A Blue Up North reviews Chelsea’s home match against Liverpool.
Chelsea continued their run of home matches on Sunday with the visit of the early league leaders Liverpool. And after losing to Valencia on Tuesday, playing the only team with a perfect record so far was going to be the toughest of tests for Frank Lampard’s team.
The manager reverted to a 4-3-2-1 looking formation with the welcome return of N’Golo Kante to the team. Mason Mount has recovered from the nasty tackle which forced him off early on against Valencia.
Whether the change in formation was driven more by the need to include Kante as well as both Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic in midfield or by the need for the extra body in midfield, where Liverpool have managed to over run all their Premier League opponents so far.
After all, it was these 3 at the centre for The Blues who had played so well against Liverpool in the Super Cup in August. The potential down side is the need to keep the full backs a little narrower than usual and the threat of The Red’s attacking full backs marauding forwards.
With that in mind, Emerson Palmieri also returned to the starting XI, despite the doubts that he wasn’t fully fit. But he is better suited as a full back than Marcos Alonso and therefore got the nod. With Antonio Rudiger still unavailable, Andreas Christensen partnered Fikayo Tomori in the back 2.
As for the visitors, Adrian is still replacing Alisson in goal, but otherwise it was a full strength Liverpool side that were aiming to make it 6 wins out of 6 at the beginning of the Premier League season.
And it was the league leaders who showed early on why they are on a club record winning streak in the league. The pace and accuracy of their passing and movement whilst in possession meant they could quickly be on the attack from any starting position on the pitch.
Add to that their very well executed high press when not in possession and every player in the Chelsea team had precious little time on the ball before being harassed from all angles.
The first half was a very tight battle, only punctuated by both Emerson and Christensen needing replacing, absolute clinical finishing from the visitors and the narrowest VAR to deny The Blues an equaliser.
The Reds had been marginally better in every aspect during the first 45 minutes, but their 2-0 lead was harsh on Frank’s side. The substitutions and the disallowed goal all clearly affected his players and if the equaliser has stood, the overall result could well have been very different.
Klopp knew his team were closing in on all 3 points but is also extremely aware that 2-0 can be a banana skin lead. With that in mind, he sent his players out after half time desperately in search of a 3rd goal.
But despite all their efforts, Kepa Arrizabalaga stood firm in goal. Then just as the pendulum began to swing in Chelsea’s favour, the mercurial N’Golo Kante scored a stunning individual goal. His mazy run led him to the edge of the Liverpool penalty area, and as 4 defenders closed in all around him, he unleashed an unstoppable shot past the otherwise unbeatable Adrian in goal.
The ground erupted once more and the crowds energy and support pushed their heroes on to a final onslaught which took every effort from the visitors to keep out.
Klopp’s players collapsed with exhaustion at the final whistle as opposed to hugging and celebrating such a hard fought victory. They knew how close they came to dropping points for the first time this season.
A booking for repeated time wasting and their own supporters keeping the match ball twice in order to allow more precious seconds elapse were clear indicators of how much pressure Chelsea’s young guns were applying.
Chelsea may be without a home win in the first 3 Premier League matches so far but the players were applauded off the pitch with their supporters singing with joy for the effort applied on the field in front of them.
This was despite the frustration of the 2 goals they conceded. Set pieces are definitely Chelsea’s Achilles heel with players not being on their toes, ready to fling themselves in to the danger area quickly enough.
However, this is a team that is about 5 years behind Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool in their redevelopment process. Where the German’s side have had years to gel together and can spend time on the training pitch creating set piece routines designed to unlock Chelsea’s fledgling defence, Frank’s players are still adjusting to a new coaching style and strategy.
And considering Chelsea finished a full 25 points behind The Reds last season, they proved to be an equal match for the European champions.
The Blues may have lost the match, but the determination and effort they exhumed was lapped up and cheered on by the vocal support from the home crowd.
More of that and Frank’s side will be a joy to follow.
Written by Jon Ellis, home and away season ticket holder. Follow him on Twitter @ClitheroeBlue