as they were condemned to defeat.
For Liverpool, it was also a sobering afternoon and an illustration of how these two teams have gone in opposite directions since they last met here in April.
On that day Liverpool were on course for the title, only for Chelsea to win 2-0 and change the course of the race that was eventually won by Manchester City.
Since then the Reds have lost their talisman Luis Suarez, as well as injured Daniel Sturridge, while Chelsea have strengthened with the bustling, aggressive figure of Costa – and what a difference he has madeThe visitors looked dangerous and stronger physically and talk of a potential ‘Invincibles’ campaign will only increase after this win.
Rodgers’ rearranged side took an early lead when Can’s long-range shot took a decisive deflection off Cahill to leave keeper Thibaut Courtois wrong-footed.
Liverpool needed to protect their advantage and, if possible, build on it but more of the defensive sloppiness that has characterised their season saw Chelsea equalise within five minutes.
Costa flicked on Cesc Fabregas’s corner and even though Mignolet saved brilliantly from John Terry’s header, he could only carry Cahill’s effort from the rebound over the line, with confirmation provided by goalline technology.
The running battle between Costa and defender Skrtel was a theme of the first half, with referee Anthony Taylor taking a very lenient approach to the constant physical clashes between the pair, deciding to keep his card in his pocket.
Chelsea’s greater power was winning influence in midfield and on a couple of occasions Liverpool’s defenders needed to block in desperation as Eden Hazard found space.
The home team’s best hope was the pace and dash of Philippe Coutinho and Raheem Sterling, who both tested Courtois on the rare occasions Liverpool were able to get in behind Chelsea’s defence.
Mourinho’s man were in front after 67 minutes when Cesar Azpilicueta escaped on the left – although Liverpool’s fans felt the ball had gone out – and when Mignolet could only palm his cross into the path of Costa, the striker drilled home an unerring finish.
Rodgers responded with a double change but it was not one that was well-received. The removal of Can and Coutinho was greeted with loud jeers as Joe Allen and Fabio Borini came on.
Liverpool mounted a late rally of sorts, culminating in that penalty appeal, but Chelsea increasingly have a look of Premier League champions even after so few games.