LONDON ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 06: Carlo Ancelotti manager of Chelsea looks dejected during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Liverpool at Stamford Bridge on February 6 2011 in London England. (Photo by Scott Heavey/Getty Images)

English Premier League Review: Thinking Through Carlo Ancelotti, Chelsea's Inability To Match Kenny Dalglish, Liverpool

Manchester United lost their first match of the season this weekend, but after Chelsea was stifled by Liverpool on Sunday, the talk of the English Premier League is Kenny Dalglish's dominance of Carlo Ancelotti.

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Chelsea Didn't Deserve To Lose, Or Win - We Ain't Got No History

Take a sampling of Monday's reaction to Sunday's Chelsea-Liverpool match and you may come away thinking Liverpool was clearly the better side. I suppose if you're isolating the discussion to tactics, the Reds were clearly the better side, but beyond the plans, Chelsea was not far from getting a result. With Liverpool generating very few scoring opportunities, the teams bore many more similarities than differences.

At least, those were my thoughts as I covered the match, and although there may be a degree of group think involved, the idea of Chelsea not being that far from a result is also present in the match report at We Ain't Got No History, SB Nation's Chelsea FC community blog. As site manager Graham MacAree also notes, a couple of calls that would have evened the match may have gone against the Blues:

It would have been deliciously poignant had [David Luiz] scored on his debut rather than the far more hyped Torres, but it wasn't to be, and Liverpool ended up finishing the game fairly comfortably, partially thanks to the referre ignoring a clear Lucas handball in the box followed by a Glen Johnson foul on Branislav Ivanovic that should have also been a penalty. It's difficult to pin the loss on Marriner, however - Chelsea shouldn't be in a position where they need to rely on the referee's decision to claim points against Liverpool. They didn't deserve to lose, but they sure didn't deserve the win either.

For more of Graham's match report, you can visit We Ain't Got No History, SB Nation's Chelsea blog.

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Louis Saha's Four Goals Need Not Overshadow Other Toffee Stars - Royal Blue Mersey

Newcastle's comeback against Arsenal may have been more dramatic, but Everton's 5-3 win over Blackpool may have actually been the better match. The Toffees' Saturday win at Goodison Park was so good that tmallows at SB Nation's Everton blog, Royal Blue Mersey, leads his match review with this sweeping statement:

If anyone ever asks why I support Everton,or love football in general, I will probably just show them a DVD of this game.....

Beyond the eight goals, the match saw three lead changes, a four goal scorer, and five tallies over its last half hour, and although it ultimately ended with Blackpool's slide toward relegation continued, it also saw an explosion by a talented Everton side whose season's been undermined by problems at the striker position. Louis Saha, primed for another run of form, may have solved those problems.

But for tmallows, another Everton striker deserves some consideration, something he covers in his review of Saturday's match:

Louis Saha will rightly take the plaudits for his four goals - the Frenchman is vital to our success and if we can keep him fit and scoring he is as good as anyone in the country.

But special mention has to got to Jermaine Beckford. Widely pilloried from everyone outside of the club for his appren (sic)t poor finishing the former Leeds man arguably scored the goal of the gme (sic) with a sublime first-time volley from Baines' chip forward. Anyone who has played football will tell you what a difficult skill it is to hit it first time when the ball is coming over your shoulder like that. Six goals in 23 apperances (sic) - just eight as starts - suddenly doesn't look as bad as everyone makes it out to be.

For the complete match report and full coverage of everything Everton, you can visit SB Nation's community blog, Royal Blue Mersey.

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English Premier League Review: Thinking Through Carlo Ancelotti, Chelsea's Inability To Match Kenny Dalglish, Liverpool

Two matches with eight goals, another with seven, were part of a record breaking Saturday in England, though the buzz from that feat lasted less than 24 hours. By noon Eastern on Sunday, a different set of numbers were dominating the Premier League landscape: 3-6-1; 4-3-3; 0-1.

