Chelsea vs Liverpool: Reds lose control but not their heads as Blues show belated promise

Chelsea 1-2 Liverpool: The visitors weathered the storm late after N’Golo Kante’s fine strike

Miguel Delaney
Stamford Bridge
Sunday 22 September 2019 19:40 BST
Frank Lampard: Chelsea strikers can be more clinical

Liverpool remain domestically unstoppable, although only after one big stoppage in play, and a lot of stomach-turning bumps.

That, however, just made Jurgen Klopp relish it all the more; made it all the better.

One VAR ruling ensured an ultimately nervy 2-1 win over Chelsea, which itself ensures Liverpool’s perfect start to this season is maintained with a sixth successive victory, to go with a 15th successive league win going back to last season.

That is now only three off Manchester City’s all-time record, but comes as Liverpool looked a little off their best.

Chelsea by contrast have now lost two in a row after the Champions League defeat to Valencia, but Frank Lampard will feel encouraged by the nature of the second-half resurgence. They didn’t fold on having the game, and one big decision, go badly against them. They displayed a resolve that will be far more important to the future than any single result here.

None of this really applies for Liverpool. The result really was all.

This fixture was one of the eight games Liverpool didn’t win last season, making victory all the more valuable, all the more emboldening.

It represents the kind of progress required, even though last season’s performance was possibly superior.

But then that’s perhaps the point. It’s not quite the cliche that Liverpool won without playing all that well, but that they are still learning to win in a slightly different way; maybe the last way required.

They dug in, having sat back, in a way you wouldn’t really see from Jurgen Klopp's sides.

Firmino celebrates after doubling the lead for Liverpool
Firmino celebrates after doubling the lead for Liverpool (AFP/Getty)

It could yet be a key for a scene they haven’t seen at Anfield for 30 years: winning the title.

Lampard will meanwhile have seen a little more he liked in this Chelsea, even if the current run of results do not look that good.

He can point to other positives in this game.

That change in the game, meanwhile, was all the more marked given the magnificence of Liverpool’s first-half display.

This wasn’t even a case of Klopp’s team exploiting the vast gaps Lampard’s approach leaves behind Chelsea’s midfield. The gap between the teams was enough for that to be unnecessary.

Liverpool just overpowered them early on, almost every move reflecting a side now so sure of themselves in everything they do, so confident in what they are.

Chelsea are by contrast still finding their feet, but aren’t yet fully sure where they’re meant to be standing.

All of this was illustrated in the first goal.

As Trent Alexander-Arnold so assuredly and pristinely struck that laid-off free-kick, the shot was itself so difficult to stop, but the full-back enjoyed the benefit of Jorginho pulling out of his block and Emerson Palmeri ducking.

N’Golo Kante of Chelsea celebrates with Kurt Zouma
N’Golo Kante of Chelsea celebrates with Kurt Zouma (Getty)

That should especially irritate Lampard given that full commitment is “the least you’d expect”, and Chelsea did show it immediately after. It was the source of that ruled-out goal.

They displayed the value of persistence, refusing to let Liverpool clear it, until Cesar Azpilicueta literally forced it over the line.

They were just a bit too persistent. Mason Mount was marginally offside, so the goal was correctly – if belatedly – ruled out.

While there may be fair complaints about the time that took after the actual moment of offside, there should be none about the space. This wasn’t like Tottenham Hotspur against Leicester City. Mount was visibly offside.

The further problem with that for Chelsea was Liverpool being so far ahead as a team. The sense was always they were only going to get a limited number of chances with the game in the balance, and that was displayed all too brutally.

Liverpool just went up straight up the other end and went further ahead in the game. It was from yet another set-piece – reflecting another growing problem to fix for Lampard – as Andy Robertson curled in a perfect cross for Firmino to benefit from imperfect marking. The Brazilian was left to rise and head straight past Kepa Arrizabalaga, as Alonso – the replacement for the injured Emerson – barely got off the ground.

It was evidently something Lampard began to address at half-time, though, because Chelsea did display admirable persistence in another manner.

They refused to give up. They began to press Liverpool back.

If the expectation after Firmino’s goal would have been that Chelsea having to open out to see that defence overwhelmed, and leave N’Golo Kante with too much to do, the opposite happened.

Kante wasn’t plugging holes, but creating them in the other side. He began to surge forward with the rest of the Chelsea team, firing that fine strike to make it 2-1.

It was all the more frustrating for Klopp as he’d clearly seen it coming, having been manically gesturing to his players about this beforehand, and then reacting furiously after it.

His players could have done with some of that emotion. A limpness – maybe complacency – had conditioned their game, allowing Kante to just go through unchallenged.

The European champions had lost control of the game, precisely because they tried to just control the space, to just sit on their lead.

It’s not something they’re that comfortable or confident in.

It was something they just about managed, though.

They may have lost control, but didn’t lose the lead.

They instead just keep winning.

And it means the question is again rising: where will they slip up?

Potential answers feel limited, because they’ve found a few new responses of their own.

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