Saturday, April 21 – 1990
Match: Football League, First Division, at Anfield, kick-off: 15:00.
Liverpool – Chelsea 4-1 (2-0).
Referee: Mr. R.G. Milford.
Liverpool: Bruce Grobbelaar, Glenn Hysen, David Burrows, Steve Nicol, Gary Gillespie (Sub. Gary Ablett, 81 min.), Alan Hansen, Jan Mølby, Ronny Rosenthal, Ian Rush, John Barnes, Steve McMahon.
Chelsea: Dave Beasant, Gareth Hall, Peter Nicholas, Tony Dorigo, Erland Johnsen, John Bumstead (Sub, David Lee, 75 min.), Ken Monkou, Gordon Durie, Kerry Dixon, Kevin McAllister, Kevin Wilson (Sub. Clive Wilson, 67 min.).
The goals: 1-0 Rosenthal (25 min.), 2-0 Nicol (36 min.), 3-0 Nicol (80 min.), 4-0 Rush (82 min.), 4-1 Dixon (90 min.).
Lennart Johansson, the new president of UEFA, has inadvertently chosen an inopportune moment to usher Liverpool back towards Europe. The prospect may be hypothetical anyway, but instead of returning next year, the earliest date which logically could have been predicted, they could return, before they are ideally ready, in September.
Although neither the club nor the Football Association would consider rejecting the invitation which has so generously been offered, the nation, as well as Liverpool themselves, would prefer them to be at their most powerful when they are accepted again on the Continent. The journey is sure to be glaringly public and emotional.
But, as they head towards their eighteenth title and reconfirmation that they are appreciably the strongest side in England, there are signs that they have fallen away from the peak they reached two years ago. After one particularly memorable performance against Nottingham Forest, Tom Finney described them as the best team he had ever seen.
They have not, this season, been consistently as convincing as they were in 1988. Then, they finished out on their own, nine points clear of the runners-up, Manchester United, and 17 points above Forest in third place. Now, they are still in Aston Villa’s sights.
Liverpool dismissed Chelsea, eventually, with ease on Saturday, but, in a curiously passionless fixture, there were ominous deficiencies. Most notably their passing, the traditional foundation of their game, was uncharacteristically wayward. The accuracy of even Mølby, their most prominent and imaginative creative influence, was far from flawless.
There were contributory reasons, as Kenny Dalglish, their manager, revealed later. Three members of his squad Houghton, Staunton and Whelan were injured. His gamble on the fitness of others succeeded on the day, but cost three more internationals a cap in midweek: Barnes, Nicol and Rush were also all withdrawn.
Absenteeism has been another unusual feature of their season. Rosenthal, the prolific goalscorer who put them ahead against Chelsea and might have added at least four more, is the twentieth representative to be selected in League matches and Grobbelaar alone has appeared in each of their 46 fixtures.
Most significant of all, Liverpool have defensively been less secure than in the past. Hysen, who appears to be so serene and comfortable when filling the sweeper’s role for Sweden, continues to look awkward and rushed in the fiery heat and the increased pace of the domestic game. Hansen always plays as though he is dressed in a dinner suit, but even he, at the advanced age of 34, is occasionally vulnerable. It was his momentary lack of concentration which allowed Dixon to complete Chelsea’s otherwise unproductive afternoon with an irrelevant goal in the closing minute.
It was the 35th that Grobbelaar has conceded at an average of precisely one in each first division game. The statistic is only marginally superior to that of Wimbledon, who are lying in the middle of the table, and even Derby County, who have dropped to the edge of the relegation zone.
Nor is Rush the predator who spread fear throughout Europe when he was leading the front line. No longer armed with an explosive burst of acceleration, his decline is made all the more unmistakable when he is accompanied by Rosenthal, who resembles the fleet-footed Welshman of old when chasing a through-ball.
Barnes, again the principal illumination in their attack, may yet carry out his threat to take his exciting talent to foreign fields. Should he do so, Liverpool will lose the character who, with the help of Beardsley over the last three seasons, has lifted them far above the ordinary.
In the middle of December, after they had humiliated Chelsea 5-2 at Stamford Bridge, Bobby Campbell suggested that they could win the World Cup. After the equally emphatic defeat at Anfield, his opinion was equally outrageous. “I thought 4-1 was a little bit over-the-top,” Chelsea’s manager said.
Yet, once Nicol had headed home Barnes’s cross to increase the lead before the interval, Liverpool could have scored another five before Rush, who had struck the bar, allowed Nicol to claim the third in the eightieth minute. Almost immediately, the erratic Rosenthal laid on the fourth for Rush.
Liverpool, requiring another four points from their three remaining fixtures, will probably be crowned at home against Derby on Tuesday night. Their return may frighten other entrants in the European Cup, but, even if England’s supporters behave themselves in Italy this summer, they should be considered among the favourites name only.
(The Times, 23-04-1990)