Chelsea welcomed Liverpool to Stamford Bridge on Sunday afternoon for a game that was a part of round six of this season’s Premier League.
Since club legend Frank Lampard took charge of the team, Chelsea’s performances have been hard to predict and their results a mixture of brilliance and heavy disappointment. With two wins, two draws and one defeat on their account, the Blues entered the game positioned in a cluster of teams with eight points on the board. Their Champions League campaign started with a home defeat to Valencia, and this was a good opportunity for them to try and regain some confidence with a win over top opposition.
Liverpool, on the other hand, topped the table with a maximum of 15 points after winning all five of their opening games. The Reds have been on a fantastic run, but like Chelsea, they haven’t started their Champions League title defence the way they wanted to as their visit to Napoli ended in defeat.
Lampard was facing a potential lack of young sensation Mason Mount through injury, but the 20-year-old recovered in time.
Kepa Arrizabalaga was in goal. Andreas Christensen and Fikayo Tomori were in the heart of defence, flanked by captain Cezar Azpilicueta and Emerson. Jorginho anchored the midfield, with N’Golo Kante and Mateo Kovacic by his side. Tammy Abraham led the line, supported by Mason Mount and Willian.
Jurgen Klopp in the visitors’ dugout was still without first-choice goalkeeper Alisson Becker, whose exact date of return remains unknown. Midfielder Naby Keita had returned to training, but the manager saw no reason to include him just yet.
Adrian stood between the posts. Virgil van Dijk and Joel Matip were again paired up at the back, with Trent Alexander-Arnold on the right and Andy Robertson on the left. Fabinho provided the protection for the back four, while captain Jordan Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum covered the two box-to-box roles. Their usual front three of Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino were once again deployed to worry the Chelsea defence.
The First Half
The game opened in a balanced sort of way, with both teams looking to take control of the proceedings. But after 13 minutes, a rash challenge by Christensen on the edge of Chelsea’s box gave Liverpool a great free-kick opportunity and they made it count. Salah rolled the ball on and Alexander-Arnold smashed it into the top corner, with Kepa flying through the air but powerless to stop it.
There were further bad news for Lampard. Emerson was unable to play on and Marcos Alonso had to come on in his place straight after the opening goal.
Nonetheless, Chelsea immediately showed strong will to bounce back and they pressed the visitors hard, but good defending from Van Dijk and Robertson thwarted their intentions. The battle then moved back towards the middle of the park and the balance was re-established.
In the 20th minute, young Tomori was drawn far from his box and his late tackle on Henderson earned him an early booking from referee Michael Oliver.
As time went on, Liverpool slowly pushed the battlefront further towards Kepa, and the home side mostly resorted to looking for the pace of Tammy Abraham in behind Liverpool’s high line. In the 24th minute, it resulted in a great chance for the young striker. However, Adrian came off his line, closed down the angle and stopped the shot.
Chelsea were obviously heartened by the moment and they launched a strong offensive, and it appeared in the 27th minute that they got their equalizer. A nicely worked team move ended with Azpilicueta putting the ball in the net from close range, but the goal was disallowed for offside at an intervention from VAR.
Less than three minutes later, it went from bad to worse for the Blues. A free-kick was awarded for Liverpool wide on the left, and as Robertson swung the ball in, Firmino escaped the attention of Christensen, Kante and Alonso and jumped high to slam his header into the net from six yards.
Nerves were starting to creep in on the home team, but the support they were receiving from the stands was unwavering. But while the Blues were struggling to cause any problems to Liverpool’s back line, the Reds easily broke through in the 38th minute. Salah broke into the box, cut inside Tomori to try and find the far top corner, but Christensen dove in at the last possible moment to produce a vital block.
Three minutes before the break, Lampard was forced to waste a second substitution to replace the Denmark international who got injured in that brave piece of defending. Kurt Zouma came in.
Chelsea had a few attempts to half the deficit in the dying minutes of the half. First Abraham’s header missed the target wasting a great cross by Azpilicueta, and then Adrian struggled with a sharp cross from Alonso but managed to tame it before Willian or Abraham could react. Kante had a go at running past Van Dijk, but beating the Ballon d’Or contender proved far out of his reach.
The Second Half
Liverpool charged forward from the first whistle of the second part, and they managed to get a pair of good crosses in. One of them found Firmino but his effort was denied by Kepa, and the second was wasted by Mane’s inaccurate header. The visitors’ offensive continued a while longer and in the 50th minute it took all the skill Kepa possessed for the goalkeeper to prevent Zouma and Azpilicueta from putting the ball in their own net.
After a while, the Blues finally managed to get some meaningful possession in Liverpool’s half and they attacked, but Matip, Van Dijk, Fabinho and Wijnaldum did some extremely level-headed defending. Chelsea found ways to reach the final third, but once there, it seemed impossible for them to get past the Reds’ defence.
