Friday, March 1, 2024

Liverpool 4-1 Chelsea: Talking points as Reds smash Blues to strengthen Premier League title claim

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A night to remember for the home supporters, one to forget for those who traveled from London. On Wednesday evening, at Anfield, Liverpool beat Chelsea by 4-1 to strengthen their hold on the top spot in the Premier League.

Diogo Jota broke the deadlock after forcing his way through the Chelsea defence in the 23rd minute, and Conor Bradley made a smart run to deliver a fine finish and score his first-ever goal for Liverpool in the 39th. The young right-back then delivered a superb cross which Dominik Szoboszlai headed into the net in the 65th, before Christopher Nkunku gave a tiny bit of hope to the visitors with an excellent goal of his own in the 71st. However, that hope soon failed as Luis Diaz set what eventually proved the final scoreline in the 79th.

The game

Liverpool played like proper title contenders from the first whistle, getting on the front foot straight away and putting the Chelsea defence under frequent bouts of pressure. Not that Chelsea didn’t try to match the home side in the middle of the park and take control of the flow themselves, but even when they did get forward in numbers, it always looked likely to do more harm than good with Liverpool notoriously deadly in moments of transition.

Five minutes were just up when one such situation gave an opportunity for Bradley to whip a fine pass for Nunez to latch onto. The Uruguayan did well to stay onside and use his pace to get behind the Chelsea defence, but his first-touch lob attempt didn’t have enough velocity to beat Djordje Petrovic in the Chelsea goal.

Arguably the weakest (and yet very strong) link in Liverpool’s play on the evening, Nunez tried his luck a couple of times in the period that followed, even though he had arguably better options in Jota and/or Diaz. Throughout the course of the match, he managed to hit the woodwork four times, including a shot from the penalty spot in the first-half stoppage time.


Nothing changed after Jota broke the deadlock. Liverpool were still in full control of the proceedings, keeping the front line of the battle much closer to Chelsea’s goal than their own.

The second goal came as a direct result of the fluid movements of the three Liverpool attackers. Nunez pulled out to the left as Diaz dropped deep to pick up the ball, and Jota moved inside from the right, drawing both Chelsea left-back Ben Chilwell and centre-back Benoit Badiashile with him. Bradley made full use of the space that opened up on the right, and as Jota grappled with his markers, Diaz picked the 20-year-old out and he was off, breaking into the box before finding the far bottom corner with pin-point precision.

At halftime, Chelsea boss Mauricio Pochettino tried to shake things up. His team obviously needed something to spur them into action, and therefore, Conor Gallagher, Noni Madueke and Ben Chilwell made way for Nkunku, Mykhaylo Mudryk and Malo Gusto. The changes almost bore fruit five minutes into the second half as Gusto broke down the right and found Mudryk at the far post, but the Ukrainian winger couldn’t control his shot and it went far from the target.

But before it got a little bit better for the visitors, it got a lot worse. A trademark Virgil van Dijk diagonal found Bradley on the right flank and the youngster got away from Badiashile to whip in a sharp cross, met in the air by Szoboszlai who beat Axel Disasi and Thiago Silva for it and found the back of the net.

It seemed at that point the game was already over, but Chelsea finally responded six minutes later. It was Chukwuemeka who took the ball some 40 yards out and carried it away from Liverpool’s midfield, straight towards the box. He passed to Nkunku and continued his run, but the former RB Leipzig forward turned on the spot, somehow moved away from Mac Allister and Van Dijk and fired beneath the outstretched leg of Ibrahima Konate, straight into the bottom corner.

Nkunku’s goal definitely restored some hope for Pochettino’s men, and the period that followed saw the weight of the game swing unexpectedly in the other direction. Chelsea were suddenly holding the ball in Liverpool’s half for longer spells and looked far more likely to threaten the hosts than before, but no real chances came their way before Diaz delivered the final blow.

Mac Allister passed low towards Nunez, who beat Thiago Silva far too easily to get to it. Nunez then pulled out to the left again and with Disasi indecisive and Gusto slow to track back, he whipped it across the box. Badiashile looked rather careless as he allowed Diaz to get in front of him and poke home from six yards.

Conor Bradley

This was Bradley’s 14th career appearance for Liverpool, and the second game in a row where he had multiple goal contributions and received the Man of the Match award. Just to compare, Trent Alexander-Arnold, praised highly for his ability to contribute upfront, has managed only once to make multiple goal contributions in consecutive games, even though his cameo from the bench marked his 300th appearance for Jurgen Klopp’s team.

The recent calls for Klopp to move Alexander-Arnold into midfield permanently have picked up in light of Bradley’s emergence, with many believing Liverpool now have another quality player for the right flank. Bradley has certainly shown rare levels of maturity for his age, and there can be no doubt that he is ready to play at the highest level.

