A Blue Up North reviews Chelsea’s important win at home to Liverpool.
This Sunday saw Chelsea return to Stamford Bridge for a home Premier League tie against Liverpool. After 4 consecutive away victories The Blues were clawing their way back to a very improbable top 4 finish and this match against the team currently lying in third place was an ideal opportunity to narrow the gap even more.
Antonio Conte reinstated Marcos Alonso into his starting line up despite Emerson Palmieri deputising very well for the Spaniard during his suspension. This came as a surprise to some pundits as the general belief was that Palmieri is the better defender so would have been preferred to negate the threat of top goal scorer Mohamed Salah.
However, Conte’s decision proved to be masterful. With Alonso charging up the left flank and keeping Liverpool’s right back Nathaniel Clyne busy defending, the Egyptian did not have the amount of support he can usually rely upon. As a consequence, Salah was less involved than normal and he generally received the ball far deeper than he has enjoyed this season.
This gave Antonio Rudiger the time to keep a close watchful eye on Salah. And as the German defender had stated in the pre match press conference, he would have the pace and the ability to nullify the former Blue. The best teams in Europe have struggled to cope with the speed, dribbling and finishing of Mohamed Salah, but in Rudiger, Chelsea have the answer. This was a vital component that laid the foundations as Chelsea registered their 4th consecutive Premier League match, the first time they have done that since November.
The only other significant change to Chelsea’s matchday squad was the complete absence of Alvaro Morata. The Spanish striker had taken a knock in training but the manager stated he should be fit for the next match.
This meant that Olivier Giroud would be required to lead the line for the whole match and, considering the Frenchman has not scored a league goal as a starter since May last year, this would be a tall order against the European Cup finalists. But Chelsea’s January signing played the part with excellence and capped his performance with the only goal of the match.
A delightful long pass out to the right wing from Tiemoue Bakayoko found Victor Moses, whose cross was expertly headed in by Giroud. The 2 Chelsea players who created the goal have been out of form recently and have had their worth to the squad questioned. However they both performed well. Moses looked lively and was actually a threat on the right, occasionally passing his marker and getting meaningful crosses into the box. Bakayoko was more involved and linked play as he passed the ball out to the flanks.
But it was Eden Hazard who was the true star of the show again. His displays over the last month have been breathtaking as he displays his complete set of skills that makes him virtually unplayable.
The visitors may have enjoyed 68% possession, but they rarely troubled the score sheet. Meanwhile it was Chelsea who constantly looked the more likely to score. Bakayoko and Cesc Fabregas came close in the first half, while Hazard, Rudiger and Alonso had great chances in the second half.
This was a key, must win match for Antonio Conte and his team against one of the top teams in Europe and they not only matched their opponent, but they outclassed them for long spells in the match. It was a well deserved victory which now lifts The Blues to only 2 points behind Tottenham and 3 points behind Liverpool.
With 2 league matches left for Conte’s side as they try to bring off one of the most unlikely top 4 finishes, followed by an FA Cup Final against Manchester United, this season could finish on a high for both the Italian and The Blues, especially if they can keep up this excellent run of form together.
Written by Jon Ellis, home and away season ticket holder. Follow him on Twitter @ClitheroeBlue