Chelsea 1 – Liverpool 1: Match Review & Analysis

How much of an influence on proceedings did the midweek fixture have? There’s an argument that Jürgen Klopp was quite deliberate with his choices, not only in terms of the tactics that he opted for but also the players that he selected from the first team. He opted not to give Maurizio Sarri any clues about how his Chelsea backline would cope with the attacking trio of Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mané and Mo Salah, for example. It was intriguing to see small moments of today’s match playing out as the game developed, including Klopp’s decision to respond to Eden Hazard taking to the field by putting Jordan Henderson on. The England midfielder ran the game for a time after coming on but once the Belgian began to turn it on he couldn’t really get near him. Would he have learned from his experience, or would the home side’s most important player continue to dominate?

It was also interesting to see the manager seemingly telling the press one thing about the fitness of Virgil van Dijk at the same as doing something else in reality. Having informed his press conference that the Dutchman would be facing a late fitness test, reports emerged from Paul Joyce this morning that he’d been training with the team as normal yesterday afternoon. Mind games coming into play left, right and centre form the manager, seemingly. Having lost in the League Cup game, his mental toying of his Italian counterpart would only have been worthwhile if we were able to go to Stamford Bridge and take three points. Personally, I wasn’t overly devastated about the defeat on Wednesday night because I’ve got my sights for the season well and truly set on the Premier League title. Going into the match this evening I thought that a defeat wouldn’t be the end of the world and a draw would be fine, but I really wanted three points. So how did things work out?

It Took Two Moments Of Magic

It felt like the sort of game that both sets of supporters could walk away from convinced that they deserved to win. Both sides had chances to score and with a more clinical set of strikers it could have finished three or four all. Instead, it took two moments of magic to unlock the game. Having read countless of tweets and opinion pieces explaining how Eden Hazard wouldn’t have scored the goal he managed on Wednesday night against our first choice defence, it was amusing to see him do practically exactly the same thing this evening. There’s little question that Trent Alexander-Arnold should’ve done better in much the same way that Alberto Moreno should’ve in the League Cup, but I also wonder whether the goalkeeper might have been a touch unfortunate not to get a touch on it.

Alisson Becker clearly thought that the Belgian was going to go for his near post and so shifted his weight accordingly, only for him to go across the face of the goal in much the same way that he did against Simon Mignolet. If that wasn’t impressive enough for you as a solo goal then perhaps Daniel Sturridge’s was. The striker doesn’t really work in Jürgen Klopp’s system, lacking the fitness to press players in the same way that Roberto Firmino does, but one thing you can never take away from him is his vision. The goal he scored came out of nowhere, with the striker shifting the ball onto his left foot and spotting that Kepa Arrizabalaga was off his line. His finish was stunning, thoroughly deserving of all the plaudits it’s received. He might not be someone who will start often, but he’ll get plenty of goals this season. If they’re all as important as tonight’s, we’ll be laughing.

What’s Happened To Our Front Three?

It’s slightly churlish to ask about this given the fact we’ve taken nineteen points from the twenty-one available, yet watching a match like tonight it’s difficult not to ask what’s happened to our front three. None of them have clicked with each other yet this season, struggling to get into any kind of rhythm. To be more accurate, they have found rhythm but are yet to all do so at the same time. Firmino seems to be playing like he’s got concrete in his boots, consistently overhitting his passes or having a heavy touch. Sadio Mané has been the best of the three in a consistent sense, but still isn’t the electric player that we saw towards the tail end of last season. As for Mohamed Salah, the underlying numbers suggest that he’s doing just as well as he was in his last campaign, yet the Egyptian can’t seem to make anything stick and his shooting has been pretty wayward.

