LIVERPOOL in London for the third time this season already and for the third time they are clearly the better football team; for the second time they pick up the points, their superiority deserved.
It’s fast becoming a season where that looks like it will be the test. We won’t come out of many football matches this season feeling as though a side has outworked, outplayed or out-foxed Liverpool.
The Reds have played five games, clearly been the better side — however sternly Burnley defended — in all five but have only won three. Ten points from 5 games. A ratio that would almost certainly be good enough for top four but who wants to be good enough for top four when the game is afoot.
Rest assured the game is afoot.
The first-half performance from Liverpool was the inverse of the Arsenal explosion. This was the showing of a serious football team, dominating the ball and territory at Stamford Bridge; finding a way to demonstrate that dominance onto the scoreboard
Liverpool weren’t irresistible first half as they have been, especially against Leicester and Arsenal. Instead, they were irrevocable. First to every second ball — all balls were Liverpool balls. Their desire and positioning and certainty was in every tackle — hard. It was in every pass — hard.
Liverpool blammed the ball at each other, knowing it would be kept under control and Chelsea, full of quality grafters and battlers, found themselves grafting and battling past themselves just to hope to live with The Reds.
They couldn’t live with The Reds because The Reds weren’t being lived with. Tackle harder, pass it faster, position smarter. They couldn’t live with The Reds because The Reds know the game is afoot. You can see it in their eyes when they come to the support at the end of the game — it was there against Arsenal and there again against Chelsea.
It was even there against Burnley in the hurt and the pain. It’s there in the eyes of Jordan Henderson and Dejan Lovren and James Milner, a steely glint. A silvery glint. The Reds are serious, and leaving early this season isn’t going to be an option because even when they lose — and they will lose — this glint needs homage paying to it. They know what they are about and now we know and we are thankful for it. Liverpool are about something and this is the first thing that has to happen before anything can be achieved.
The second half was, in its own way, as pleasing at the first. Only the blemish of the conceded goal — when Liverpool must have had nine players on their backside in their own box by the end of it — detracts from the performance.
But even that allowed Liverpool to show greater resolve, even if they will show greater quality as the season develops. Chelsea didn’t get to pepper Simon Mignolet’s goal and what the Belgian had to do he did with a minimum of fuss. His compatriot had to make the world-class save from Divock Origi to keep his side in the game.
Liverpool instead finished the game minute by minute doing the sensible thing even, on occasion, in spite of their manager. At one point late on Lucas Leiva emptied into touch only to get a volley of abuse from Jürgen Klopp, who wanted him to play the ball up the pitch to feet. Lucas shrugged — “I’m playing here, mate, and these lads are shattered.”
Klopp demands perfection and he has to keep demanding it but seeing a senior pro take the 30-second option rather than the third-goal option was inherently pleasing in the circumstances.
The circumstances are that Chelsea are good. This is important to acknowledge because it emphasises how good a display and result Liverpool have managed — Chelsea are a good side full of gnarl and graft but they slightly lacked two things The Reds had: quick feet and quicker legs.
Even the normally impeccable Willian looked pedestrian at times in comparison to Lallana, Georginio Wijnaldum, Philippe Coutinho and Sadio Mane.
The framework of the players in those four positions interchanging with each other, with their deepest midfielder or their most advanced forward is what is making this Liverpool side tick both with and without the ball.
They pop up all together one second and then they have 60 yards between them the next. It made most sense when the most advanced forward was Daniel Sturridge, his movement very intelligent, him finding a way to function and flourish in this side. Origi toiled a little, but hopefully that is nothing that 90 minutes against Derby County at Pride Park on Tuesday can’t help with.
The performers most worthy of focus though were Henderson and Joel Matip. The latter looks like he has been playing for Liverpool for years and while he was poor for the Chelsea goal, the rest of his performance was so assured and he was totemic defending set pieces — a reminder that often all you need to have is the lad, or lads, most likely to win the header in the penalty area and good organisation.
Gerrard Houllier had Emile Heskey and Sami Hyypia at times; Rafa Benitez had Peter Crouch and Momo Sissoko. Both had Jamie Carragher organising and while it isn’t clear yet who is doing that for this Liverpool side, even set pieces seem ever so slightly less like things to be afraid of.
Henderson though. Whether or not he was man of the match, the game belonged to him. His curler brought about an explosion of emotion — the celebration almost as compelling as the finish — both on and off the pitch.
His performance had everything good about his game in spades and very little of the bad. The goal merely crowned it.
At the end of the game the manager walks him away from his teammates and the Liverpool end, arm around him for 15-20 seconds, talking, talking. Talking serious matters, I suspect. Remember this. Feel this. More of this. The manager telling him the game belonged to him, I suspect. Frame it and hang it above your mantlepiece and look at it every day, look at it twice on Saturdays, look at it three times on the days you have a bad game because it is football and bad games are inevitable.
The goal merely crowned it, crowned the performances that Henderson and Liverpool have been putting in — the performances that now tilt towards the serious business we want Liverpool to be engaged in.
No-one can ask anything more of their football team than that they are a serious proposition. Go and ask them, ask them up and down the country if Liverpool are a serious proposition. They will tell you and Antonio Conte did so before the game — Liverpool were the worst possible opponents for his side now. That’s what I want to hear. Liverpool are in town. Batten down the hatches and prepare for your toughest 90 minutes of the season because Liverpool are in town.
You know the game is afoot because you want it to be Tuesday and you want it to be Saturday and bring on your Manchester sides and you want the Derby and you want to play all these games day after day after day.
You want it all again — the day in London, the night in London; the moment when Henderson’s effort hits the net, looking down at that lower tier in rapture, an end without end; the moment in the 93rd minute when the offside flag goes up and you know then, you know then. And even then, being in the ground long after the final whistle to pay homage and to stick it to Chelsea.
To see the glint in the Liverpudlian eyes — the players, the coaching staff, the support. To see that glint.
Let’s go Liverpool. Don’t stop. Hull next. Let’s go.
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