Liverpool 2-0 Chelsea: No Costly Slips This Time
The biggest (on paper) hurdle Liverpool were to face in the final 30 days of the Premier League season was Chelsea. Naturally, reminiscences from that fatal “Gerrard slip” were in high demand by the part of the football world extremely frightened of seeing Liverpool ending their 29-year long drought and lifting that elusive trophy.
Just like five years ago, Liverpool entered this clash needing the points to stay on top of the league, while Chelsea at all costs wish to avoid another season in the Europa League.
Having recovered from their long-term injury problems, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Joe Gomez and Rhian Brewster all started for the U-23s against Leicester City on the same day and were therefore unavailable for first-team selection.
Maurizio Sarri needed to see if Emerson Palmieri would be available having missed the Europa League trip to Prague on Thursday. He was.
The First Half
The Anfield crowd exploded from the first whistle and the team responded. The opening several minutes were played in the Chelsea half, with Liverpool pressing high and taking the early initiative.
Chelsea held out well, with David Luiz making a few important interceptions, and after four minutes they tried to hit on the counterattack but Hazard, playing in a “false nine” role, was caught offside.
A minute later, the Reds threatened seriously as Keita received the ball some 30 yards out down the middle and engaged Mane on the left wing. Mane swung in a cross and found Salah on the far post, but Salah’s volley went straight into Kepa.
With both teams looking to go wide, a fierce battle was developing on both flanks early on. Trent against Willian, Emerson against Salah, Azpilicueta against Mane, Robertson against Hudson-Odoi. Chelsea tried to hit through the middle as Kante and Jorginho worked well together to dispossess Keita and send Hazard forward, but a brilliant tackle by Fabinho made sure the Belgian wouldn’t get far.
After 10 minutes, Sarri’s team grew into the game a bit more, occasionally finding ways to play past the Reds’ high press, but they were usually pegged back quickly. In the 14th minute, Luiz was lucky to escape without a penalty being given against him as he clipped Salah inside the box, but referee Michael Oliver judged there wasn’t enough in it for him to point to the spot. Both teams tried to make something happen by playing the ball forward a bit quicker in the next couple of minutes, but neither managed to create anything of note.
The Reds continued their offensive, but Chelsea launched a potentially dangerous counterattack in the 17th minute through Willian down the left, but just as his skill started it, so Willian’s indecisiveness ruined it. Then a lovely diagonal by Trent found Keita on the left and the former Leipzig man tried to square it for the incoming Henderson, but Kepa read his mind. Chelsea threatened again as Hazard escaped in behind to collect a pass, but he was caught and marshaled by Matip before his tame shot from a tight angle found its way into Alisson’s safe hands.
Sarri had a scare in the 21st minute as Rudiger stayed down on the ground and required medical assistance, but the Germany international seemed to have recovered and continued playing for a while longer.
The game was picking up pace at this point. The ball was moving fast from one end of the pitch to the other, and both sets of defenders had work to do. Liverpool worked up a good opportunity in the 26th minute as Keita’s long ball into the box was tamed by Salah for the incoming Henderson, but Luiz stuck his foot out and blocked Henderson’s powerful low drive. Willian had another chance to make something happen from a counterattack on the half-hour mark, but even though he had Hazard in support, he chose to shoot from outside the box and missed the target.
The line of the battle was still mostly deep in Chelsea’s half, but the visitors were well organized at the back, closing spaces down quickly and in numbers, and looking for any opportunity to release either Hazard or Willian. To their dismay, the Reds were also very organized and responsible in their defending.
In the 37th minute, however, Robertson allowed Azpilicueta to steal the ball from him on the halfway line and Hazard was off, charging towards the rest of Liverpool’s defence which he was unable to beat.
Straight afterwards, Henderson and Matip worked well to dispossess Loftus-Cheek and Fabinho and Firmino contrived to send Salah down the flank. The Egyptian’s pullback found Mane near the penalty spot but Mane’s instant shot went just wide of the target.
Five minutes before the break, Rudiger was down again. This time he needed help to hobble off the pitch as Sarri took no further chances and sent on Andreas Christensen.
Towards the end of the half, both teams looked to employ a direct approach with defenders going long to find runners in behind, but neither were successful.