The first two are the formations which, matched against each other, produced the third set: the final score of Sunday's Chelsea-Liverpool match, a meeting that was supposed to be about Fernando Torres making his Blues debut against his former club. With Torres leaving after 66 minutes, the score tied 0-0, the match was less about star versus former club than Kenny Dalglish versus Carlo Ancelotti, the Liverpool manager deploying a formation that stifled his opposition's plan.

In post-match interviews, Dalglish denied that Wednesday's switch to a three central defender set-up was motivated by the prospect of facing Torres and Didier Drogba, thoguh the idea of Liverpool implementing a new system for Stoke City is far less believable. Instead, Dalglish appears to have used the Reds' mid-week fixture, Dalglish as trial run, though in doing so, he tipped his hand. He gave Carlo Ancelotti three days to come up with a way to combat his 3-6-1, though instead of doing so, Ancelotti frustrated Blues supporters, playing right to Liverpool's strengths.

Dalglish's set-up meant the Torres-Drogba tandem would always be out-manned, and when Nicolas Anelka's play made Ancelotti's formation more 4-3-3 than 4-4-2, Lucas Leiva (at the bottom of Liverpool's midfield diamond) could maintain the Reds' numerical advantage. Chelsea's attempt to offset this seemed to involve Frank Lampard pushing higher than Anelka when the Blues were attacking, an offset rendered meaningless by Anelka's ineffectiveness. Unfamiliar with (and perhaps ill-equipped for) his role at the tip of Chelsea's diamond, Anelka failed to promote any creativity or fluidity, the attacker ultimately serving was the symbol of Ancelotti's Sunday failings.

That Anelka played at all would be surprising, were we able to bring back the speculation that surrounded Chelsea's transfer deadline purchases. When Torres was bought from Liverpool, many thought Anelka's playing time would be sacrificed. Surprisingly, Ancelotti has kept Anelka in his XI, moving him to a new role rather than to the bench. While Anelka performed well in that role against Sunderland, on Sunday, the makeshift trequartista looked incapable of making quicker decisions in tighter spaces - the type of decisions he'll have to make against high quality opposition.

It's a problem that could have been foreseen before Sunday's kickoff. Just as Ancelotti should have predicted Liverpool's defense would have success combating his strike tandem, he should have also seen Anelka was unlikely to replicate Tuesday's success. Instead, Ancelotti deployed a narrow formation, hoped for the best, in the process costing his team the match.

All of which has to be very disturbing for Blues supporters, those of us hoping for magical things from the Drogba-Torres partnership, as well as those naively holding-out hope that the world is made up of rational actors. Ancelotti's constant, reflexive reversion back to a 4-4-2 with a diamond midfield (which some have described Sunday's formation as) smacks of irrationality given, as it's been proven over-and-over again, Chelsea lacks the personnel to play that system. Or, more readily, Chelsea lacks the personnel to both play that system and meet the club's high expectations.

And those expectations are the reason why Torres's exclusion, something many cited as a possible alternative to Sunday's deployment, was also problematic. After all, Torres is the proposed solution for a team which, sitting fourth, is not meeting expectations. At some point, the Torres-Drogba partnership is expected to work, something that can't happen if Ancelotti finds reasons to avoid deploying the duo. While starting a 4-3-3 that excluded Torres, included Florent Malouda (or Salomon Kalou), and utilized more width would have had an obvious solution, doing so would also see Ancelotti resort the same formula that brought about the Torres purchase, a formula that had the defending champions in fourth entering February.

Ancelotti should have sacrificed Anelka, where his decision based purely on fitting puzzle pieces into a system. However, the inconsistencies behind Anelka's continued inclusion hint there's something else at play. Perhaps there is an element of keeping people happy to Ancelotti's decision, deciding to keep a veteran in the starting XI, electing to deploy Malouda and Kalou off the bench, roles with which those players have a certain level of familiarity. Perhaps Ancelotti is trying to avoid the problem of Anelka, relegated to an unfamiliar role which he may not be willing to perform, unsettling his squad. Perhaps in this case, man management is winning out over the tactics.

