Chelsea couldn’t produce a repeat of their 2014 title-derailing win at Anfield as a second-half burst from Liverpool saw Maurizio Sarri’s fall 2-0 in a pivotal result for the Premier League title and top four races.
Sadio Mane’s header early in the second half was followed moments later by a goal-of-the-season contender from Mohamed Salah and, after two uncharacteristic misses by Eden Hazard, the Reds regained the top spot they had lost 90 minutes earlier to Manchester City, while Chelsea’s grip on a top-four spot weakened.
The Blues have a two-point lead over fifth-place Manchester United, who have a game in hand, and a three-point gap to sixth-place Arsenal, who have played two fewer games than Chelsea.
Here’s a look at how Sarri’s side rated.
Kepa Arrizabalaga 6 – Made some notable saves but was caught out for Mane’s opener and could do nothing about Salah’s strike.
Cesar Azpilicueta 6 – Had his difficulties dealing with Mane.
Antonio Rudiger 5 – Resolute in the early stages but was unable to shake off an injury and was replaced before half-time.
David Luiz 6 – Made a vital block from Henderson and also did well to prevent a Salah breakaway.
Emerson 6 – Had been reading the game well until Liverpool twice raided his flank for goals in quick succession in the second half.
Jorginho 6 – Made some important challenges.
N’Golo Kante 7 – A typical high-energy performance in which the Frenchman covered a lot of ground.
Willian 7 – Made some dangerous runs and was a recurring threat on the break but he blasted a good chance wide.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek 6 – Was forceful through the middle but Van Dijk limited his impact.
Callum Hudson-Odoi 5 – Got into some good attacking positions early on but was unable to get into the game after that.
Eden Hazard 7 – Was effective in the deep-lying false nine position, dropping deep and surging forward but his luck was out on this occasion.
Eden Hazard: Has missed two clear-cut goalscoring chances in a Premier League match for the first time since December 2017 (vs Newcastle)— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) April 14, 2019
Full player statistics -- https://t.co/uLO9OOWM31 pic.twitter.com/AfvZcQVVIs
Andreas Christensen 5 – Was given some difficulties in the latter stages as Liverpool finished confidently.
Gonzalo Higuain 6 – Did not give Chelsea the extra attacking impetus they needed.
Ross Barkley 6 – Former Everton player was booed on entry and did not force his way into the game.
*Copy provided by Press Association Sport
Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah scored the goals soon after half-time to put Jurgen Klopp’s side in command, and though they endured a few nervy moments they ended with a win that could be the defining moment of the title race.
Here’s a look at how Klopp’s tactics won the game for Liverpool.
Goals – 2
Shots – 15
Shots on target – 7
Possession – 62%
Passing Accuracy – 86%
Key Passes – 13
Dribbles – 8
Klopp went with his usual 4-3-3, with no surprises in the starting XI. There looked to be a specific plan to deal with Eden Hazard, with Fabinho consistently tracking back to help his defence out against the Belgian, deployed initially as a false nine, but apart from that Klopp allowed Liverpool to play on the front foot.
His half-time team talk must have been special, as Liverpool upped the gears immediately to take a 2-0 lead within eight minutes of the break after the first half ended goalless.
TACTICAL TALKING POINT
Liverpool spring surprise with gameplan to dominate
The expected template for this game was that Liverpool, who enjoy playing on the counter, would have allowed Chelsea to dominate possession like they usually do under Maurizio Sarri, and looked for the opportunities to hit their opponents on the break.
Instead, Klopp’s side had 62% possession, and attempted over 200 more passes than Chelsea, playing the game completely on the front foot. Key to this was Fabinho, who had 26 more touches and attempted 35 more passes than counterpart Jorginho.
🔴Liverpool— Sky Sports Statto (@SkySportsStatto) April 14, 2019
✅ 38 home PL games unbeaten (W28 D10)
✅ Jurgen Klopp’s 112th win in 200th game as manager (all comps)
✅ 1st win v Chelsea at Anfield since May 2012
Klopp’s side played like title-winners, controlling the game, and raising the ante after a disappointing first half. They rode their luck – Eden Hazard had two gilt-edged chances soon after the Reds took a 2-0 lead, and had even one gone in, the nerves would have started to set in – but no one can say they didn’t deserve the victory.
