Football Features

“Bossed and bullied” – Chelsea’s 100% duel-master duo exposes the difference between Liverpool and Manchester City

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 19:43, 2 January 2022

It was a breathless afternoon of football as Chelsea and Liverpool played out a 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge.

But while Liverpool came away with a point at Stamford Bridge, it really should have been a win as two wondergoals from Sadio Mané and Mohamed Salah gave the Reds a commanding 0-2 lead by the half-hour mark.

But Chelsea fought back and through goals from Mateo Kovacic and Christian Pulisic, pulled it back to 2-2 just before half-time. The game ended that way, meaning the big beneficiaries of the day’s play were Manchester City, a side who are now 10 points clear at the top of the Premier League and of whom Graeme Souness said: “Man City have the strongest group of players in the history of English football.”

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So why and how did Liverpool give up such a massive lead? Well, it was down to their midfield. What used to be such an unheralded unit in Liverpool’s trophy-winning sides, it turns out, had a very important role. A fully fit Fabinho, a fully fit Jordan Henderson and Gini Wijnaldum would have suffocated Chelsea in the middle, bored the life out of everyone, and given the Reds a huge win.

Liverpool’s midfielders were so meek in the face of the Chelsea pressure. “That’s why Liverpool won’t win the league,” said Jamie Carragher during Sky Sports coverage, “what Liverpool are lacking now that they had in their title-winning season is their control over games.

“Fabinho, Jordan Henderson and James Milner were not at the races today,” Graeme Souness added. “They were bossed and bullied by Chelsea’s midfield […] I think Liverpool’s midfield were exposed today by Chelsea’s midfield being first to the ball.”

Mateo Kovacic of course scored a sensational strike to pull Chelsea back into it and their equaliser was set-up quite beautifully by N’Golo Kanté, but the goals were just the icing on the cake. The actual cake was their relentless pressure, energy and dominance in the middle.

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N’Golo Kanté has been suffering with injury and ill health this season due to Covid and such, but today he was at his roaring and relentless best. Defensively he didn’t put that many tackles in as expected, but he carried the ball superbly with 3/3 take-ons completed.

Kanté also created a game-high 3 chances, including the assist to Pulisic which wasn’t even his best pass. That came when he cut the Liverpool defence in half with a beautiful ball to find Marcos Alonso who, if he had crossed the ball, could have won the game for Chelsea.

Kovacic, meanwhile, was an absolute animal. He had a game-high 105 touches, completed 61/76 passes, won 4/4 take-ons as he blew by Liverpool’s midfielders. And when the Reds tried to get at the Chelsea defence they couldn’t do it because Kovacic threw a massive 6 tackles their way to present a brutal barrier for the Reds.

The game ended 2-2. “Five times now they’ve taken the lead but haven’t won the game, and that’s the difference between Liverpool and Manchester City,” said Jamie Carragher post-match.

That is not the kind of record that a team chasing the colossus of consistency Manchester City needs to be setting. Chelsea, meanwhile, neeed to hope that their defence can survive Edouard Mendy’s trip to the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations and that their magnificent midfield can keep providing the goals while the Blues work out their issues with Romelu Lukaku.