SEPTEMBER 17, 2016 – Liverpool continued to gather impressive momentum in the Premier League as they inflicted Antonio Conte’s first loss as Chelsea manager with a deserved victory at Stamford Bridge to move into the top four.
Reds boss Jurgen Klopp was a winner at Stamford Bridge last season – and this was three points Liverpool fully merited to add to a triumph at Arsenal on the opening weekend of the season and a draw at Tottenham.
Liverpool were keen to build on the 4-1 thrashing of champions Leicester City at Anfield last weekend and they over-ran Chelsea to take control by half-time through Dejan Lovren’s close range finish and captain Jordan Henderson’s spectacular 25-yard strike.
Chelsea, with £32m defender David Luiz making his first appearance since returning to Chelsea from Paris St-Germain as replacement for the injured John Terry, pulled one back through Diego Costa but their laboured performance deserved nothing from this game.
Klopp’s Liverpool is looking more like the sort of team their manager wants with every passing week as they produced another impressive performance.
Liverpool may yet remain on the margins of the title race but victories such as this, added to the excellent 4-3 win at Arsenal and a fine display in the 1-1 draw at Tottenham, will certainly see those at Anfield exuding quiet confidence.
Klopp was without influential forward Roberto Firmino here, ruled out with a groin problem, a severe blow as the Brazilian’s work-rate, tactical awareness and goal threat has made him a vital component in Liverpool’s success against the likes of Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United since the German’s arrival.
It made little difference as Liverpool’s prodigious work ethic, a staple of Klopp’s style, pressured Chelsea into submission and gave them a constant goal threat as well as a defensive shield.
Two of Liverpool’s big summer buys made an impact, with Sadio Mane giving them real pace and menace and Georginio Wijnaldum offering a steadying presence in midfield.
Meanwhile, the reliable James Milner illustrated once again why Klopp was not prepared to answer demands to rush into the market and buy a left-back.
Liverpool are still a work in progress and will still have questions to answer when they produce performances such as that which saw them lose at Burnley earlier this season – but once again they showed at Stamford Bridge that the charismatic Klopp is taking them in the right direction.
Chelsea’s decision to agree a new one-year contract with captain Terry may have been belated, after a spell when it looked like his Stamford Bridge career was coming to a close.
On this evidence, however, it looks a very wise move because the 35-year-old centre-back still has a key role to play as Chelsea make their latest managerial transition into the Conte era.
Chelsea, without Terry, lacked direction and leadership in defence on Friday, even though they were able to re-introduce the returning Luiz as Terry sat this one out through injury.
The ex-England captain is not only still a formidable defender but he is the consummate organiser and would surely have lessened the chances of the shambolic marking that left Lovren in splendid isolation
On his Chelsea return, David Luiz had more touches (94) and made more passes (72) than any other home player. He could do little to prevent either of the Liverpool goals – which came from the left flank – but made more clearances and won back possession more times than any of his team-mates
Conte’s reality check
Conte’s animated touchline body language screamed out frustration as Chelsea struggled to exert any sustained pressure on Liverpool and were far too ponderous for long periods.
He made a good start at Chelsea after leaving his job as Italy coach, albeit needing late winners from Costa against West Ham United and Watford before a convincing win against Burnley.
The size of his task was hinted at by the way they lost control of a game they were winning before drawing at Swansea City, and here they were second best throughout.