This was the toughest fixture remaining in Liverpool’s run-in, not least because of the history of 2014. Liverpool passed the test. Over to you, Man City.
RATING – 9/10
After a first-half stalemate, Sadio Mane headed in a 51st minute opener from Jordan Henderson’s chipped cross.
Then, just 142 seconds later, came a moment to marvel as Salah collected a Virgil van Dijk pass on the left, cut inside and unleashed a 35-yard shot that rocketed into the top corner.
It was stunning, special.
But Chelsea’s own superstar Eden Hazard hit the post and was denied by Alisson as the Blues, unbeaten at Anfield since 2012, hit back.
Liverpool remained calm to seal the win that takes them two points clear of Manchester City who have a game in hand. Meanwhile, Chelsea stay fourth, but just three points clear of sixth-placed Arsenal who have two games in hand and two points clear of Manchester United in fifth who have one game in hand.
PATIENT AND KEEPING UP THE PRESSURE
In a bland first half, it looked as if Liverpool were more cautious in their approach.
The emphasis seemed to be on not losing and greater patience, especially in not committing too many men forward or taking risks.
Some might suggest it was nerves, fear perhaps, but there should have been no scars of that 2-0 home loss to Chelsea five years ago that cost them the title.
The only player starting on Sunday who will have painful memories of that day and that campaign was Jordan Henderson, who was suspended for that game.
But he led his side when needed with the charge and chip for Mane to head in the crucial opener.
With Fabinho deployed deep, Henderson has thrived in a more forward role and his incisive passing range and work-rate came to the fore.
But he was not alone in stepping up in a second-half display that secured victory and put the onus and pressure back on City. Alisson, particularly, made a crucial save from Hazard, that could have affected the outcome. But this was the sort of team performance that wins titles.
26 - This was Liverpool’s 26th Premier League victory of the season, equalling their record from the 2013-14 campaign under Brendan Rodgers. They last won more in a top-flight season in 1978-79 (30 wins). Inspired. #LIVCHE pic.twitter.com/l6MjGWJQp2— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) April 14, 2019
SPECIAL SALAH AND HAZARD TO GO HIGHER
A fan nearby cried ‘have a go, Mo’, when Salah picked up the ball 40 yards out in the first half.
It seemed incredulous to expect the Egyptian to fulfil those wishes with a shot. But such is the expectation, the anticipation when Salah gets the ball that anything is possible.
He showed that with his wonderful 35-yard strike for the second goal. Before that, he was busy, but perhaps a bit too over-elaborate on occasion.
In promising positions, he tries one too many tricks, takes one too many touches when he should look for support and the opportunity is wasted.
But perhaps it is in the DNA of every great player that they always look to produce something special.
In the opposing ranks was Hazard, equally gifted and again showing why Real Madrid want him.
The touch to collect a David Luiz long ball, and slip it past Alisson and against the post, was utterly sublime. Ghosting in behind defenders, twice he could have scored.
Hazard was again used as the centre forward, ploughing a frustrating lone furrow, but this man can really play anywhere.
When Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo eventually step aside at the top, Hazard and Salah will be in the frame as No1. They are destined to do, and achieve, much more.
HIGUAIN’S HOPES OF STAYING AT CHELSEA DIMINISH
It was refreshing to see the names of Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Callum Hudson-Odoi on the team sheet as starters.
They have deserved their chance, although this was a tough test for the young pair.
But the sight of Gonzalo Higuain on the bench was a reflection of where he stands with Maurizio Sarri amid an uncertain future.
In big games like this you call on your best players, irrespective of tactics. And if you choose to play Hudson-Odoi, a target man would generally play to the winger’s strengths in getting balls into the box. Hazard too plays better off a striker.
Sarri clearly does not have faith in Higuain, who looks unhappy and demotivated.
The Argentina striker came to Chelsea from Juventus with much hope and a view to turning a loan deal into a permanent one.
But the Premier League has history of shattering big-name reputations; Andriy Shevchenko particularly comes to mind after his struggles at Stamford Bridge following his impressive record with AC Milan.
With Sarri still under pressure and a top-four spot in jeopardy, Higuain needs to work much harder in the remaining games if he is to be at the club next season.