Thi­ago’s record start gives Liver­pool ex­tra edge to ex­ploit Chelsea blun­ders

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport - Ja­son Burt CHIEF FOOT­BALL CORRESPOND­ENT at Stam­ford Bridge

If there was any doubt about Liver­pool’s ap­petite to re­tain the Premier League ti­tle then it has al­ready been laid to rest. Hav­ing found a way to win against Leeds United last week­end they were handed a route to vic­tory by Chelsea, who ap­peared to im­plode un­der the pres­sure of be­ing po­ten­tial pre­tenders to the crown.

It was, though, Liver­pool’s de­ter­mi­na­tion and fe­roc­ity – summed up by two-goal Sa­dio Mane and Mo­hamed Salah – that forced Chelsea into blun­der­ing, al­though their

mis­takes were of their own fool­ish mak­ing and will be a worry to Frank Lam­pard, the man­ager, who has to quickly get this or­gan­ised.

There were 10 min­utes ei­ther side of half-time that ended any un­cer­tainty as to the re­sult, and surely also ended Kepa Ar­riz­a­bal­aga’s al­ready slen­der hopes of fight­ing off ex­pected new goal­keeper Edouard Mendy and keep­ing his place. Lam­pard has al­ready shown a ruth­less edge – An­to­nio Rudi­ger was left out of his squad – and the ev­i­dence was again over­whelm­ing that Kepa is des­tined for the bench, or even the exit.

Liver­pool’s only con­cern was the loss of cap­tain Jor­dan Hen­der­son, who suf­fered a tight­ness to a thigh mus­cle at half-time, but there was the boon of the seam­less in­tro­duc­tion of new sign­ing Thi­ago Al­can­tara to their mid­field, even if the Spain in­ter­na­tional will have been re­lieved that Alis­son saved a penalty he con­ceded. But, then, what a dif­fer­ence a good goal­keeper makes.

Nev­er­the­less, in 45 min­utes, Thi­ago com­pleted 75 passes – more than any Chelsea player over the whole game. All those passes were suc­cess­ful, and that is the most by any player in the Premier League for just half a game since the sta­tis­tics be­gan to be com­piled in 2003-04.

It helped, of course, that Thi­ago was play­ing against 10 men – af­ter An­dreas Chris­tensen’s dis­missal just be­fore half-time – and a fur­ther con­cern to Lam­pard will be how his team folded at the be­gin­ning of the sec­ond pe­riod when they needed to stay res­o­lute be­fore ral­ly­ing. By then, though, the game was over, as Mane claimed both goals with a preda­tor’s in­stinct and an in­de­fati­ga­ble de­sire.

For all of Chelsea’s spend­ing – and with Thi­ago Silva and Ben Chilwell not yet fit enough – once more it was their defensive is­sues that hurt them. Hen­der­son’s ball through to Mane was smart but Chris­tensen got him­self the wrong side of the for­ward, who is too quick not to cap­i­talise. Not for the first time Kepa mis­judged what was hap­pen­ing and rushed from goal – or maybe he would have got there first? – while un­de­ni­ably Chris­tensen pan­icked and hauled down Mane.

Some­what wor­ry­ingly, ref­eree Paul Tier­ney ini­tially only showed a yel­low card but up­graded it to a red af­ter be­ing urged by Michael Oliver, the video as­sis­tant ref­eree, to check on the pitch­side screen. It was cer­tainly a clear and ob­vi­ous er­ror and, as the dis­missal was con­firmed, a Liver­pool sub­sti­tute – or two – ap­peared to ap­plaud the de­ci­sion, only to be im­me­di­ately up­braided by Klopp. “Are you crazy – we never do that, OK?” he an­grily shouted.

Be­fore that, Kepa had been for­tu­nate to es­cape when he mis­judged a spin­ning ball af­ter Hen­der­son

charged down a clear­ance, with Salah beat­ing him to it and cross­ing low. Roberto Firmino met it and tried to turn it home with a deft flick, only for Chris­tensen to block on the goal-line.

Chelsea strug­gled against Liver­pool’s fe­ro­cious press­ing game. Hen­der­son bel­lowed “it’s got to be us” ev­ery time a team-mate closed down a Chelsea player, and Klopp screamed “yes” when it suc­ceeded. For ex­am­ple, as they hur­ried Kurt Zouma out­side his own penalty area, they forced the de­fender to pass the ball straight out of play.

Chelsea’s best mo­ments all cen­tred around Ma­teo Ko­vacic and Timo Werner, who was re­lent­less and con­tin­u­ally took the game to Liver­pool. He earned the penalty, as he ran across goal and was tripped by Thi­ago. Un­for­tu­nately for him,

Jorginho, nor­mally so re­li­able from the penalty spot, stepped up and – with that lit­tle skip of his – shot low only for Alis­son to dive and block. The re­bound was hacked away. Clev­erly, the goal­keeper had waited – read­ing Jorginho’s tech­nique.

Kai Havertz, an­other big sum­mer sign­ing, played through the mid­dle and was less ef­fec­tive. He was also sac­ri­ficed once Chris­tensen was dis­missed, with Fikayo To­mori, who did well, re­turn­ing from the wilder­ness for a first Chelsea out­ing since Fe­bru­ary, which is re­mark­able.

Once down to 10 men, Chelsea were pulled apart as Liver­pool sensed the op­por­tu­nity to quickly kill off the game. They penned their op­po­nents back and Chelsea could not cope with Firmino, af­ter com­bin­ing with Salah with a sharp “give and go”, cen­tring for Mane to shrewdly pull away from Reece James and glance a header across Kepa.

Chelsea had to re­group – they had to hold on – but in­stead they messed up. Kepa was stupidly ca­sual as he re­ceived the ball from To­mori and seemed obliv­i­ous to the fact that Mane was clos­ing him down as he tried to play a straight pass to Jorginho. Mane stuck out a leg, in­ter­cepted and swept the loose ball into the net.

Maybe, af­ter that, Liver­pool – with Fabinho out­stand­ing at cen­tre­back – were a lit­tle ca­sual them­selves. Fol­low­ing the penalty, Alis­son also re­acted sharply to turn away a crisp cross-shot from sub­sti­tute Tammy Abra­ham, be­fore Kepa de­nied Mane his hat-trick with a fine save. But it sim­ply did not mat­ter. The dam­age was done.

Ex­cel­lent de­but: Jur­gen Klopp em­braces Thi­ago Al­can­tara

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