Premier League leaders Liverpool held out with a slender one-goal margin at Stamford Bridge against top-four contenders Chelsea. This win meant Liverpool have another week to feather brush the porch they are unfamiliarly sitting. Six wins out of six, 18 points, five points clear of defending champions Manchester City.
The match ended at 1-2 in favour of the visitors from Merseyside. Trent Alexander-Arnold's bombastic free-kick at the Shed End and Roberto Firmino’s emphatic headed goal from a left-sided cross gave Liverpool advantage in half-time, but a returning N'Golo Kante gave Chelsea a figurative shot in the legs with a ballerino-on-the-ball routine resulting in a goal that would make legendary choreographer Rudy van Dantzig gush with passion.
Here are some of the talking points of the match:
A game of two halves
Pardon the cliche, but Chelsea vs Liverpool was indeed a game of two halves. The second half of the game acted as a non sequitur to the first. A non sequitur is a summation that has little or no logical resemblance to the first half of a sentence or a statement. Liverpool’s second-half display bore no resemblance to their first.
Neutrals and thronging Liverpool fans bandying predictions on Twitter at half-time anticipated a 0-4, 0-5 scorelines in favour of Jurgen Klopp’s team, but ended the match barely holding on.
At the start of the game, Chelsea came out of the block with the mean spirited frame of mind to record their first home win of the season. But imperious Liverpool were quick to assert their superiority. It was as early as the fourth minute that the Reds had the Blues pinned to a corner. Liverpool’s Fabinho put his foot on the collective neck of the entire Chelsea midfield. Either side of him, captain Jordan Henderson was on shuttling duties, while Gini Wijnaldum was the straw that siphoned the good bits from the milkshake that was Chelsea midfield.
On Chelsea counters, Fabinho simply dropped a few yards to operate as an auxiliary third centre-back alongside Joel Matip and Virgil van Dijk. At the turnover of possession, the man who was begrudgingly called the best defensive midfielder in Europe by former rival and current pundit Gary Neville showed us why: The Brazilian was both tenets and the trampoline for Liverpool’s attacking play. He was the synthesizer pad, the bassline upon which the attacking song of Liverpool harmonises itself.
Functioning oftentimes as a 3-5-2, Fabinho’s presence allowed Liverpool fullbacks ply their technique in limbo zones that confounded Chelsea’s wingmen Mason Mount and Willian – caught between maintaining a front-foot forward position or whether to double-back and assist their own fullbacks Emerson and Azpilicueta. Chelsea opted for the latter, and it was Liverpool who domineered Chelsea leaving them no choice to play with a deep defensive line.
Chelsea’s average positioning in the opening quarter of the match was 37 meters deep in their own half. Each time Chelsea tried to stretch the lines, Liverpool would threaten to snap back with all the ominousity of a rubberband. And Liverpool did in the tail end of the 13th minute.
Fabinho’s first-time hip-level, long-diagonal pass played into the feet of a charging Sadio Mane resulted in the Senegalese being upended. Free-kick.
On cue to Andre Mariner’s whistle, Mohamed Salah hopped over the ball and rolled it behind with his cleats. Duly, Trent Alexander Arnold 5-ironed the ball with his right leg into the top left of the net. The goal deserved a comic book caption that read ‘POW!!!’
Adrian, who not too long ago found himself training with a Spanish second division side, was called into his own bit of heroics for Liverpool. Saving Tammy Abraham's side foot shot in the first half was one of them. The Spanish goalkeeper pulled off a once-in-a-lifetime save against Dries Mertens in Naples in midweek. He seems now to be growing in stature and form, playing his chin and chest out.
A clever interchange of play around Liverpool’s right-back position between substitute Marcos Alonso, Willian and Mason Mount saw a one-two between the latter two eventually found itself in the path of Chelsea skipper Ceasar Azpilicueta, who gathered the loose ball pinballing in the Liverpool defence, to side-swipe it into the net. The Chelsea celebration that rang around Stamford Bridge was swallowed up by the noise of Liverpool fans cheering in the away end as the goal was chalked off by the VAR. Mason Mount was offside in the build-up. “NO GOAL” read the big LCD in Stamford Bridge.
Liverpool celebrations took centre stage soon again as the Robbos combined. Firmino nodded on an Andy Robertson cross, towering over Marcos Alonso.
At the start of the second half, Firmino was poised to slash home an angled shot in the second half from Liverpool’s other full-back, but Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga dived acrobatically to his left to deny the Brazilian. That save shook Chelsea up from deep slumber; that save and Kante.
The next Makelele, Kante thriving in the Micheal Essien role
Kante turned with the ball 15 yards away from Liverpool box. He looked as non-threatening as a freight train does from a distance to ruminating cattle on the tracks. But and he bore closer, the ground began to shake, and the Liverpool heard were scampering until he went through. Kante scored an outside-of-the-boot shot reminiscent of Micheal Essien of yore. The Liverpool defender were idle spectators.
His surefootedness on the ball was first utilised in the attacking half of the pitch by former Chelsea manager Sarri, and Kante under Frank Lampard shows no signs of easing off. He was the funnel which Chelsea used to their spirit through in this match as Liverpool’s stamina waned from their midweek exertions in Italy.
It was all Chelsea from then onwards. For the table toppers, it was a case of absorbing pressure, saving breath and let the storm blow over them. Klopp put on James Milner, Adam Lallana to compensate for the dip in energy, while Joe Gomez of brought on to form a five-man defence. Fabinho, Van Dijk, Joel Matip were indomitable in the air and deflected much of the damage Chelsea looked to cause with their crosses and first time balls. When paired together, the trio have won 89 percent of their headers this season, and that was enough to stabilise a Liverpool performance on the verge of capsizing.
Frank Lampard, even though he was down on his haunches after a Mason Mount miss that could have equalised the game, can draw a lot of courage from his charges. No one has pushed Liverpool as far as Chelsea did this season at Stamford Bridge. Klopp and Co will know that in their sore bones.
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Updated Date: Sep 23, 2019 13:38:10 IST