The question that Jürgen Klopp needs to answer is whether or not there’s a reason they’ve been struggling. Is it just a matter of opposition defences having watched through things from last season and learnt their lessons, or is there more to it? I do think that rumours of something of a falling out between them is far from the mark, but there’s definitely something not quite right with the trio. Personally I think it’s a matter of each of them having their own battles at the moment. Firmino looks tired from his World Cup exertions, whilst I’m not totally convinced that Mo Salah has got over the injury that he picked up in the Champions League final. Add in the issues he’s been having with the Egyptian Football Association and it makes sense that he’s not yet performing as confidently as last time out. I don’t know if there’s anything wrong with Mané, which probably explains why he’s been our most consistent performer so far.

Becker Probably Shaded The Battle Of The Goalkeepers

Though it was surprisingly under-covered ahead of the match, this was a game featuring the two most expensive goalkeepers in the world. I’ve already spoken about them for the two goals, but what about the rest of their play? In that sense, I think it’s probably fair to say that Liverpool’s number one did better than Chelsea’s. Alisson Becker was faced with numerous tests and came through all of them bar the goal with flying colours. I hesitate to say that we’d definitely have conceded goals in each situation had Simon Mignolet been in the net instead, but certainly I feel far more confident when opposition sides get free-kicks or corners when the Brazilian is on the pitch then I ever have when it’s been his Belgian equivalent there instead. It’s not because Mignolet is absolutely rubbish, it’s just that it’s the difference between being a side that can make it into the top four and one that could be challenging for the title.

It’s completely understandable why we broke the bank for him this summer and it’s interesting to hear the Philippe Coutinho, who plenty of supporters would’ve strung up last January, was key to him making his move. It’s also easy to see the logic behind Chelsea spending big on Kepa in order to replacer Thibaut Courtois. He’s younger and less experienced than our shot-stopper, but he’s on a similar trajectory. That said, we’d have scored a few past him tonight if he hadn’t been bailed out by his defence. Perhaps Salah should’ve cut his chance back and gone on his left, but I can understand why he felt the need to go for goal only to see it smashed away by Antonio Rudiger. Firmino might have done better after James Milner’s cross, but again the goalkeeper was nowhere to be seen only for David Luiz to get the block in. Chelsea’s defensive unit has the muscle memory from its time under José Mourinho and they continue to be difficult to breakdown. Even so, if I was a Chelsea supporter I’d be keen for him to develop his game as quickly as possible so they don’t need to keep rescuing him.

It Was A Really Entertaining Match

It wouldn’t ordinarily be a talking point to say that a football match was entertaining, but many supporters of both Chelsea and Liverpool will remember plenty of occasions when battles between the two sides were anything but. In the days of Rafa Benitez and the aforementioned Mourinho, the games were only entertaining if you had high blood pressure and were concerned about passing away. They were tense affairs, more akin to games of chess than football matches. Tonight, on the other hand, it was a rip-roaring affair, filled with end-to-end moments. It could have finished with several goals having been scored by both teams, such was the attacking nature of both managers going into it. In some ways, it’s actually made the London club more likeable. Perhaps it’s the presence of a man who looks as though he’s dressed in an old man’s tracksuit in the dugout, or maybe it’s because Roman Abramovich is pulling his interest, but for some reason they’re not as hatable as they used to be.

Don’t misunderstand me, I still don’t like them and am annoyed we didn’t pulverise them. Yet I’m so used to them being a side that is utterly despicable that it’s weird to have enjoyed watching them play tonight. Hazard is, whether we like or not, an absolute joy to watch. I also think that Willian is excellent, though he lacks an end product. The fact that we’re such a joy to watch when we’re in full flow added to the excitement, though it’s frustrating that we weren’t playing at our level often enough in the match. The frustrating thing about the Stamford Bridge side if you’re one of their supporters is that they seem to only turn it on every other season. The squad is filled with talent and when they’re at their best they can be almost impossible to keep out. I do think that we’d have lost that match tonight at another time, which is a solid indication of how much we’ve improved across the board. We’re now unbeaten in seven, going into the game against Manchester City knowing that even if we lose we’re still handily placed for our attack on the title. Let’s just not lose.

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