Chelsea 1 – Liverpool 2: Match Review

Liverpool had already travelled to the capital twice so far this season before they made the trip to Stamford Bridge for the club’s first taste of Friday Night Football. The journey to The Emirates saw an exceptional performance rewarded with a 4-3 win, whilst we should have left White Heart Lane with all three points considering the fact that Spurs were outplayed for the majority of the game.

So what would trip number three to London in the space of five opening Premier League games bring for Jùrgen Klopp and his tricky Reds? The Burnley match showed how difficult it could be for Liverpool against a team that likes to sit deep, with Antonio Conte being praised for adding some Italian organisation to a team that is already well-known to be defensively sound. Would the trip to Turf Moor prove to be an outlier or the way the rest of the season will go against teams that have no intention of coming out to play?

Fast Starts

Jürgen Klopp is known for many things; his enigmatic smile, his glasses, the big hugs he gives the players. Most of all, though, he’s known for asking his players to press and press and run and run and never stop running and pressing. It’s been odd, therefore, to see Liverpool start pretty much every game so slowly. Against Arsenal and Spurs they’ve been slow out of the blocks, growing into the game as it wore on. Against Leicester it was a slower start than you might have expected in front of the new stand. Versus Burnley the start was so poor from the Reds that we essentially started a goal down.

The pre-match news that Roberto Firmino had travelled with the squad but wouldn’t appear because of a slight groin strain caused a slight degree of concern among Liverpool fans. The Brazilian has been excellent so far this season and defends from the front. All of the questions before the game were about whether or not Coutinho would come back in with Sturridge dropping to the bench. Firmino’s absence answered the question for the manager. His Brazilian team-mate did come back in but Sturridge retained his place.

Firmino

Firmino

If the lack of the former Hoffenheim man caused concern for the supporters it made no difference to the players. Liverpool got off to their best start of the season at Stamford Bridge, pinning Chelsea back and creating chances early doors. Chelsea had their own absence to worry about with John Terry having injured his ankle against Swansea. David Luiz, who arrived back in West London on deadline day, got his debut for the Blues during his first spell against Liverpool and they lost 1-0.

His return here was no less successful. There’s little doubt that Chelsea depend on an ageing John Terry far more than a club that has spent the sort of money that Roman Abramovich has invested in the team really should be. He is the organiser of their defence and the injury he picked up at The Liberty Stadium ended up benefitting us greatly. Once again Liverpool piled bodies into the opposition box and a leaderless Chelsea team simply couldn’t cope.

Klopp has talked in the past about heavy metal football and we’ve been seeing glimpses of it in every game bar Burnley so far this season. The Reds stormed Stamford Bridge for the first 45 minutes and 2-0 was not a flattering scoreline when the referee blew his whistle for half-time. Liverpool were very good value for their lead and another half in the same style could have resulted in another three or four being scored.

Midfield Dominance

In the wake of the Leicester game I spoke highly of Jordan Henderson’s performance. The captain was absolutely tremendous against the Foxes in a role that he’s learning on the job. He was perhaps even better at Stamford Bridge, personifying everything that Liverpool were trying to do. He was snarling, running, pressing and closing down Chelsea at every opportunity. His goal was the least he deserved for the past two weeks combined performances and boy oh boy wasn’t it a cracker?

The real joy for Liverpool, however, came in the form of the midfield in general. Chelsea are not a poor side. They have talent all over the pitch and they were keen to make sure their midfield offered real support to the defence. On paper most fans would pick the likes of Willian, Matic and N’Golo Kante over Henderson, Lallana and Wijnaldum. Football isn’t played on paper, though, and Klopp has spent the summer talking about how important team-work is over buying in solutions to problems.

CHEN-WEI-SENG / Bigstock.com

CHEN-WEI-SENG / Bigstock.com

Make no mistake, this is team full of spirit and a desire to work together. These lads look like they’ll run through brick walls for each other. No pundits are taking the threat of Liverpool seriously when it comes to talk of titles and it almost feels as if they’re working hard to prove everybody wrong. Good. I personally want these players desperate to prove a point, not only to pundits but to everyone who has ruled them out and mocked Reds fans for daring to suggest that this could be our year.

The lads are putting a shift in. Adam Lallana is perhaps the player that exemplifies that the most, making himself almost undroppable for Klopp. Tonight the likes of the England man, Henderson and especially Wijnaldum worked incredibly hard to get involved in the attacks and to support the defence. The former Newcastle man arrived for a reasonably large fee in the summer and he’s taken no time at all to settle into the team.

Football will always be about the headline grabbing stuff like scoring goals. That makes complete sense as it’s goals that win you games. But hard-working midfielders that graft and never stop running are a huge part of making sure that you don’t lose them. Wijnaldum obviously wasn’t as exciting a signing as Mané this summer but when the season as run its course he could well prove to be just as important.

Defending Better All The Time

If you don’t follow Dan Kennett on Twitter then you really should. Earlier this week he was tweeting about Liverpool’s defence during the past few seasons and the amount of errors it’s making compared to other top teams. It made for depressing reading if you’re a Red, pointing out just how shambolic we’ve been under numerous different managers. What makes it worse is that the stats suggest that its systemic rather than down to just one person.

Arguably Jürgen Klopp’s biggest challenge is eradicating those mistakes. We will always be vulnerable at the back when we play with such a swaggering, attacking style. Yet what Klopp needs to do is ensure that when we concede it’s because we’ve been hit by a brilliant attacking move and not because the defence has decided to fall asleep again.

The truth is that we are getting better with each passing game. The Arsenal match saw a spell of perhaps twenty minutes over the course of the ninety where we looked vulnerable. We only allowed two shots on target in the match against Burnley, but it just so happened that those shots went into the back of the net. Against Spurs we were excellent throughout and Rose’s goal may not have stood if the linesman who ruled out Liverpool’s attack late on had been at the other end of the pitch.

Against Chelsea another Liverpool team might have capitulated after Costa scored his goal. It was sloppy play from us at the back, with Matip making perhaps his only error of the match in going to ground too soon and Lallana and Henderson neglecting to track the runner. But we didn’t let our heads drop, instead picking ourselves up off the canvas and putting in a genuinely mature display for the rest of the second-half. In the real-time situation of a game it can feel like you’re going to concede at any minute – and my Apple Watch told me my heart rate was 96bpm on the 80 minute mark – however Chelsea never really looked like threatening and the goal itself came out of nowhere.

Perhaps our defensive play was personified best by Joel Matip. The Cameroonian has looked genuinely calm and assured since coming into the Liverpool side and it’s now difficult to see anything other than an injury taking him out of the starting XI. He was absolutely tremendous for the first forty-five minutes and didn’t let Costa get a sniff. He was proactive in dealing with the Brazilian-born Spaniard’s threat and it was probably his quietest game of the season so far.

mooinblack / shutterstock.com

mooinblack / shutterstock.com

The best way of making Stamford Bridge quiet is to hold a football match there. Any large group of people will make some noise, of course, even if it’s just through booing at the half-time whistle. So the next best way to quieten the place is to start the match at a blistering pace and then defend resiliently throughout. Liverpool achieved both of those objectives today.

The match against Hull next weekend will tell us a huge amount about Jürgen Klopp’s Reds. If we can dog out a win against a talented Chelsea side in order to beat the last two Premier League champions in back-to-back games and then also wipe the floor with a side who will rock up at Anfield determined to sit deep and defend then there’s no doubt that we’ll have to be taken more seriously in the title race. Plenty of people laughed when that was suggested before a ball was kicked. They’re not quite so quick to laugh now.

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