Liverpool continued their 100% start to the Premier League campaign with a hard-fought 2-1 win over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. First-half strikes from Trent Alexander-Arnold and Roberto Firmino ensured Jurgen Klopp’s men earned all three points against Frank Lampard’s men, despite N’Golo Kante’s second-half stunner prompting a frantic finish.
To their credit, the hosts rallied hard after their woes were compounded minutes after VAR correctly ruled out Cesar Azpilicueta’s equaliser as Mason Mount was offside in the build-up. Firmino headed home to double the visitors’ lead after some lax set-piece marking but there was a significant response in the second-half.
Adrian was called into action, thwarting Tammy Abraham from close-range while remaining alert with Chelsea’s counter-attacking threat a problem as they went in search of a way back into proceedings. They eventually found the breakthrough with an unlikely source, as the returning Kante let fly on the edge of the area with a strike the Spaniard could simply do nothing about.
Mount and second-half substitute Michy Batshuayi both came close late on, though the Reds survived a nervy finish to prevail with a narrow but important victory which re-opens a five-point gap between themselves and defending champions Manchester City, who were victorious in style on Saturday.
The result means Chelsea succumb to their second successive defeat in a week, after a narrow home defeat by Valencia – an unwelcome start to the Champions League group stages. In addition, they’re still without a home win under Lampard to kick off the 2019/20 campaign, at a stage where patience and empathy are being stressed for their unforgiving supporters.
Here’s an extended look at five hits and flops during a memorable evening’s action in west London but first, two honourable mentions that didn’t feature in this list:
In his third successive start, the 21-year-old was given the unenviable task of defending up against a Liverpool frontline who are among the world’s best in their respective positions.
More pressingly, he faced Mohamed Salah down the left-hand side of Lampard’s four-man backline and excelled – even on a booking for 70 minutes here. Winning eight of ten duels over 90 minutes, he completed four tackles, two clearances, an interception, dribble and key pass too.
Marshalling the Egyptian forward brilliantly, he looked assured in possession (80% completion rate) and performances like these will quickly endear him to Chelsea supporters, who would have tracked his progress under Lampard at Derby last season.
Not at fault for either Liverpool goal, Andreas Christensen committed the foul which led to Alexander-Arnold’s opener while he and substitute Marcos Alonso were caught out for some lax marking inside the box for Firmino’s strike.
A more convincing alternative to Christensen and favoured over an error-prone Kurt Zouma, Antonio Rudiger’s groin injury means he’s likely to remain first-choice going forward. A showing like this against the league leaders will boost his confidence as he continues learning valuable experience under a boss who has justified belief in his capabilities.
After a forgettable evening in Naples on Tuesday night, Andy Robertson recovered and delivered a decent but unspectacular display against Chelsea here. That was all he needed to boost his confidence levels back up following a strenuous week where he found himself exposed for playing through a minor knock when he really shouldn’t have, received vitriol from fans on social media and temporarily deleted his Twitter account.
It was his excellent inswinging delivery from a quick-thinking free-kick which gifted Firmino a golden opportunity to double the visitors’ lead before half-time and unmarked, the Brazilian couldn’t miss from close-range.
His second successive league assist this term, the Scotland international will hope for more to come in the weeks ahead as they face Sheffield United, Leicester City, Manchester United and Tottenham – combined with two more Champions League ties – before the month of November.
A lot is said about the creative qualities both he and Trent possess, but he worked hard defensively too and it was a much improved display from the vulnerable one seen against Napoli. He buzzed around tirelessly and did his utmost to keep Willian at bay down his side, with six clearances, four interceptions, four of seven duels won, two dribbles and a tackle to boot.
#5 Flop: Georginio Wijnaldum
Wijnaldum made his sixth successive league start against a Chelsea side there for the taking, but failed to really impose himself on a match that could’ve swung either way in the end.
While Fabinho and to a lesser extent Jordan Henderson were regularly involved, the experienced Dutch international was rather quiet and took more of a backseat role than his midfield teammates.
The fact you didn’t really notice he was playing for sustained periods was worrying enough as he hovered around without doing much. Although his influence grew once Liverpool took the lead, again he appeared rather isolated and failed to provide adequate defensive support as Chelsea were much improved after the break.
Although the blame was on Fabinho in the build-up to Kante’s strike, the Brazilian was actively shouting for support from his teammates after being beaten too easily by the Frenchman. Wijnaldum was nowhere to be seen and didn’t sense danger often enough.
All in all it was a frustrating display but one that will quietly give Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and a returning Naby Keita confidence they can take advantage and stake their claim for a starting berth.
#4 Hit: Trent Alexander-Arnold
Trent Alexander-Arnold broke the deadlock with aplomb in the first-half, taking his goal well as he rifled it beyond Kepa Arrizabalaga into the far corner.
