Football Features

“Klopp finds a way to win ugly” – Five things learned as Liverpool beat Chelsea to secure 15th straight win

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 18:48, 22 September 2019

On a cloudy night in London, Liverpool beat Chelsea 1-2 to extend their lead at the top of the Premier League table.

The Reds weren’t at their best but still had enough to secure the win at Stamford Bridge. What did we learn?

1. Firmino SZN

Roberto Firmino has played in all six Premier League games this season. In that time he has three goals and three assists, failing to trouble the stat-sheet on just one occasion against Arsenal. The Brazilian forward even bagged two assists in the Uefa Super Cup against Chelsea. He’s just an absolutely ridiculous talent, but one that has had to share the spotlight in the last two years.

First in 2017/18 it was Mohamed Salah that stole the headlines. Then in 2018/19 it was Sadio Mané’s turn. These players rightfully drew plaudits but Firmino was always a huge part of their success with his selfless play and intelligent passing (like his backheel assist for Salah last week). Well at Stamford Bridge it was Firmino who stood tall to make the biggest contribution.

Tall is the operative word. For a player with such a deft touch and a glorious ability to improvise with precision technique and unnerving skill as a false nine, Firmino is also just really good at that plain ol’ “nine” thing as he showed today with his delightful header to make it 0-2.

He’s not a goalscorer in the mould of Harry Kane or Sergio Aguero, but in terms of overall contribution to their team Firmino is easily their equal if not their superior.

2. N’Golo CANté

It’s been harsh on Frank Lampard to have to negotiate the start to his first Premier League season mostly without his best player. N’Golo Kanté has had injury problems all season long which has limited his impact. But as he showed against Liverpool themselves in the Uefa Super Cup, he is a dream midfielder who can work wonders in big games.

Again Kanté was incredible against Liverpool and incredible in a big game. The Frenchman regained possession 11 times, more than any other player on the pitch.

And more than that, he never stopped running, never stopped making Liverpool work and work to hold onto their advantage (one covering run where he tracked and dispossessed Salah was just spectacular). Then finally he scored a truly spectacular goal, driving at the heart of the Reds’ defence before curling a shot beautifully past Adrian.

3. Offside doesn’t work in the age of VAR

Another game, another precision offside decision to make the blood boil (well, unless you’re a Liverpool fan, of course). Chelsea had levelled things against the Reds.

It was a huge equaliser that involved a fair deal of calamitous defending from Liverpool. The confidence boost Chelsea would have gotten would only be equalled by the doubts that would have crept into the Reds’ defenders heads. It would have changed the game in more ways than just the scoreline.

But it was ruled out because Mason Mount’s foot (or knee) was offside much earlier in the move. And not even offside in a way that it was clear Mount was making an early run behind a high defence. Mount just happened to be offside; there was no advantage gained and he certainly wasn’t seeking one out by the way he was standing.

So to rule him offside was utterly ludicrous and completely against the spirit of the law – which exists to prevent attacking teams from gaining an unfair advantage.

Of course, it was also objectively correct. By the letter of the law, Mount was offside. And herein lies the problem: the way the offside rule exists in its current form is incompatible with the way that VAR allows for precision decisions about things that used to be judgement calls based on the human eye alone. The offside law needs to be changed to avoid this kind of nonsense from happening again.

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4. Chelsea trending upwards

Unlike their main rivals for that top four spot, Manchester United and Spurs, Chelsea are trending upwards. Yes, they lost 1-2 at home and that’s never good. But they limited Liverpool to two set-piece strikes and their second half was spectacular in terms of pushing the Reds back towards their own goal and putting genuine fear into Jurgen Klopp.

The German coach subbed off both his star wing-forwards Salah and Mané, bringing on Joe Gomez and James Milner to help shore up their defence. That Chelsea pushed him into doing that, and created two gilt-edged chances (for Michy Batshuayi and Mount) against this Liverpool defence indicates that, yes, Chelsea lost but they’re very much a side heading in the right direction.

5. Liverpool are away!

Prior to the Stamford Bridge victory, Liverpool had won just one of their previous 12 trips away to fellow ‘big six’ opponents. That run stretched back a long, long while. The solitary victory was away to Spurs last season, and given it was at Wembley, there was little in the way of tangible home advantage to contend with.

The Reds had drawn six of those games, losing five, so it’s not like they were just taking a point and being happy. They were struggling to impose themselves on the very best teams in England on the road. Hell, even today at Stamford Bridge they didn’t really dominate.

They didn’t rock up to Chelsea’s back yard and hammer them into submission. But what they did was almost as impressive and much more efficient.

Playing a blinding game can be exhausting, putting all that effort in to be magnificent looks nice and can generate a real buzz and help your goal difference but you still only get three points for a win. So what Liverpool did at the Bridge, and indeed what they’ve been doing for a while now – which is why their record is so weird, is trying to win whilst simply holding their opponents at arm’s length.

Not play brilliantly or anything, but play within themselves. Defend solidly, give nothing away, then show enough quality in attack to produce two or three great moments to win the match. It has proven to be a spectacularly effective strategy (with Liverpool winning five out of five matches coming into this game) but is part of why they had struggled away to the ‘big six’ because it’s very hard to play within yourself away against really good sides. All that happens is you hand them momentum and then they beat you.

But today, Liverpool seemed to figure it out. They defended solidly (and Klopp made two incredibly defensive substitutions to help close the game out), and chose their moments in attack. Scoring twice with two set-pieces, the second of which was perfectly timed to come just minutes after Chelsea had a goal disallowed by VAR.

The Reds are once more five points clear of Manchester City at the top of the table and have now won 15 Premier League games in a row, just three away from the record set by Manchester City last season. What’s more, they appear to have found a way to win ugly against the ‘big six’ – and that’s bad news for everyone else!