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