From a clearly rehearsed free-kick routine, Mohamed Salah teed him up and he instinctively struck goalwards. You wouldn’t believe it was his first goal since November 2018 from a similar distance away against Watford. Chelsea were rightly stunned into silence after just 14 minutes, though there was more yet to be asked of a 20-year-old fullback with the world at his feet.
He was forced into countless defensive situations where concentration and his defensive position were tested, particularly being dragged infield by Mason Mount while worrying about Tammy Abraham’s movement and Mateo Kovacic’s passing from a deep-lying role.
The only real blemish on his performance was Trent’s distribution (56.1% pass accuracy), which leaved a lot to be desired and he was arguably fortunate not to play himself into trouble upon occasion in the Chelsea half under pressure. Nonetheless, he defended well when required and impressed against an unpredictable, energetic Blues display. He completed seven clearances, two key passes, one interception and what ended up being a match-winning rocket.
#3 Flop: Mohamed Salah
To start the new season, Salah’s performances have often either been impressive or largely ineffective, with little in-between. Here, it was more a repeat of the latter where he found himself effectively nullified by his former side who exposed the forward’s willingness to receive possession without actually doing much productively with the ball.
He created the assist for Trent’s sublime opener with a deft lay-off, but that was more to do with the actual strike than his individual pass. Easily outmuscled and regularly coming out second best against a motivated Tomori down the right-hand side, the 27-year-old lost possession a whopping 26 times over the 90 minutes and regularly cut a frustrated figure while his attacking partners Firmino and Mane enjoyed more success.
Often a bystander out of possession, he rarely tracked back and when he did? Committing fouls was a common theme, to the point where Chelsea were getting joy switching the play down his side as time wore on in the second-half.
Wasteful with his half-chances and unreliable in possession (68.6% pass success), this was a frustrating display from someone Liverpool expect better from, particularly in games of this magnitude.
#2 Hit: Cesar Azpilicueta
Chelsea captain Azpilicueta has been the subject of intense scrutiny and exaggerated criticism from demanding supporters to date this season, but reserved his best performance of 2019/20 for the league leaders here.
That was both defensively and in a creative-minded sense, as the 30-year-old continues to evolve his game. Clearly more suited to a centre-back role, that he continues featuring at right-back with exciting teenager Reece James (ankle) stepping up his injury recovery means a lot of the team’s workload is unfairly placed on the Spaniard’s shoulders.
He worked tirelessly in defence and needed to, being called into action on a number of occasions from the early exchanges and responding well, rather than reacting after the fact, as has been the case with a handful of goals Chelsea have conceded this season.
Unfortunately, he had what would have been his first goal since March correctly ruled out after VAR review. Minutes later, Liverpool raced into a two-goal cushion and the Stamford Bridge atmosphere was justifiably flat. However the refusal to let that impact a display where his attacking tendencies and more pertinently the quality of crossing has again been called into question recently, was key.
He created the assist for Kante’s thunderous finish and delivered another typically commendable display, while unfortunate not to add another assist to his name after fizzing a great low ball towards Tammy Abraham’s path, though the 21-year-old was thwarted by a timely Joel Matip intervention in a frantic second-half.
Four key passes, seven of 11 duels won, two clearances and tackles to accompany an assist, it was an effective display by Azpi, who doesn’t always get the respect his consistency deserves. Every club has a scapegoat or few choice players to target whenever the team underperform, but Chelsea certainly should not be questioning Azpilicueta’s suitability to perform at the highest level – instead applauding his willingness to continually silence those critics.
#1 Hit: N’Golo Kante
Making his return from an recurring ankle injury that plagued him late last season, N’Golo Kante was Chelsea’s best player and showed precisely what the Blues have been missing in his absence. The typical relentless energy and infectious defensive attitude was on show for all to marvel, particularly when he dispossessed Fabinho and Salah while making a number of ball recoveries.
His display exposed a Liverpool midfield trio who were leggy, while refusing to shy away from physical battles despite his distinct size disadvantage. That fearlessness and desire to help drag his teammates out of a precarious situation down 2-0 was emphasised with a beautiful finish midway through the second-half.
Exploiting Fabinho’s static off-the-ball movement to bypass the Brazilian with ease, he fired home an uncharacteristic – but nonetheless brilliant – finish to halve the deficit and present the hosts with a lifeline his industry had deserved. Winning eight of 15 duels contested, three tackles, two interceptions and successful dribbles, one clearance and netting his ninth Chelsea goal on appearance 145 in England’s top-flight.
It was precisely the type of display which reiterates his indispensable status at Chelsea and why compatriot Zinedine Zidane so dearly wants him at Real Madrid. Despite signing a lucrative contract extension last winter, fans will be praying he doesn’t join Thibaut Courtois and Eden Hazard in Madrid, instead retaining him long-term. He’s one of very few players league-wide that deserve their wages and is undisputedly their best player.
Stats’ source: SofaScore and WhoScored