A stunning second half performance – propelled by a Mohamed Salah rocket – saw Liverpool run over Chelsea with a 2-0 win at Anfield overnight on Monday.
In what has been an emotional week for the club after the passing of club legend Tommy Smith and the 30th anniversary of Hillsborough, the Reds let their emotion out on the pitch and in the stands.
Liverpool began in typically rapid fashion with the backing of the fans, with Mohamed Salah volleying into the midriff of Kepa Arizzabalaga within minutes of kick-off. Sadio Mane had a chance just before the break when he just failed to get enough whip on a shot from a cut back that slammed into the stanchion behind the goal.
Shortly after the restart the Kop had lift-off when Jordan Henderson stood the ball up to the back post for a wide open Mane to thump into the net with his head. Anfield was rocking, and just minutes later it was shell shocked when Mohamed Salah cut inside from the right wing and unleashed an absolute worldie into the top left corner.
It was then that Maurizio Sarri thrust on Gonzalo Higuain allowing Eden Hazard the freedom of the left wing, and the Belgian hit the post and picked out Alisson one-on-one within minutes of each other to remind the hosts that there was still a game on.
It was not enough for the Blues, though, as the hosts soon regained control and brought the game back on their terms, claiming a massive victory.
The number 30 could mean two different things in this context, as it has been that long and some since Liverpool last lifted a league title, but it is these times when football takes a back seat.
Thirty years ago, 96 men, women and children went to Hillsborough stadium in Sheffield to watch Liverpool play Nottingham Forest in an FA Cup semi-final. They never made it home.
In the impending three decades, families of the deceased and bereaved have been cruelly left without justice, and the search is still going with criminal trials. Both sets of fans impeccably observed a minute’s silence before kick-off, with the Kop and the Sir Kenny Dalglish Stand displaying moving mosaics during.
This fixture, the weekend of the anniversary, always means more for Liverpool Football Club. The football goes to the backs of minds and it is about playing for the 96 and honouring them and their families.
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) April 15, 2019
Salah drought-stricken no more
The past week of football for Liverpool’s Egyptian King has been as much about playing football as it has about sending a metaphoric middle finger to all those who have doubted him this season.
Salah was incredible in this game, from his first chance early on to some of his dazzling footwork on the right-hand side, to his fantastic defensive urgency and of course, his absolutely screaming goal.
Picking up the ball on the byline, Salah waltzed passed Emerson as if he was not there and simply put his laces through the centre of the ball and sent it flying into the top left corner of the net before Kepa knew what had happened.
Back to back Premier League games with a goal and renewed confidence and cutting edge have Salah peaking in confidence right at the perfect time for Jurgen Klopp, who now have four games to create something special.
Hazard is not a striker
While Sarri is far more qualified to be making such tactical decisions, it is surely clear that Hazard is nowhere near his best playing through the middle, and the five minutes after Liverpool’s second goal all but prove it.
When Higuain was introduced he changed the game, not by himself but by enabling Hazard to flourish in his preferred left-wing position.
The Argentine hardly touched the ball and when he did he failed to really do much with it but he made his impact felt through Hazard getting at Trent Alexander-Arnold and taking the initiative again.
Had Sarri have started with that line-up, who knows what might have happened with Higuain occupying Joel Matip and Virgil van Dijk and Hazard being free to drift across the pitch and cause havoc. Chelsea’s No.10 very nearly brought his side back into the game purely off his own boot in a sudden shift in momentum, but it turned out to be too little too late for the visitors.
Testing times ahead for Chelsea
Chelsea have not missed the Champions League two years in a row since the turn of the century, but are at risk of letting that happen now. At the time of writing, Chelsea occupy the fourth position in the league, but are two points ahead of Manchester United and three on top of Arsenal who have one and two games in hand on the Blues respectively.
Chelsea will also travel to Old Trafford in two weeks’ time in a game that could define their season, either all but resigning them to the Europa League or cementing their top four status. Regardless of top four or not, a club with Chelsea’s storied success is not aiming to finish fourth, it is aiming to challenge at the top and they will need reinforcements to do so.
The only problem with that is that they are banned from making transfers next season, which will prove a bitter blow to their hopes of shooting up the table. Christian Pulisic will come in from Borussia Dortmund after his move was confirmed in January, but aside from that the only ‘new’ acquisitions Sarri will be able to call upon will be the likes of Tammy Abraham and Mason Mount returning from loan spells.
Since the departure of Didier Drogba, Chelsea have really struggled to find their new, dependable out and out no.9 that can guarantee them 15 plus goals a season over a sustained period of time.
Diego Costa was instrumental in two title-winning seasons for the Blues but lacked the longevity. The list of disappointments could be endless; Fernando Torres, Demba Ba, Samuel Eto’o, Alexandre Pato, Radamel Falcao, Michy Batshuayi, Alvaro Morata and now Higuain. Their inability to dip into the market and find another striker could prove costly to the Blues. Perhaps it is time to give their youth a chance.
Banishing the demons
Five years ago almost to the day, Chelsea ripped the Premier League trophy from Liverpool’s grasp when Steven Gerrard slipped and presented Ba with an opening goal.
The mentality of Klopp and the players was one of carelessness in regards to that day, and one of focus and determination for the events of today. Liverpool simply stepped out onto the Anfield turf and played football, in the moment, the only way they know how and they did it to perfection.
Four games remain for the Reds and separate them from potential immortality, and in this form, who says they cannot go and do it?