After losing out to Chelsea in the Carabao Cup at Anfield on Wednesday, Liverpool had a chance of paying them back at Stamford Bridge in round seven of the 2018/19 Premier League season on Saturday, September 29.
The biggest concern for Jurgen Klopp was whether Virgil van Dijk would recover in time. The Dutch centre-back struggled with a rib injury after getting hit in the Southampton game, but he thankfully made it. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain remains out, while Divock Origi still hasn’t recovered from an ankle problem. Adam Lallana was very close, but not quite ready yet. Georginio Wijnaldum and Trent Alexander-Arnold had minor problems during the week but they were set to return for this game.
This was the chosen starting XI:
Despite some serious problems which had Chelsea mostly written off for the title race, Maurizzio Sarri has devised a sound team that has already shown huge capabilities this season, and by knocking Liverpool out of the Carabao Cup on Wednesday they’ve also shown excellent squad depth.
But now it was time for the former Napoli manager to reinstate his best line-up available, and these were the players he chose:
The First Half
The first few minutes passed in the two teams alternating in going forward and both trying to play fast. This led to a number of misplaced passes and counterattacks, but the only moments of note at the start were a tame shot by Salah straight at Kepa and van Dijk successfully stopping the run of Hazard inside the box.
In the 10th minute, Trent employed Salah at some 25 yards. The Egyptian shook off Jorginho and got past Rudiger to set himself up, but the shot then went uncontrollably wide. Four minutes later van Dijk made a smart interception on the halfway line and sent the ball forward to Firmino, who then set up Mane for a shot, but the Senegalese’s effort from around 20 yards also went very wide of the target.
It’s not like Chelsea didn’t have anything going for them. They occasionally kept the ball in Liverpool’s half and circled around, but the Reds’ defence revealed no holes for them to exploit.
In the 17th minute Millner sent a long pass for Salah on the edge of the box, the Egyptian cushioned it for the incoming Firmino who entered the box. His first effort was blocked by Luiz but he kept going, until a contact from his compatriot brought him down. A few words were exchanged between the two Brazilians but referee Andre Marriner wasn’t interested.
In the 22nd minute Chelsea suddenly had a great chance to score as a long pass from Alonso enabled Willian to escape Robertson and enter the box, the winger had only Alisson as an obstacle. But it was enough as the Liverpool goalkeeper read the situation well and came out in time to block his shot.
But three minutes later, there was no stopping Hazard. The Belgian combined nicely with Kovačić before finding a channel between Trent and Gomez. Then he used his pace to gain a half-step advantage on Gomez and whack it into the far bottom corner. Alisson was beaten.
Chelsea quickly threatened again only two minutes after taking the lead, when Jorginho’s cross almost found the head of Giroud, but Gomez was up to the task this time. Liverpool hit back through a combination between Salah, Mane and Robertson, but Luiz successfully cleared their lines.
Liverpool were now pushing forward, but there was no panic in the home team. They defended responsibly, with Hazard always positioned well to expect a long pass should they win the ball. Liverpool had a free-kick in a good position for a cross and Milner took it well, but van Dijk headed off target.
Two minutes later, a great chance for Salah as Firmino found him with a cunning pass, he got past Alonso and Kepa and sent the ball on target, but Rudiger cleared it off the very line. At this point there was occasionally panic in Cheslea’s defending.
In the 38th minute, a late tackle by Willian on Trent gave Milner another chance to whip in a cross. He opted, however, to pull it back for Trent who looked for van Dijk on the far post, but Chelsea defended and launched a counterattack. Mane was forced to earn a yellow card to stop it, by bringing down Hazard.
Two minutes later, a good combination with Wijnaldum enabled Salah to try and find Firmino’s unmarked run on the left, but he overhit the pass and Firmino couldn’t reach it.
Liverpool’s onsets continued for a while, but Chelsea held out. Minute 44 was running out when Trent found Mane on the penalty spot and Mane hit a difficult volley from there – off target.
The first 45 minutes, extended by 60 seconds of injury time, ended with Chelsea minimally in the lead. The only difference was a chance excellently taken by Hazard in an otherwise fairly even contest.
