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17 September 2016

Liverpool bully Chelsea at Stamford Bridge

lipoolAntonio Conte had not lost any of his previous 30 home league matches as a manager, but he had not met the might of Jurgen Klopp’s menacing Liverpool in attack. 

On Friday night at Stamford Bridge, the division’s top-scoring side shredded his impressive unbeaten record in a first-half show of sheer superiority, securing a 2-1 victory.

 

The blockbuster fixture ended on tense terms, but the Blues were second best, forced to chase the game after being floored early on. 

Klopp, having celebrated his first Premier League triumph at the ground last October, was dishing out hugs and high fives at the final whistle here again.

It was only the second time in 40 years that the Reds have managed back-to-back wins at the Bridge in the top-flight; another result to signal they are serious about being contenders this season.

Chelsea were merely witnesses to Liverpool’s enterprising play in the opening half-hour, the visitors implementing their fast, fluid and furious approach. They set up camp in their opponents’ half, patiently and confidently knocking the ball around in search of a weakness to expose. 

On 17 minutes, Liverpool created their opener after catching Chelsea cold by quickly taking a free-kick short. With Conte’s men ball-watching, four of them marking nothing but air in the area, the Reds lined up at the back post.

Dejan Lovren checked his run and ordered Philippe Coutinho, making his 150th appearance for the club, to deliver the ball in his direction. The Brazilian obliged with a wonderful cross, which the centre-back duly volleyed in.

The breakthrough did not jolt Chelsea, who were too passive and ponderous. And so Liverpool continued to dominate and dictate the game, extending their advantage through an unstoppable beauty from Jordan Henderson.

More pressure from the Reds was poorly cleared by Gary Cahill, the ball falling to the England international. He took a touch, while sizing up the distance and calculating his shot placement.Thibaut Courtois, at full stretch, could only watch as the 30-yarder nestled into the very top corner.

The strike rose Klopp from his seat, over the board at the dugout entry and into a series of fist-pumps. Marko Grujic, the 20-year-old Serbian midfielder recruited from Red Star Belgrade could not shake the shock from his face – the hit left him speechless and it silenced the home support at Stamford Bridge too.

Liverpool, the highest-scoring team in the league, were dispossessed of Roberto Firmino’s talents for the encounter, but that provided no consolation to Chelsea in the first half.

The Brazilian, luminary in the 4-1 victory over Leicester, picked up a minor groin problem and was not risked in the capital. But such is Klopp’s wealth in attack, he could still field a front three of Daniel Sturridge, Coutinho and Sadio Mane to slice Chelsea apart.

The second half was inevitably going to see a bolder approach from Conte’s men and right after a sequence of play which had Liverpool engaging in quick, slick, one-touch football, the Blues went up the other end of the pitch and profited.

Diego Costa, anonymous until then, had them level on 61 minutes. Nemanja Matic was allowed to foray forward with Klopp’s side too poor and passive in defence, and the striker stabbed home his cut-back at the near post. 

Liverpool, for all their superiority, were suddenly shaken. Having had their hands around Chelsea’s throats, they were now feeling the squeeze too. 

The Reds are unmatched going forward in the league under Klopp, but it is their game management and control which still needs some refining. 

They had opportunities to counter as Chelsea’s plan required more risk, but the final pass let them down.

Courtois made a strong save from a Divock Origi header with 81 minutes on the clock, and despite Chelsea trying to force matters at the end, Liverpool had done more than enough in the beginning.

They are unbeaten in three visits to the capital; defeating Arsenal before being the better side in a 1-1 draw at Tottenham and then ruining Conte’s long-held record.

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