In that light, Ancelotti's Sunday decisions are justifiable, but now that the system is proving problematic, the tough decisions have to be made. Chelsea will probably have to move out of Ancelotti's comfort zone, adopt a system that he has yet to employ with the Blues, one that may risk a sulking Anelka. While the manager who has always sought to steer a steady ship may abhor the idea of unsettling one of his veterans, in light of Sunday's loss and Chelsea's place in the table, the alternative is untenable.

Elsewhere In Title Contention

The Blues remain 10 points behind league-leading Manchester United, with the league's final undefeated team losing on Saturday, 2-1 to Wolves. Two goals from set pieces allowed Mick McCarthy's men to turn around an early deficit, climb from 20th to 19th place, and illustrate United's continued dependence on Rio Ferdinand (who missed Saturday's match).

And yet, there still isn't the sense that England has a title race, a state of affairs you get when the league's second place team coughs up a four goal lead. Arsenal, only four points behind Manchester United, looked as fragile as ever, unable to hold a 4-0 lead they'd accumulated in the first 26 minutes at Newcastle. After losing a man in the 50th minute (Abou Diaby, red card), the Gunners gave up goals in the 69th, 75th, 83rd and 88th minutes, providing their detractors with more evidence why Arsène Wenger's team can not win a title.

With the Gunners having actually gained ground on Saturday, it seems rash to think Arsenal can't win the title. But can you imagine Manchester United giving up that lead? Chelsea? Even Manchester City? When you see a team unable to close out a 4-0 lead with just over 20 minutes to play, it's fair to ask if they'll be able to win the tough, end-of-season matches that will round-out the title race.

The Rest
  • Aston Villa looked in January, but their last two performances have been worrisome. While their mid-week loss at Old Trafford could have been written-off as an acceptable result at a very good team, it becomes difficult to overlook when Villa needs an own goal and a Mark Schwarzer mistake to get a draw from visiting Fulham.
  • Two goals from Roberth Huth and an opener from John Carew (all from set pieces) make you wonder if the Tony Pulis team that had featured Matthew Etherington, Jermaine Pennant and Tuncay Sanli has reverted back to the tried and the true. Stoke, brutally pragmatic, beat visiting Sunderland 3-2 on Saturday, and while Pulis may still harbor long-term ambitions of more skilled football, the more direct approach has the Potters ninth, four points out of a potential European spot.
  • Four goals from Louis Saha could mark the turning point in Everton's season. David Moyes's team has struggled the find a striker all season. If Saha hits a run of form, as was hinted in the Toffees' 5-3 win over Blackpool, Everton may still finish top seven.
  • Happy Birthday, Carlos Tévez. The Manchester City captain celebrated his 27th with three goals against visiting West Brom (two from the spot), taking his season's total to 18, one off the league lead. After a mid-week slip at St. Andrews, City is back to within a point of Arsenal.
  • Niko Kranjcar's stoppage time, left-footer from 21 yards gave Spurs a 2-1 win over visiting Bolton, pulling them even on points with Chelsea. For Bolton, the loss continues a trend that has the once fifth place side sliding down the table.
  • Roberto Martínez got a huge win on Saturday, a 4-3 result over visiting Blackburn. Like Wolves, there is this sense about the Latics, something in their play which hints that, although they can go long stretches of being highly ineffectual, the team can get results when they really need to, results that should lead to Wigan's survival.
  • And finally, the six-pointer at Upton Park, where Birmingham City climbed out of the drop with a 1-0 win over West Ham. It was typical Brum, looking inept for all but a few moments, one of which was Nikola Zigic beating Wayne Bridge for the match's only goal. For West Ham, if they can't beat Birmingham City at home, they can't be considered likely to survive.
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