At one point, the referee found it necessary to ask Henderson as the Liverpool captain to warn his team against time-wasting, and with 56 minutes gone, Alexander-Arnold saw the yellow card raised against him for taking too long to take a throw-in.
Chelsea attacked from that point on and they created a few promising situations, but first Azpilicueta with a poor control, then Abraham with a feeble flick, and eventually Kante with a shot from 20 yards just wide failed to make them count.
Liverpool occasionally tried to hit back, but they didn’t pose any real danger until the 65th minute when Firmino slalomed past several opponents and set Wijnaldum up for a shot from 20 yards, but the Dutchman’s effort went far off target. Tomori proved himself capable of dealing with Salah in several situations, a feat not many defenders can boast about.
Chelsea had another good chance in the 67th minute as Azpilicueta once again whipped in a fine cross towards the far post, but Alexander-Arnold did well to get ahead of Mount and clear the box. Firmino, Mane and Salah then started looking dangerous at the other end and Chelsea needed all the composure they could muster to stop them from increasing the lead.
It was still mostly the home team who were in possession, which was understandable given the score, and in the 71st minute Kante produced a magnificent solo run to finally score for Chelsea. He got free of Fabinho just outside the box and won some space, and while Henderson, Matip and Milner all hesitated for a split-second, the Frenchman took the opportunity to shoot and hit the top corner.
As could have been expected, Chelsea were significantly boosted by the goal and they continued their offensive in search for an equalizer. Liverpool also stepped up a gear at this point and moved the balance of the game further away from Adrian. With 14 minutes to go, Lampard judged it was time for his last substitution and Abraham made way for Michy Batshuayi.
But the Reds were now playing differently. They started pressing and counter-pressing higher, not allowing the Blues to get forward so easily or so quickly. They succeeded, with much effort, to shift the balance in their favour and it was now Chelsea’s turn to look for counterattacking opportunities.
In the 83rd minute, Adam Lallana made a rare appearance for Liverpool as he replaced Henderson. Milner, who had come on previously for Mane, took the captain’s armband.
Chelsea had a good set-piece opportunity three minutes later as Milner took out Kante wide on the right, but Matip cleared Azpilicueta’s cross in front of Batshuayi. Liverpool then had a chance of their own as Salah ran at Kante, but the Chelsea midfielder did brilliantly well. The home side retaliated through Batshuayi whose free header went wide of the target.
But the Blues now attacked with all their might, and the Reds were finding it hard to carry the ball across the halfway line. Mount had a great chance on the stroke of 90 minutes but failed to divert a cross from the left on target. Klopp’s reaction to this development was to strengthen his defence by sending Gomez into the fray instead of Salah.
Chelsea continued attacking, but now that Liverpool had five players in the back line, it was extremely difficult to cause them problems and the four minutes of stoppage time slowly expired. Liverpool could have scored a third in the last seconds, but Robertson’s attempt at a counterattack was stopped by a malicious tackle from Alonso.
This game was a typical contest between a fully formed, top side, capable of winning any trophy, and a young, promising one which is currently going through a reconstruction phase. It is a defeat at home for Chelsea, but Lampard will have had very few complaints in the dressing room after his players gave a relatively good account of themselves against the European champions. They will be hoping for a far better result when Brighton and Hove Albion come to visit next week, with a third-round Carabao Cup clash with League Two side Grimsby Town in between.
Meanwhile, Liverpool continue their quest for the Premier League title, which has been eluding them for nearly three decades now. They have managed to keep their advantage over the reigning champions Manchester City on five points, and that’s all they’ll be interested in from this game. Their next league game is against Sheffield United, with the newly promoted team coming to Anfield on Saturday next. However, they are playing League One side MK Dons in the third round of the Carabao Cup three days before that.
CHELSEA: Kepa 7, Christensen 7 (42′ Zouma 6.5), Tomori 7.5, Azpilicueta 7.5, Emerson N/A (15′ Alonso 7), Jorginho 7, Kante 8, Kovacic 5, Mount 6, Willian 6.5, Abraham 7 (76′ Batshuayi N/A).
LIVERPOOL: Adrian 7, Van Dijk 7.5, Matip 8, Alexander-Arnold 7.5, Robertson 7.5, Fabinho 6.5, Henderson 7 (83′ Lallana N/A), Wijnaldum 7, Mane 7.5 (72′ Milner 7), Salah 7.5 (90′ Gomez N/A), Firmino 8.5.
GOALS: Alexander-Arnold 14′, Firmino 30′, Kante 71′.
YELLOW CARDS: Tomori 20′, Alexander-Arnold 57′, Fabinho 78′, Milner 86′, Alonso 90’+3.
REFEREE: Michael Oliver.
DATE & VENUE: September 22, 2019, Stamford Bridge, London.