As the final whistle sounded to confirm Liverpool’s first defeat of the season, fans quickly found consolation. The Reds clearly have bigger fish to fry, not least come Saturday when they will bid for revenge in a much more significant Premier League meeting.
Still, though, the match was lost in immensely frustrating fashion as Chelsea turned things around in the space of five minutes, with Emerson bundling home an equaliser to cancel out Daniel Sturridge’s opener before Eden Hazard scythed through the Reds defence and produced a magnificent strike to snatch victory.
Jurgen Klopp fielded a back five which was a call back to darker days. Nathaniel Clyne turned a characteristically decent performance in spite of his evident rustiness and Simon Mignolet was reasonably solid between the sticks, but the difference between the defensive unit on show here and the one which has so started so convincingly in the Premier League was pretty alarming.
Liverpool noticeably lacked the solid core Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez have provided and were far too weak in their efforts to prevent Chelsea’s goals. Alberto Moreno would have hoped to make a case for more regular minutes, but he managed only to widen the gulf between himself and Andrew Robertson as he exhibited the rashness which has plagued him throughout his Anfield career and was beaten repeatedly.
The man tasked with protecting that defence was new arrival Fabinho, finally handed a long-awaited start. At first, he was unable to do so satisfactorily and inadvertently justified Jurgen Klopp’s decision to ease him into action with immense caution. The Brazilian looked off the pace during the first half, and in the early phases of the second as he mistimed a number of challenges, but he began to look more comfortable in the final third of the contest, adjusting his position and using the ball well.
Another summer arrival, Naby Keita, seized his opportunity to impress. His role is certainly unique but he carried it out effectively, as the numbers prove. He could tick the boxes for defensive contribution – three tackles, one block – and offensive ambition – three shots on target, two key passes. It looked like enough to earn him the man of the match, but he allowed himself to be beaten too easily by Eden Hazard for the winner, so there remains work to do.
Nonetheless, this was his best performance in a Red shirt and a definite source of encouragement.
Liverpool were agonisingly wasteful at times, failing to punish a series of Chelsea mistakes. Sturridge may have got on the scoresheet courtesy of an acrobatic finish, but he was still the worst culprit after producing a contender for miss of the season when he shuffled round Willy Caballero yet missed an open goal.
The Englishman has three goals in six appearances this season, as many as he managed in 14 games before joining West Brom on loan last season. He is putting the ball in the back of the net, but still, his performance left a lot to be desired, as a mis-control and an apparent lack of desire saw a number of passes come his way then skid out of play.
Sadio Mane was the only member of the traditional front three selected from the off, and while he produced some good moments, he was unable to make much of an impact on the game. He had fewer touches than any of his side’s starters and was denied by Caballero when gifted a golden chance.
The man on the opposite flank, though, really did shine, and earns the man of the match for this one.
Xherdan Shaqiri’s display, only four days after a dazzling 45 minutes against Southampton, was the main positive in this defeat. Those at the ground pointed out that Klopp wasn’t particularly happy with the winger at times, urging him to get up the field and giving him the occasional dressing drown. Clearly, he expects a great deal from Shaqiri, but he could surely take heart from this performance.
Shaqiri has this air of genuine quality when he’s on the ball which makes him seem like a huge asset for this Liverpool squad. He is never reluctant to resort to tricks and flicks in his efforts to beat defenders and has a rare capacity to produce the spectacular, ensuring he always draws some excited gasps.
On this occasion, his efforts from distance sailed over the crossbar, but it seems very possible that on his next appearance he will have a crack from similar range and conjure up a potential goal of the season. That’s the kind of player he is.
Against Chelsea, he was a constant threat and a constant menace. In the first half, he relentlessly found space down the right-hand channel and threatened to torment the visitors’ backline with each charge forward.
Over the course of the season, his creativity will bear considerable fruit. Shaqiri came up with two key passes in this one (only Willian made more) and whipped in five crosses.
Klopp may have found reason to fume at the Swiss but concerns over his work-rate are quickly being dismissed. He pressed well as Liverpool sought to up the ante and, impressively, regained possession on four occasions. The signs are that he is enthusiastically buying into Klopp’s system, even if the German is clearly demanding more.
In summary, then, this game was not, as many would have hoped, an indicator of excellent squad depth. The solidity, both in defence and in midfield, and the game management which have been crucial to the team’s success elsewhere were largely absent. But it did serve as further evidence that snapping up Shaqiri for a cut-price £13million was a fantastic piece of business.
Liverpool have added versatility, creativity and further firepower to their attacking ranks for a relative snip, and they will reap the rewards of that this season, with rotation inevitably necessary. That goes down as a pretty good cause for optimism in the wake of the first blot on the 2018/19 copybook.