Nerves? What nerves?
Liverpool delivered the latest statement that they refuse to bow down in the ongoing title race. Watching Manchester City coast to another comfortable win despite many suggesting Crystal Palace could be a potential bogey fixture, the pressure was on Jurgen Klopp’s side to respond.
And so they did, emphatically dispatching Chelsea 2-0 to rid of the cobwebs left from 2013/14 and usurp their title rivals right back to top spot.
Here are the observations from the match.
Jordan Henderson impresses again
After a tight first-half in which Liverpool dominated possession but struggled to carve open too many testing chances on Kepa’s goal, an effervescent second-half display would hand the Reds the vital breakthrough. The talisman? One Jordan Henderson.
The skipper has enjoyed somewhat of a renaissance since being offered the licence to roam forward in a No.8 role, affecting the play higher up the pitch and offering valuable support to the front-three just as he did five years ago. This was no different; galvanising the team with another captain’s performance in which his drive and determination were very much the catalyst for Liverpool’s second-half display, he made another telling contribution to the title charge.
Picking up possession inside the Chelsea box, he stood up a cross to the back post, leaving Sadio Mane with the easy task of nodding home from close range. Perhaps only bettered by another emphatic celebration in which he celebrated the assist like he’d scored the goal himself, Henderson continues to prove just how important he is to this team. The best player in the squad no, but you can see just what it means to him. Wearing his heart on his sleeve, his ability to fire up the team is invaluable.
Mohamed Salah produces a defiant response
Scoring a multitude of goals since his arrival on Merseyside, this may just have been Salah’s best and most important. Sending a killer blow to both Maurizio Sarri and Pep Guardiola, the Egyptian bagged his nineteenth of the season with a stunning 30-yard-strike that left Kepa watching on aghast. Where there was no celebration when netting against his former-side previously, Salah didn’t hold back here, delivering a defiant and fitting response in a week where he’s been the target of some abhorrent abuse. His football certainly did the talking.
Fabinho proves his worth
Having taken time to work his way into Klopp’s side, Fabinho has become a pivotal cog to Liverpool’s system over the last few months, showing a brilliant understanding and reading of the game to produce timely interceptions and set the team back onto the front foot. While the plaudits will rightfully be lapped up by Salah such was the quality of his goal, the Brazilian’s work certainly won’t have gone unnoticed.
He was anywhere and everywhere, breaking up play on the occasions Chelsea threatened to counter-attack with perfectly timed tackles before recycling possession to keep The Reds probing. Eden Hazard certainly felt his presence, having been left in a heap on the floor on several occasions inside the first-half while the second forty-five was reflective of how important Fabinho’s influence can be in the final third.
Mature man management from Klopp
For all their dominance, there was a period of play that threatened to derail Liverpool’s title charge. Having gone 2-0 up, Chelsea responded well, with Eden Hazard hitting the post before being denied by a point-blank save from Alisson. The visitors showed visibly more intent for a ten-fifteen minute spell and were very much in the ascendency before a smart substitution from Klopp stemmed the tide.
The German has received ample criticism this season for his use, or lack of, substitutes at pivotal moments in games, but few could have any complaints with his decision to bring on Georginio Wijnaldum. As good as Naby Keita is going forward, the Dutchman offers much more off-the-ball and has been instrumental to Liverpool’s midfield throughout the campaign, with his introduction helping to re-establish some control to the game. James Milner’s later introduction would only help that further, reflecting the growth in maturity instilled by Klopp this season.
Banishing the pain 0f 2013/14
The pre-match build up had only focused on one thing – 2013/14. That game, that slip, that God-awful corner.
Yet, Liverpool banished the painful memories of years gone by, putting to bed their horrendous home record against Chelsea and passing their biggest test of the run in. An emphatic result and display, it served as a reminder of the team’s qualities and the ‘never-say-die’ attitude that sees them return to the top of the Premier League table with only a handful of games left to play. Perhaps more crucially, it ensured that the pressure is very much on Manchester City; Liverpool’s next two games see them travel to relegation-threatened Cardiff before hosting Huddersfield at Anfield while Guardiola’s side must navigate far more dangerous fixtures against Tottenham and Manchester United, knowing anything less than maximum points will gift Klopp the advantage.