Liverpool were drawn to open their 2018/19 Carabao Cup account at Anfield against Chelsea. It’s fair to say that neither team was happy with it, but there was nothing to do except buckle down and work hard to prepare.
Changes were expected on both sides, though Jurgen Klopp said he wouldn’t replace all 11 players for this game. Dejan Lovren was fairly ready, Dominic Solanke was completely ready. Adam Lallana and Divock Origi were still out, as was Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain of course.
This was the line-up eventually chosen to take on Chelsea:
Sarri also fielded a reasonably rotated team:
The First Half
It was the visitors who took possession early on, and Liverpool had a job to do to disrupt them. After Chelsea’s moves forward ended, mostly with Moses being stopped on the right flank, Liverpool’s changed back four had difficulties in playing out from the back.
Chelsea had a good moment in the 4th minute through a Christensen header after a corner and Liverpool quickly retaliated with Keita shooting from around 25 yards, but both efforts were comfortably saved.
For long intervals of play, Sarri’s team seemed like it suffered less of a rotation with their level much closer to what we usually see in the Premier League, even though it wasn’t really the case. But after nine minutes a lovely pass into the box by Keita found Shaqiri, who turned away from his marker and took a shot, but the shot was blocked. Keita also had a penalty appeal denied as Fabregas handled the ball inside the box, but referee Kevin Friend judged there was no real intention in it and waved “play on”.
These moments finally released Liverpool from pressure, though a good combination between Willian and Morata in the 12th minute enabled the Brazilian to shoot from distance – straight into Mignolet.
Five minutes later, Fabregas produced a fantastic pass to create a one-on-one for Morata, but Mignolet came out on top with a timely reaction.
The Spanish striker sold a nice dummy to Matip a minute later and took a shot from close range and a tight angle, only to get beaten again by the well-positioned Mignolet. Then a nice combination between Mane and Stuurridge at the other end caused problems for Chelsea, but Azpilicueta did well to stop them.
Somewhere in the middle of these excitements Milner picked up a yellow card for a foul on Emerson, but Christensen avoided one for a much worse tackle on Sturridge. Not exactly what you’d call an even criteria from Friend. Soon afterwards Matip also found his way into the book for a shirt-pull on Kovačić, and then a clear foul by Moses on Moreno wasn’t even given, just like Azpilicueta’s elbow into Mane’s ribs. Moreno was again caught by Moses a few minutes later, though that time it did look accidental. Keita had another penalty appeal waved away on the half-hour mark as he fell inside the box after minor contact from Cahill.
Chelsea then re-established their domination of the ball and started causing danger again, but Liverpool’s defence reacted well and moved the ball forward quickly. The Reds had a third penalty appeal denied after Fabregas again handled the ball off an attempted clearance by Christensen, before a good pass from Sturridge gave Keita a chance to cut inside from the left and shoot. However, Caballero produced a fine save to deny him.
A few minutes later, the Chelsea ‘keeper shone again as he saved a header from close range by Mane. Sturridge had done some brilliant pressing and released Shaqiri on the right, whose crossed was well-aimed at the Senegalese.
The two teams had a corner apiece in the last minutes of the half, but neither could make it count.
The Second Half
The second period started with unbelievable mistakes by Christensen and Sturridge. The Chelsea centre-back made his back-pass for Caballero far too short and set up Liverpool’s striker for a clear one-on-one. Sturridge got around Caballero who managed to touch the ball slightly, and then he lost a bit of balance and missed an open goal. A moment to forget for both players.
Five minutes after the break, Liverpool defended well against Chelsea’s attack and launched a quick counter. Kovačić was forced to bring down Shaqiri from behind and pick up the first yellow card for the visitors.
The Reds were now playing a higher line than in the first half which made Chelsea play a lot quicker. This didn’t really suit the Blues and Klopp’s men were slowly getting the better of them. They created two more chances in quick succession, but first Emerson beat Sturridge in the air for a Moreno cross, and then Mane failed to hit the target with a cunning but difficult shot.
Having committed two fouls in quick succession, Fabinho earned his first yellow card in a Liverpool shirt in the 56th minute, just before Sarri withdrew Willian and sent in Eden Hazard.
Two minutes later, some good pressing high up won the ball for Liverpool, and Mane used the moment to release Keita coming into the box from the left. Keita whacked a strong shot, Caballero parried it and Sturridge redeemed himself by putting the ball into the empty net with an acrobatic kick.
Milner then made way for Jordan Henderson.
Liverpool could have quickly added a second. Clyne won the ball in Chelsea’s half and gave it to Shaqiri. The Swiss international didn’t see the right-back continue his run in behind the Blues’ defence and took a rash shot over the bar.
A period followed when both teams looked to play and move the ball forward quickly, but neither managed to create a proper chance.
With 20 minutes to go, Mane was replaced by Roberto Firmino. The Brazilian took up his place as the centre-forward while Sturridge moved to the left side. Three minutes later, David Luiz came on for Chelsea instead of Christensen.
As the game entered its final stage, Chelsea started probing more regularly through Hazard and Morata, but it was again Liverpool who had a good chance in the 77th minute when Henderson released Shaqiri into the box but the former Stoke City winger couldn’t get past Emerson due to losing his footing.
In the 79th minute, Hazard took a free kick from a wide position on the right side. He delivered a good cross, Barkley hit a good header from close range and forced a good save from Mignolet, but Emerson was the quickest to react and put the ball in the net. There was a VAR review for a possible offside by Barkley, but in the end the goal stood.
Five minutes later Sturridge hit a long-range effort and hit the bar, and then a Hazard masterpiece turned the game around. The Belgian cunningly danced past a number of Liverpool players before slamming into the net from around 12 yards.
Minute 87 had just begun when Fabinho made way for Mohamed Salah, just before a dive by Hazard fooled Friend into giving Chelsea a free-kick in a great position, 20 yards from the goal. Hazard took it himself and hit the wall.
In the last minute of the 90, a very nervous Henderson picked up a yellow card for a foul on Hazard in the middle of the pitch.
Simply put, Chelsea were having it all their own way in the dying minutes, successfully wasting time and preventing the Reds from causing any harm. Even when they seemed a bit shaky, Liverpool players just couldn’t take advantage. Morata was booked late on for time-wasting.
As Mignolet hoofed the ball with the five minutes of added time already gone, Matip earned a free-kick in Chelsea’s half and even the Belgian goalkeeper went forward, but Liverpool could again make nothing of it and the game was over.
Liverpool’s fantastic winning streak comes to an end in the 8th game of the season. There wasn’t really much that separated the two sides for most of the contest, but with all said and done it’s time to be fair and congratulate Chelsea who, on the whole, deserved this victory. It was Hazard’s timely and inspired cameo that won it for them and there’s not much more to say.
There will be a lot for Klopp and the players to analyse and talk about, and some of them will have realized why they have no place in the regular starting XI at the moment. As for Chelsea, we meet again on Saturday, and it will certainly be a very different game whatever happens in the end.
The Reds leave the Carabao Cup at the first hurdle. It’s a chance for a trophy gone, but it will enable the players to focus on the remaining three competitions.
We Walk On.