Liverpool and Chelsea look to the future as old stagers score
John Terry and Steven Gerrard score in low-key encounter at Stamford Bridge
Chelsea 1 Liverpool 1
With the title decided and Liverpool's chances of a top four finish realistically over, there was surprisingly little riding on this heavyweight clash, and Chelsea and Liverpool shared the spoils of a somnolent Sunday afternoon encounter at Stamford Bridge.
Arguably the highlight, for Chelsea fans at least, was the guard of honour accorded their team by Liverpool prior to kick-off in recognition of the Blues having cantered to the Premier League title three weeks before the season's end. The Liverpool players and fans may not have enjoyed the experience so much.
On the pitch there was little in the way of thrilling action. Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho used the meaningless encounter to hand a full Premier League debut to 19-year-old midfielder Reuben Loftus-Cheek, while Liverpool blooded 18-year-old striker Jerome Sinclair in the second half.
That summed up the match, a chance for both clubs to look to the future, particularly the Reds, who in a couple of weeks part company with Steven Gerrard after 17 years of dedicated senior squad service. Fittingly the veteran midfielder got on the scoresheet, heading home at the far post on the stroke of half-time to cancel out the early headed effort of another old stager, John Terry.
Gerrard's goal earned Liverpool a point but, barring a mathematical miracle in the next fortnight, it won't be enough to earn them a place in next season's Champions League.
Currently six points behind fourth-placed Manchester United with two games left, Liverpool need to win their remaining games and hope the Red Devils to lose theirs, while also overturning a goal difference of 14.
"I think now this team's got to prepare for next year," reflected Gerrard. "We wanted to make a statement with our performance today. Unfortunately we didn't win the game but we've shown that with a few additions we can compete next year."
The 34-year-old also played down the significance of the standing ovation he was afforded by the Chelsea fans when he was substituted after 79 minutes on his final appearance in London. "It was a nice touch," he told the BBC. "[But] I've had great support from the Liverpool fans - that's all that matters to me."
Gerrad's imminent move away from Anfield may be a big blow, but Liverpool's overriding priority this summer is to find a world-class striker because it's no coincidence that their decline this season coincided with Luis Suarez's departure to Barcelona. It was left to midfielder Philippe Coutinho to try and win the game for the visitors in the second half but he squandered the two chances that fell his way to cap a frustrating afternoon – and season – for Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers.
"I think we got off to an awful start," he said. "[We conceded] a disappointing goal from our perspective. We got ourselves back into the game, a good header from Stevie was well worked and I thought in the second half we were outstanding, we just lacked that bit of quality in the final third."
For Mourinho the result elicited little more than a casual shrug. Since winning the title last Sunday in defeating Crystal Palace, many of the Chelsea squad have had four days R&R, their reward for a season of dominance. Not surprisingly the Blues were a little blunt against Liverpool: "It was a good performance if you understand the circumstances," said Mourinho. "When a team is always playing at the limits to be champions, a team that is champions last weekend it is normal that you lose a bit of intensity."