In an end-to-end contest, Liverpool beat Chelsea 2-0 at Anfield.
The win puts the Reds top of the league in Jurgen Klopp’s 200th game in charge of the club. What did we learn?
1. Mohamed Salah blasts back
“Salah is a bomber!” was the chant a selection of Chelsea fans belted out in Prague this week, in yet another example of members of the Blues faithful racially abusing an opponent (after Raheem Sterling was abused at the Bridge earlier in the season) albeit this racism came with a side order of Islamophobia. It wasn’t nice, and bans were issued, but it hung in the air.
You can’t get rid of the stench of racism like B.O.; there’s no anti-racist Febreze. That stuff lingers.
And so when the Muslim Sadio Mané rose to head Liverpool into a second-half lead, it felt redemptive in a way that it absolutely wasn’t. Mané probably wasn’t thinking about Islamophobia, he was trying to win Liverpool the title.
Liverpool are only the second team in Premier League history to go the equivalent of an entire season unbeaten at home.
Fortress Anfield stands tall. 🏰 pic.twitter.com/eNXfIMZ8w7
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) April 14, 2019
Similarly, Salah more than likely had already moved on from the abuse he heard. Not that he would have forgotten, you never forget racism or abuse aimed at your religion, but he would be so used to it that if he really wanted to help Liverpool win the title he would have to (and this is a horrifically dystopian statement) block it out and just get on with things.
Which, to be fair, he did. Salah cooked every defender Chelsea threw his way and was a threat from start to finish. He performed so well that when he lined up and thumped an absolute rocket off his foot straight into the back of the net, doubling Liverpool’s lead and giving the Reds a huge advantage, he knew he’d done what he had to do.
And then, job done, he probably afforded himself a little smirk with Mané, knowing that between them they blasted Chelsea off the park.
2. Eden Hazard at false nine is so fetch
Chelsea managers repeatedly toy with the idea of moving Eden Hazard to false nine. And they usually do it in big games, too. It’s this persistent idea that no one wants to give up on even though it clearly doesn’t work.
Sure, you can see the logic: Hazard is a miracle dribbler and free-roaming forward who hates to stick to one position and doesn’t like to track back defensively. So putting him in a central role allows him to both wander everywhere and also not have to track full-backs.
Longest unbeaten Premier League runs at home in the competition’s history:
🔵Chelsea: 86 games (March 2004 to October 2008)
🔴 Liverpool: 38 games (April 2017 to TBD)
Somehow not even halfway to beating the current record. pic.twitter.com/0TxL0pXUea
— Coral (@Coral) April 14, 2019
But here’s the thing: false nines need to be able to play with their back to goal, or they need a passing midfield so magnificent and dominant that they can just become one of them and use the wingers as forwards.
Well, Hazard can’t play with his back to goal and Chelsea’s midfield is… alright. So when he plays there he doesn’t work.
This was most spectacularly shown at Anfield as the Belgian was a mostly perfunctory figure as a false nine but the second he moved out to left-wing he had two glorious chances within the space of five minutes. They were supreme bits of movement in from the left and he should have scored both. Hazard is a winger. Stop trying to make him happen at false nine, it is never going to happen!
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3. Jordan Henderson the ignition switch
Jordan Henderson was an average “no. 6” for England and Liverpool. Well, average is harsh but he was a player of great contrasts. A superb passer who could fling the ball forward quickly but an average defender who was routinely exposed by smart, savvy attackers.
A month or so ago, Henderson allegedly asked Klopp to play further forward. Klopp has obliged and now Henderson plays as a “no. 8”, AKA a box-to-box midfielder. This has had a transformative effect on not just him but Liverpool as a side.
Jordan Henderson's game by numbers vs. Chelsea:
84% pass accuracy
2 fouls won
2 chances created
Liverpool's marathon man. 🏃♂️ pic.twitter.com/cBiikErrr2
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) April 14, 2019
With Henderson as an eight, the Reds benefit hugely from an energetic and dynamic player who a willing tackler but has a real serenity with the ball at his feet.
Henderson can score goals (as he did against Southampton) but he’s mostly an incredible creator. It was Henderson’s forward run and wonderfully stood-up cross that broke the game open and gave Liverpool the lead. Henderson has become Klopp’s ignition switch, bursting Liverpool attacks and matches to life.
4. Chelsea are in for a slog
Chelsea were in a superb position to claim the fourth Champions League place, but their form has tailed off and seen them fall down the table. Now the future isn’t in their own hands as both Arsenal and Manchester United could go ahead of them if they win their games in hand.
The Blues now face, in addition to their Europa League commitments, tricky home ties against stubborn Burnley and Watford, and then tricky away trips to Manchester United and Leicester City.
— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) April 14, 2019
Their attempts to grab control of their own top-four fate lie with four games that will be something of a slog. Any sort of result against Liverpool would have been a huge boost.
5. Liverpool and Yo-Yo-ball
After the Reds took a 2-0 lead, Chelsea instantly took control. This is a continued problem of Liverpool’s under Klopp; they have issues controlling games. The departure of Philippe Coutinho has exacerbated the issue, which the miraculous hurricane football made up for last season.
But in 2018/19, with Liverpool playing a more measured game, it’s always threatening to become an issue.
It hasn’t become one yet, mainly because the possession sides they’ve faced so far have either been disjointed (Chelsea and Bayern) or so petrified of getting rinsed on the break that they themselves have played conservatively (Man City).
But the fact that Liverpool only seem truly happen when the game is going up and down the pitch like a yo-yo is worrying.
It probably won’t be an issue in the Premier League any more, but remember that Liverpool are a side with Champions League ambitions and Barcelona could face them in the semi-final and will have no compunction taking full advantage of Liverpool’s inability to control games.
Beyond them, any one of the possible final opponents would do something similar (City have been previously afraid, but in a final it would be different). Let’s see how Klopp adjusts his side to balance out their yo-yo issue.