Plenty wrong at Chelsea

Chelsea went to Merseyside on the back of five wins, one draw and one (eventually meaningless) defeat from the last seven matches. It was a much needed boost for their rather maligned campaign. They cannot possibly hope to get involved in the title race and they’re hardly going to compete for Champions League qualification, but the remaining European competitions aren’t out of their reach – providing their form doesn’t deteriorate any further. But if this game was anything to go by, things aren’t looking good for Pochettino and his men.

Close to €250 million was spent on Enzo Fernandez and Moises Caicedo, players who were in turn expected to revitalize the Blues’ midfield section upon arrival, or at least make an impact and make the team capable of controlling games even against high-quality opponents.

This duo, along with Conor Gallagher, was completely outplayed in the middle of the park by Caicedo’s former teammate Alexis Mac Allister, Curtis Jones and Szoboszlai. It should be remembered that Jones is a product of the Liverpool academy, and that Mac Allister and Szoboszlai combined cost less than either of Caicedo and Fernandez on his own. To make things more difficult, both Caicedo and Fernandez picked up yellow cards within 35 minutes. But the midfield, though obviously a crucial part of the team that wasn’t working right, was the least of Pochettino’s problems at Anfield.

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Individual performances in the back line were extremely poor, and that’s putting it mildly. Disasi and Badiashile looked completely out of their depth against Liverpool’s fluent attacking trio, complemented by others in red shirts continuously darting forward. Thiago Silva, a veteran of many battles and a proven leader, simply couldn’t get them into shape, or lead by example as he himself is far from his best these days. Chilwell earned a booking in the first half as well and looked frustrated from that point on, and it was no surprise to see him substituted at halftime.

Upfront, Pochettino deployed two former Manchester City players in Raheem Sterling and Cole Palmer, as well as Noni Madueke, but none of them made any impact on the game. Madueke was barely seen, Sterling repeatedly tried and failed, and Palmer was chased far away from Liverpool’s goal far too often to be of any real help.

The trio of half-time replacements – Nkunku, Mudryk and Gusto – obviously improved the situation a little, but there is very little three decent performers can do in a game like this, without the rest of the team pitching in.

The only Chelsea player who gave a really good account of himself was goalkeeper Djordje Petrovic, currently standing in for the injured Robert Sanchez, despite conceding four goals.

Controversies

Liverpool fans will have groaned and moaned when Paul Tierney was appointed to take charge of this match; they, and Klopp himself, have had plenty of beef with the 43-year-old in the past. But truth be told, Tierney controlled the match perfectly this time, and what’s even more strange, several big “50-50” decisions went Liverpool’s way.

The first moment of controversy happened in the sixth minute already, as Sterling pulled away on the left and squared it for the incoming Gallagher. The latter broke into the box at full run, managed to get the ball past Van Dijk and went down, with the referee refusing to give a penalty. There was definite contact there and Tierney would’ve hardly made a mistake had he pointed to the spot; there wouldn’t really be any cause for the VAR to intervene, either way.

Liverpool’s penalty which Nunez wasted was, however, a certainty. It was a very clumsy move from Badiashile, who mistimed his actions and stamped on Jota’s foot.

But the moment that got Pochettino furious and even some among the neutrals questioning the call happened soon after Nkunku’s goal. The substitute forward was in the box again when Van Dijk caught his foot from behind. Why exactly Tierney stayed silent again only he knows, but it feels safe to assume he believed the contact to have been rather feeble, far too feeble for the theatrical reaction of Nkunku.

The Aftermath

Following this defeat, Chelsea are in 10th place with 31 points, 12 less than Tottenham Hotspur in fourth and Aston Villa in fifth, but only four less than West Ham in sixth, and with Newcastle, Brighton and Manchester United all in between on 32.

The Blues must do whatever it takes to win their upcoming matches against Wolverhampton Wanderers at home and away to Crystal Palace, though they have an FA Cup replay with Aston Villa in between. If they don’t, they’ll be facing downright desperation when they travel to Manchester to play City afterwards, and problems when they welcome Spurs after that. And then it’s the Carabao Cup final against – yes, Liverpool.

Speaking of Liverpool, it seems their players are doing whatever they can to see the departing manager off in good spirits, to give him some more memories to take with him when he leaves Anfield at the end of the season. The Reds have now won seven of their last eight matches in all competitions, sitting at the top of the table with a five-point advantage over Manchester City (though the defending champions have a game in hand), with a place in the Europa League round of 15, a place in the fifth round of the FA Cup, and as has been said, a place at Wembley’s turf for the Carabao Cup final.

Next, however, Klopp’s team faces Arsenal again, at the Emirates again, having beaten them at that venue in the 4th round of the FA Cup. There’s no doubt whatsoever that the Gunners will be gunning for revenge, as well as crucial points to help them keep up with Liverpool and City.

Liverpool also play Burnley at home and Brentford away, before going to Wembley.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Veselin Trajkovic


Vesko is a football writer that likes to observe the game for what it is, focusing on teams, players and their roles, formations, tactics, rather than stats. He follows the English Premier League closely, Liverpool FC in particular. His articles have been published on seven different football blogs.

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