LONDON -- Chelsea kept up the pressure on title rivals Arsenal and Manchester City with a 2-1 victory over Liverpool at Stamford Bridge. Not for the first, second or third time this season, the Blues were forced to come from behind to secure the points after Martin Skrtel had given the Reds the lead in the third minute. Having regained their composure, Jose Mourinho's men took the game to the visitors with Eden Hazard rifling home a deserved equaliser in the 17th minute and the much-maligned Samuel Eto'o scoring what proved to be the winner in the 34th minute.
Liverpool will feel aggrieved that referee Howard Webb failed to award a penalty late on when Luis Suarez was clattered in the box by Eto'o, but Reds manager Brendan Rodgers would struggle to find any supporters who would agree with any case he tried to put forward that his team were anything other than outmanoeuvred and, in the end, well beaten by a well-drilled Chelsea team.
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Blues manager Jose Mourinho will take the plaudits not only for masterminding what was an essential victory, but also for encouraging the home fans in the dying minutes of the game to keep up their vocal support of his charges to the final whistle. With caution having been the name of the game in the recent matches with Arsenal and Swansea, which had yielded back-to-back clean sheets, beyond Petr Cech in goal, Mourinho's starting XI against Liverpool surprised many given its clear statement of attacking intent.
Shorn of the services of the suspended Ramires, the Chelsea manager opted to play Frank Lampard and David Luiz in front of a back four of Cesar Azpilicueta, Branislav Ivanovic, Gary Cahill and captain John Terry. Further forward, Willian, Eden Hazard and Oscar formed the creative trio behind Eto'o, the latter perhaps the most curious selection of all given his profligacy against Swansea and the fact that former Liverpool striker Fernando Torres was straining at the leash to do well against the club that sold him for a phenomenal 50 million pounds almost two years ago.
The debate about the merits and demerits of Mourinho's selection of Eto'o was furthered with many expletives by the naysayers gathered inside a pulsating Stamford Bridge when the Cameroon international was at the heart of the incident that initiated Liverpool's only goal, the first of the game.
With a couple of minutes barely on the clock, the Chelsea striker raked his studs down Jordan Henderson's shin, and from the resultant Philippe Coutinho free kick, which bamboozled Ivanovic and Cech -- who were under pressure from Suarez -- Martin Skrtel side-footed home from close range.
At 1-0 the Reds should have made more of the opportunity to press home their advantage, but instead the goal galvanised their Blue counterparts, who were soon bossing the midfield and pushing forward in a relentless manner with Willian, Oscar and Hazard all looking pacey against a pedestrian Liverpool backline in which Skrtel, Daniel Agger and Mamadou Sakho looked particularly flat-footed.
There was an inevitability that when it came, Chelsea's leveller would be initiated and completed by the live wire Hazard, who had earlier been denied by his fellow Belgium international, Liverpool keeper Simon Mignolet. Following a smart move that involved Willian and Oscar, the Blues leading scorer struck the ball sweetly past Mignolet to register his 10th goal in all competitions this season.
The goal visibly discouraged the visitors, who were now standing off the home side allowing them to totally dominate the midfield with Luiz, unshackled of his usual central defensive duties, revelling in the opportunity afforded him to play the role of sweeper. Luiz it was who combined well with Azpilicueta to play in Oscar for the pivotal move of the match, which yielded Chelsea's winner.
Blues playmaker Oscar, having initially struck a ball across the box which clearly came off Sakho's arm, then turned the French centre-back, and with the vast majority of the Stamford Bridge crowd still baying for a penalty, teed up Eto'o, who beat Mignolet all too easily considering a stunning earlier save the keeper had made from Lampard.
Following the break, Mourinho opted to shore up the midfield by sending on John Obi Mikel for Lampard, a move that gave Chelsea the solidity they needed as Liverpool went in search of an equaliser. The closest the Reds came to achieving their objective came when Sakho headed the ball onto the Blues bar following a quality delivery from Henderson.
Suarez then forced a save from Cech, before being involved in a couple of incidents that he would theatrically protest should have resulted in penalties. Firstly when Terry manhandled him in the box, and secondly, and perhaps more realistically, when he was bulldozed by Eto'o. Referee Webb, disinterested in the Uruguayan's claims, twice waved him dismissively away.
To the victors, the spoils. A welcome three points and a 48-hour respite before a testing trip away at Southampton on New Year's Day. Mourinho, his players and the supporters of Chelsea Football Club end 2013 on a high note, safe in the knowledge that an important game has been won in spirited fashion and that the Blues are still very much in the race for the Premier League title. Happy days indeed.