A surprising amount of the reaction to the Chelsea – Liverpool game centered on the performance of referee Howard Webb. Gabriele Marcotti summed up, in his typically even-handed manner, the case against Webb in his Monday ESPN column. I have to confess, this seemed a bit surprising to me, given Webb’s typically lenient approach and the praise it so often receives. Though I was surprised that Oscar’s 4′ high tackle on Jordan Henderson didn’t receive a yellow, on the whole the game seemed of a piece with Webb’s refereeing style. After all, it’s not like anyone got a cleat in the chest. If letting teams play is a virtue, it seems to me you have to take the good with the bad.
Some of the focus on Webb’s performance may have been because Chelsea’s defensive form and its deadening effect left little else to discuss. In this regard, it’s probably the case that Webb’s lenient approach benefitted Chelsea more than Liverpool, even though each were “denied” penalties. Credit Mourinho’s side for recognizing the nature of the day and taking advantage.
Outside of the Boot‘s Sami Faizullah and Vishal Patel offered one of the better tactical accounts of the game, describing how Chelsea took Luis Suarez out of the game through pressing and a shared marking (click on image for link).
Their analysis of David Luiz’s role in the game conflicted with Michael Cox‘s short piece on Luiz’s game. Where they saw Luiz as a central figure in Mourinho’s plan to contain Suarez, Cox argued that he in fact spent much of his energy preventing forward runs by Henderson. This may well be a case where both sides are right; because Chelsea did an excellent job of sharing responsibility for Suarez, Luiz may well have played a role defending both.
FourFourTwo‘s Andy Murray also deserves a shout out for emphasizing the centrality of Oscar’s performance in the face of the (admittedly, deserved) praise for Eden Hazard’s game. Hazard played well because of Mourinho’s decision to strip him of defensive responsibilities, deploying him on the right, away from the attacking Glen Johnson. But Oscar played in the center (for the most part) and turned in a two-way performance that underlines his importance to Mourinho’s game plan.