Chelsea finally get one over Liverpool and the timing couldn’t be better.
The players were absolutely knackered by the end. Antonio Conte and Jurgen Klopp exchanged a brief handshake before going their separate ways. The battle was over and there was still hope that the war could be won. A hard-fought victory over a strong Liverpool side has brought Chelsea closer than ever to a top-four place.
It was exhilarating. It was frightening. It was edge of the seat stuff. Here are the talking points from the 1-0 win over the reds.
#1 Big Game Plan
This season Antonio Conte usually goes for his favoured 3-5-2 formation against the stronger teams. He stuck to his game plan against Liverpool too, with Olivier Giroud supported by Eden Hazard just behind him. The midfield three consisted of Fabregas, Kante and Bakayoko. The younger Frenchman has not had the greatest season since his big money move in the summer. Fabregas is having – statistically – one of his worst seasons as a professional. So it seemed to be all down to Kante to keep the engine running. Marcos Alonso returned after his suspension to take up the left wing-back spot. He had Rudiger for company on his side, while Cahill played in the centre of defence. Azpilicueta and Moses completed the defensive quintet. Chelsea have had trouble keeping clean sheets this season, so most of us expected the defence to be breached at least once by Liverpool’s fearsome attacking trio. Boy were we wrong.
#2 Freak On A Leash
Mohamed Salah has made huge strides since he was a scrawny youngster whose wild, wayward shots would end up closer to the corner flag than the opposition goal. Since moving to Liverpool from Italy, he has absolutely torn the league apart. He has a staggering 31 goals in the Premier League and 45 in all competitions. But against a resolute Chelsea defence, he failed to add to his tally. Cahill stuck to him like a moth clings to a light bulb, while Rudiger superbly marshalled him away from danger in tandem with Alonso. It was an immense performance from Antonio Rudiger, Salah’s former teammate at Roma. The German international used his pace to keep up with the Egyptan and his strength to keep him at arm’s length from the Chelsea goal. There will be the usual memes about Rudiger emptying his pockets later and putting Salah down on the table along with his keys and wallet. And they would be absolutely correct.
#3 From Monaco With Love
It took a while, but it’s finally here. The Tiemoue Bakayoko Chelsea ordered in the summer from Monaco chose the best time to turn up at Stamford Bridge. In one of the biggest games of the season, Bakayoko produced the greatest performance of his Chelsea career. No, really. He ticked all the footballing cliché boxes – got stuck in, kept it simple and made good forward runs. He fluffed a couple of chances but that’s not really his remit. After Matic decided to sod off, it’s about time Bakayoko took up the mantle of being a capable midfield partner for Kante.
#4 Merci Arsene
Arsene Wenger has often been charitable in his dealings with Chelsea, most notably on the occasion of his 1000th game in-charge of Arsenal. His parting gift to Chelsea was one Olivier Giroud, who moved across London to make way for Aubameyang. It has worked out pretty well for Giroud, who has gone from an impact sub to an impact starter. He continued his fine tradition of scoring against Liverpool, heading in a Moses cross which turned out to be the winner. It was a proper centre forward’s performance from him, which should be enough to get him a start in the FA Cup final. Oh, and a trip to Russia with the French national team.
#5 Somebody Stop Him
…even if it means tearing up his shirt. Eden Hazard can be quite a handful on his day. This was one of those days. A new shirt is a small price to pay for the anguish writ large on the faces of Liverpool defenders.
A few weeks ago, most of us had handed in the towel as far as finishing in the top four was concerned. The recent turnaround has been remarkable, leaving Chelsea just 2 points behind fourth-placed Spurs. Could it still happen? Keep your fingers (and toes) crossed! But first, let’s try and get the three points against Huddersfield on Wednesday.