A Blue Up North reviews Chelsea’s EFL Cup victory away at Liverpool.
This midweek saw the 3rd Round of this season’s EFL Cup and on Wednesday evening Chelsea traveled up to Merseyside for their tie against Premier League leaders Liverpool. This was the first of back to back matches against Jurgen Klopp’s side, who then travel to Stamford Bridge on Saturday.
Admittedly both clubs’ priority was clearly on their Premier League clash at the weekend, but pride and a psychological boost ahead of that match was definitely at stake. Add to that the possibility of a good cup run and potentially winning a trophy at Wembley in February – surely a big priority to a club who have only won 1 trophy in the last 12 years.
With one eye on Saturday, both managers made 8 changes to their starting line ups. Sturridge led the line for The Reds again, while £44m summer signing Fabinho finally made his first start for The Reds. £55m Keita joined the Brazilian in midfield in proof that Liverpool’s squad depth is stronger than in previous seasons and that Klopp was keen to continue their winning start to the season.
There were injury doubts over Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Antonio Rudiger and Pedro, all of who were given extra recovery time. Kepa Arrizabalaga, Marcos Alonso, and Olivier Giroud were all rested as well. This allowed Willy Caballero, Gary Cahill, Andreas Christensen, Ross Barkley and Alvaro Morata to be recalled, while Emerson Palmieri, Victor Moses and Cesc Fabregas all made there first appearance of the season.
For a side who hadn’t played together before, The Blues started well and were first into their stride. Most of the mistakes were being made by the home side, while the visitors played with more purpose and style. However, despite edging the first half, it was the bane of their visit to West Ham last time out that reappeared. Morata somehow had a shot that ran along the goal line and then nodded a free header over the bar. This meant we had a becoming familiar 0-0 score line.
Klopp was clearly unimpressed with what he had seen and his side started the second half more like the league leaders they are. Keita’s pace became their driving force and it came as little surprise that it was his shot that set up Sturridge to neatly finish to give the home side the lead.
After 7 wins out of 7 matches, the home side were surely starting to believe that they were on course for number 8. The Blues’s inability to convert any of their chances coupled with Liverpool finally beating the impressive Caballero had turned the tie.
However the away side kept their nerve and while Sarri cleverly started to utilise his substitute’s bench there became a more direct, focused look about The Blues. David Luiz shored up Chelsea’s defence while N’Golo Kante joined Fabregas and Barkley in midfield and they ttook control of the match. Hazard’s floated free kick was finally fired in by an unlikely source. Emerson’s equaliser laid the foundation for what was to come.
There has been much talk with regards to how good a player Eden Hazard is compared to the best in the country and across the world. A lack of consistent performances and not being prolific enough in front of goal are the main arguments against the Belgian being elevated to the top level.
However, after an outstanding World Cup showing during the summer, Hazard has continued in breathtaking form as a match winner on a regular basis this season for The Blues. But none of that compares to the brilliance shown by him in the 85th minute.
Collecting the ball near the centre circle, Chelsea’s little wizard turned and glided past 3 midfielders instantly. A simple 1-2 on the right flank gave him a moment to assess the space around him. Hazard then drifted past 3 more opponents as he drove into the penalty box before rifling a bullet of a shot in for the winning goal. And what a goal to win a match with.
Liverpool tried desperately to respond, including bringing on Mo Salah, but this was Chelsea’s night. There were plenty of good individual performances from the Chelsea players but their collective teamwork and determination, along with Sarri’s tactical mastery were the foundations of their victory. Hazard’s sublime brilliance was the icing on the cake.
So while Liverpool lose a good chance to challenge for a trophy, Chelsea remain unbeaten and progress to the next round. It is also The Blues who now move on to Saturday’s Premier League match with more confidence and belief. After all they will now line up against a side trying to halt back to back defeats as opposed to a side still on a perfect winning start to the season.
However, all the talk will be about Hazard and his winning goal. Is he now the best current player in the world? The fact that he is and still remains a Chelsea player is surely all that really matters.
Written by Jon Ellis, home and away season ticket holder. Follow him on Twitter @ClitheroeBlue