The Second Half
In the first minute of the second period, Gomez did very well to thwart Giroud and then Willian’s dribbling fooled Robertson but his pull-back for Giroud wasn’t good enough. A few minutes later another Chelsea attack got Kovačić in a good position to shoot but van Dijk was in the right place to block.
Then Liverpool moved forward for a while, but their passing was unusually wayward and their first touch uncharacteristically heavy. Meanwhile, Chelsea’s approach seemed to have shifted to long passes from the back aimed at runners in behind the Reds’ defence.
In the 58th minute, Mane’s usual cunning got him into a great position to score, but Kepa produced an excellent save. A minute later Kante made an interception and sent Willian through, but the joint effort of Gomez and van Dijk stopped him.
After that rather quick period, Chelsea moved to slow the game down a bit, but Liverpool would let them. The Reds pressed well and won possession, but Chelsea were again quick to shift back into a defensive shape.
Hazard had a great chance to double Chelsea’s lead just after the hour mark. The referee gave a foul by Salah on Luiz in Chelsea’s half and Kante took it immediately, while the Liverpool players were still protesting the call. Hazard was away, going one-on-one with Alisson, but the goalkeeper did splendidly this time and won the duel.
Then Alvaro Morata came on instead of Giroud for Chelsea, and Xherdan Shaqiri replaced Salah for Liverpool.
In the 70th minute, Shaqiri missed a glorious chance for an equalizer. A slip by Azpilicueta allowed Roberson to whip a low cross in and the Swiss winger was the fastest to it, but he couldn’t hit it properly and missed the target. Then a Rudiger foul on Mane gave Liverpool another free-kick in a decent position for a cross, but Shaqiri messed it up again.
Then it was Firmino’s turn to fail to score. Milner set him up for a free header on the edge of six yards and he hit it downward well. Kepa was beaten, but Luiz made sure Chelsea had another goal-line clearance to their name.
In the 73rd minute, Willian made way for Victor Moses.
Milner got into the referee’s book for stopping Moses in his track in the 77th minute. Chelsea therefore had a free-kick wide on the right, but a disciplined line from the Reds sent Luiz and Morata running into an offside position.
With 12 minutes to go, Klopp brought on Naby Keita for Henderson and Wijnaldum dropped into the No. 6 position. Then Sarri made his last change as Kovačić left the pitch to ovations from the stands to be replaced by Ross Barkley.
Three minutes later, Alisson saved the skin of Wijnaldum by charging out and clearing a backpass made too short by the Dutchman. Then Luiz needlessly fouled Mane in a position suitable for Shaqiri to have a go; but his shot was feeble, easy for Kepa to deal with.
With no time to wait, Klopp introduced Daniel Sturridge for Milner in the 86th minute.
The game was entering a hectic finish when the former Chelsea man took matters into his own hands and slammed the ball from 25 yards into the very top corner. Kepa flew through the air only to make the goal prettier.
It wasn’t over yet. Both teams went for the whole prize in injury time and Chelsea almost won it as a desperate scramble ensued in Liverpool’s box, but the ball ended safely in Alisson’s hands. In the last minute of stoppage time, Barkley earned a free-kick for the home team wide on the left. Hazard took it and Keita cleared out for a corner. Hazard rushed across and took that as well, and he found Alonso on the near post but the left back failed to hit the target.
The referee made his whistle heard.
A different competition, a different outcome, different line-ups, different stadium, but this game and the one on Wednesday had one thing in common – a fair result. It was an even contest throughout, and though the Reds won their point at the death it would have been harsh had they failed. There were chances on both sides, and both teams had one player who took one apiece in a sublime manner. Hazard’s strike at a full run was pin-point accurate, as was Sturridge’s calculated blast.
Looking at Liverpool’s performance, there’s not much to be satisfied with. They lacked sharpness in passing, in receiving passes, in finishing. They lacked a bit of positional awareness, and one such moment from Trent led to the opening goal. Chelsea, on the other hand, played an excellent game.
And that, however crazy it may seem, is the biggest positive to take away from the game. It suggests Liverpool actually have a better team, regardless of failing to win over two games against Chelsea. They just need to regain their sharpness and everything will be fine.
This result means the Reds have surrendered the top spot in the table to reigning champions Manchester City on goal-difference.
But next up, after a Champions League trip to Napoli – none other than Manchester City.
We Walk On.