A brace from Sadio Mané saw Liverpool continue their winning start to their title defence with a 2-0 win over 10 man Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
The Reds, who handed a debut to Thiago off the bench, were comfortable throughout — despite conceding a penalty which Alisson saved — and Andreas Christensen’s red card, for an utterly stupid foul on Mané, paved their path to a win.
From the get-go it was clear that the hosts game plan was to stymie the Reds attack and keep men behind the ball.
Nothing of note happened in the first half-hour of the game, with Liverpool monopolising possession of the ball in front of a packed and passive Blues defence.
The closest we came to a goal was when a fortuitous ricochet saw Mohamed Salah outsprint Kepa near the right-hand touchline. The Egyptian crossed towards the unguarded goal but Roberto Firmino’s attempts to get to the ball were cleared by Christensen.
Pre-game knocks to Joel Matip and Joe Gomez saw Fabinho deputise at centre half and the Brazilian coped admirably with the infrequent attacks of Chelsea — usually consisting of a clipped ball behind for Timo Werner — with the visitors rarely looking threatened in a half that blew into action just as it was about to end.
Jordan Henderson’s sublimely executed knuckleball pass sent Mané hurtling behind the hosts defensive line and towards Kepa, who was haring off his line. Christensen, though, with a tackle straight from the Rugby textbook, wrestled the Senegalese international to the floor. After consulting V.A.R., the referee had little option but to brandish the red card.
Chelsea saw it through to half time without conceding, but it was clear that a hard task had become much more difficult.
It didn’t take for the Reds — who introduced Thiago after Henderson complained about tightness in his thigh — to make their man advantage count after the interval.
After a second phase from a set-piece, Firmino played a give and go with Trent Alexander Arnold before clipping a sumptuous cross into the six-yard box for Mané — who managed to generate a brilliant amount of power on the ball — to nod home into the left corner with aplomb.
The Reds’ number 10 was at it again four minutes later, scoring a goal borne out of work rate and desire.
Having initially misplaced a pass to Georginio Wijnaldum, a visibly frustrated Mané kept running and managed to charge down Kepa’s attempted clearance. Controlling the ball, the 28-year-old then fired past the hapless Spaniard to double Liverpool’s lead.
The game was effectively over as a contest but Chelsea — especially Werner — kept plugging away and the German — so long linked to the English Champions — earned Frank Lampard’s team a penalty when he was upended in the box by Thiago.
The contact was minimal and the decision could charitably be described as soft, so there was a sense of justice when Alisson — whose form hasn’t been its usual level of brilliant of late — managed to save Jorginho’s meek penalty and preserve Liverpool’s clean sheet.
With an energy-sapping season ahead of them, the defending champions were more than happy to manage the remainder of the game and save as much energy as possible.
With Thiago prominent, the Reds were content to recycle possession and take the sting out of proceedings with Tammy Abraham’s shot — which Alisson excellently parried — the only instance of panic in the remainder of a game which petered out thanks to Liverpool’s mature game management.
Tougher games against 11 men will lie ahead, but Jurgen Klopp can take great encouragement from the win, the clean sheet and the adaptation to centre half of Fabinho in one of the most difficult away days in the league.
Liverpool Team: Alisson; Alexander Arnold, Fabinho, van Dijk, Robertson; Henderson, Keita, Wijnaldum; Salah, Firmino, Mané.
Substitutes: Milner for Keïta, Thiago for Henderson, Minamino for Firmino.
Unused Subs: Adrian, Williams, Tsimikas, Origi, Jones.