With two minutes to go, Mane escaped Kante and forced Azpilicueta to bring him down using his arms, for which Oliver booked the Chelsea captain. Trent swung in the free-kick towards the six-yard box but Keita and Mane were caught offside.
The three minutes of stoppage time brought nothing new or remotely exciting as both teams made a couple of rash moves forward.
The Second Half
The Reds quickly retook possession after the restart, but it all till came down to playing around the box, and a volley sky-high by Keita was as close as they got to troubling Kepa. They mostly passed it around, occasionally swinging in a cross, but blue shirts were packed close inside the box and dealt with everything that was thrown at them.
But with five minutes gone, Liverpool finally found a breakthrough. Salah and Firmino combined well on the right before Henderson lifted it over towards the far post, from where an unmarked Mane headed it in.
Three minutes later, a Salah masterclass. The Egyptian received the ball wide on the right, cut inside Emerson, Jorginho was too slow to close him down and prevent him from putting his foot through it and hitting the far top corner. Kepa flew through the air only to make the goal even more spectacular.
Sarri needed to respond immediately, and he sent on Gonzalo Higuain instead of the ineffective Hudson-Odoi.
It was all about Liverpool at this point. They were relentless, attack after attack, and the visitors were holding on for their lives. Firmino came close in the 57th minute with a low drive from 20 yards that just missed the far post.
But then Chelsea broke through, and following a corner cleared, Christensen lobbed a fantastic pass in behind and found Hazard, one on one with Alisson, onside. The Liverpool ‘keeper rushed out and Hazard shot past him and hit the post.
The Belgian had a similar opportunitiy within two minutes as a cross from the right found him alone on the six yard line, and this time he did hit the target, but Alisson made a fantastic save. Nonetheless, Hazard’s increased input should be commended with the way he took responsibility after his team had gone two goals down.
Chelsea did look much more dangerous with nothing to lose, but it didn’t take Liverpool long to recompose themselves and regain control. Chelsea came out to defend much higher than before, but the Reds were now in no hurry. Time was suddenly working for them. And their patience nearly paid of in the 65th minute when Salah managed to isolate Emerson and shoot past him from 10 yards, but it was now Kepa’s turn to make a fine save.
Then Klopp refreshed his midfield by introducing Georginio Wijnaldum for Keita.
Liverpool kept attacking for a while longer, but then the visitors’ pressing started to pay off. They were now forcing Klopp’s men to drop deeper and defend, but defend they did and the game regained some balance as both teams looked to attack quickly once more. In the 72nd minute, Trent beautifully sent Azpilicueta for the newspaper but his subsequent shot was too tame to give Kepa trouble.
With 15 minutes to go, Henderson was left on the ground following some action on the right flank, and then the captain made way for his deputy. James Milner came on. Sarri soon used up his last card by sending on Ross Barkley for Loftus-Cheek.
The game continued in a high tempo, and after Firmino’s nice turn and shot from 15 yards forced Kepa into another good save, Hazard once again escaped an offside trap and squared it into the six yards, finding only Trent in there.
The frustration in the eyes of Azpilicueta was becoming notable. Already on a yellow card, he got away with an angry outburst towards the referee. His defending also suffered to an extent. He was still doing his job, but there was hardly any composure in the way he did it. It was mostly “hoof it away”, with Mane and Robertson giving him a lot to think about.
Speaking of Robertson, in the 83rd minute the left-back slipped in possession of the ball in a position similar to that slip five years ago, but Higuain who picked it up, was too slow to make his mind up and the ball was quickly retaken by Liverpool.
Andy Robertson taking the piss out of all that 2014 stuff.
— Tony Barrett (@TonyBarrett) April 14, 2019
Three minutes before time, van Dijk sent the ball forward and Mane forced Kepa into a mistake outside the box wide on the left, but he failed to take advantage of it. He tried to make amends soon after as he glided past Jorginho, entered the box and hit it under the bar under pressure from Christensen, but Kepa pushed it over.
Then Salah made way (with the stands bursting in Mo Salah song) for Xherdan Shaqiri.
Once again there were three minutes added, and Chelsea tried to hit as hard as they can, but apart from a few hopeful crosses, nothing came of it.
Three points in the bag. Top of the table with the last of the top six out of the way, and while Manchester City still have a game in hand, they are yet to face Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United.
There’s no point in talking too much now.
— James Pearce (@JamesPearceEcho) April 14, 2019
We Walk On.