Chelsea 1 Liverpool 2: Liverpool have put down another vital marker on their long road to a new era as Jordan Henderson’s spectacular goal secured a 2-1 victory over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and suggested Jurgen Klopp’s men are far more advanced in their evolution than Antonio Conte’s fast starters.
Henderson’s superb 25m effort capped a magnificent first-half performance from Klopp’s side which also featured an opening goal from Dejan Lovren; and not even a Diego Costa strike after the break could deny them fourth place in the Premier League.
“It’s about time I got a goal, but most important is the three points,” said Henderson.
It was a night when Liverpool, even without injured Firminho, underlined once more their growing maturity with a performance that hinted at the possibility of a serious challenge for Champions League qualification.
By contrast Conte’s Chelsea confirmed suspicions they are not quite as good as their early-season form suggested.
Bear in mind this was a game that was meant to be all about David Luiz — the Brazilian, re-signed on transfer deadline day from PSG, was making his second Chelsea ‘debut’ following an injury to John Terry. But Liverpool made it about them instead as Luiz produced a steady but unspectacular display.
Klopp’s side were so superior in the first half that they not only deserved the 2-0 lead they took into the break but had also gone a long way to deflating the Stamford Bridge crowd and to dripping doubts into the minds of the home players about the fragility of their latest revival under yet another new manager.
Conte, whose side had started the Premier League season with three wins and a draw, clearly went for a safety-first option in a bid to defend his team’s unbeaten run, leaving Oscar, N’Golo Kante and Nemanja Matic all deep in midfield in a bid to hold Liverpool at bay; but his tactics backfired.
In the first half Liverpool dominated midfield so comfortably that it was almost embarrassing, their high-pressure pressing game forcing Chelsea into mistakes and clearances that were quickly mopped up by Jordan Henderson in the middle of the park.
It was little surprise when the visitors went ahead after 17 minutes. A quickly-taken free-kick on the left wing was whipped right-footed into the box by the always-excellent Philippe Coutinho, where four players were waiting completely unmarked. At least two were offside but Dejan Lovren, coming from deep, certainly wasn’t — and he finished well past Thibaut Courtois to give Liverpool a deserved lead.
The second strike for Klopp’s men after 36 minutes was far more spectacular. Gary Cahill’s poor clearance fell to Henderson 25m out and he curled a high, dipping shot into the top right-hand corner of the net. A spectacular goal that all but silenced the Bridge, including a dejected Terry watching from the stands as he recovers from a foot injury.
It’s hard to think of a more deflating 45 minutes from Chelsea, even considering the terrible year they endured finishing a distant 10th in the Premier League last season.
To put Liverpool’s domination into context, Chelsea striker Diego Costa, the hero of the season until now, touched the ball only nine times in the half — fewer than any other player on the pitch with the exception of Courtois (the Chelsea goalkeeper overtook him if you take into account the two times he fetched the ball out of the net).
Something had to change, but although Oscar and Matic were ushered into far more advanced positions in the second half, Chelsea’s substitutes, including Cesc Fabregas, remained on the bench unti late on. As a consequence, Chelsea’s passing remained painfully slow, Liverpool’s tackling stayed energetic and frenetic, and only the possession stats showed any sign of movement.
But then, from nowhere, a Costa goal — his fifth of the season. Matic made a marauding run forward down the left, cut the ball back superbly and Costa, with touch number 10 of the evening, stabbed the ball into the net.
It was the moment Stamford Bridge had been waiting for; and seconds later Costa was denied a second when Mignolet saved well from his left-footed effort.
This now was a test for Liverpool. It was always going to be difficult to continue at the same level of the opening 45 minutes and the biggest criticism of Klopp’s side so far this season has been that even within games the standard of their performance has drifted from magnificent to sloppy and back again on too many occasions.
Their response was good. Origi had a header well saved by Courtois after rising above Luiz and in the end, despite a triple substitution by Conte in which Fabregas finally joined the fray, the visitors saw out the match comfortably.
Next up for Chelsea is a tricky League Cup tie at Leicester before an even tougher test at the Emirates against Arsenal next Saturday. They also face Leicester and Manchester United at home in October so the potential for disaster or recovery is there in equal measure.
Liverpool are at Derby in the League Cup before hosting Hull at Anfield next weekend. In fact they can look forward to a run of 14 games in which only one — Man United at home on October 17 — is against a team you would expect to finish in the top six.
Recent Liverpool history suggests, of course, that those are exactly the kind of fixtures in which they often slip up; but it also provides Klopp’s side with a real opportunity to build a serious title challenge
Courtois 6; Ivanovic 5, Cahill 5, David Luiz 6, Azplicueta 6i; Kante 6; Willian 5 (Moses 83), Oscar 5 (Pedro 83), Matic 7 (Fabregas 83), Hazard 6; Costa 6.
Mignolet 7, Clyne 7, Matip 7, Lovren 7, Milner 7, Henderson 8, Wijnaldum 7 (Stewart 90) Lallana 7, Coutinho 7 (Lucas 82), Mane 7, Sturridge 5 (Origi 57; 7)
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