A Blue Up North reviews Chelsea’s Premier League match up against Liverpool.
The Saturday teatime kick off saw Chelsea host Liverpool at Stamford Bridge, this time for Premier League points. The much anticipated match would be a real test of how far manager Maurizio Sarri has brought his team during his short tenure.
Following on from The Blues’s League Cup victory at Anfield on Wednesday evening, where both clubs had made multiple changes, this was a clash between the strongest line ups that they could muster. And what a display they gave us.
Sarri recalled all of first choice players except for the not fit enough Pedro. Klopp did likewise meaning his 3 outfield summer signings Naby Keita, Fabinho and Shaqiri were all named on the substitute’s bench as the German continued to rely on his key players from last season.
Although both sides lined up in 4-3-3 formations, the style of play was quite varied between them. The away side rely so much on the pace of their front 3 for their main attacking style, while The Blues rely on pass combinations to progress up the field. This meant that the early stages were a tight, sparring spell where both teams tried to stamp their authority and control the play.
Both sides managed to create attacking opportunities, but one key element was missing. Chelsea’s final decision was regularly poor and meant a lack of clear chances. Liverpool’s pressing created the best 2 of the early chances but they both fell to last season’s Golden Boot winner Mo Salah. However, the Egyptian’s radar was wildly off the mark.
Then on 28 minutes, a fairly innocuous pass and run from Eden Hazard within his own half set the stall out for a breathtaking passage of one touch midfield passing. Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic combined beautifully to send Hazard through and the Belgian fired in a quality opening goal. The score line may have changed, but Salah’s finishing continued to struggle as Antonio Rudiger cleared his latest shot off the line.
For the second half, The Reds somehow seemed to manage to move up yet another gear. They continued with their pressing style throughout the pitch and gave everything to try to turn the match round. Kepa produced a lightning save to deny Mane before Salah’s miserable match came to an end as he was replaced by Shaqiri. The ex Stoke City player immediately spurned a great chance and Klopp must’ve started to believe that his side would never manage to finish any of their chances.
Then suddenly Eden Hazard was clear and bearing down on the goal, but Allison saved well and rightfully received apologies from Van Dijk who had fallen asleep when a quickly taken free kick had allowed the chance to put the match beyond doubt.
The Chelsea defence stood up very well against such a strong attacking side with Rudiger and David Luiz putting in commanding performances. However, as a team, Chelsea slowly sat further and further back, while the Liverpool midfield finally managed to find small pockets of space. As the ball arrived at substitute Daniel Sturridge’s feet, the danger did not seem to dire. There were less than 2 minutes left, the much injured ex England international produced an inch perfect shot that the outstretched Kepa could not reach.
After the away players and their supporters celebrated as though they had scored a winning goal, the tide turned again. Yes, everyone in blue will have been disappointed in conceding so late but in the final few moments it was the home side who could have won all 3 points.
The potential difference between Chelsea holding on for the win was the influence of the substitutions. The Blues seemed to take a step back with their changes but, for Liverpool, Shaqiri looked lively while it was Sturridge who finally made the breakthrough.
After one ex Chelsea player had suffered to make his mark on the match, another came on and proved that his biggest flaw whilst at Stamford Bridge has finally been resolved. During his time at Chelsea, Sturridge struggled to cope with not being a first choice player and he tried to do everything whenever he did play. His lack of team play meant he moved on. After multiple periods out due to a catalogue of injuries, he has finally come to terms with only getting short run outs in the team. He was also a talented, naturally gifted finisher but his mentality and attitude used to let him down. However, cameo appearances like this will be just what the Liverpool faithful require of him.
Klopp was pleased to gain a point against a side he believes is a real threat in the title race. High praise indeed after how The Blues performed in the league in the second half of last season. It also reiterated how well Sarri has managed to progress his team in the short time he has been at the club. The Italian rightly admitted his surprise that with only 2 months in charge, his Chelsea side are as close to a side that has been built over at least 3 years under Klopp.
There are still plenty of areas for the manager to work on, but after his squad players set the foundations for a great league cup win at Anfield and then his first choice side came within 2 minutes of inflicting a morale boosting Premier League win, Sarri will feel very content with his progress.
Written by Jon Ellis, home and away season ticket holder. Follow him on Twitter @ClitheroeBlue