Liverpool led by Mohamed Salah show mettle with big victory against Chelsea
Regardless of the conclusion of the 2018/19 Premier League title race, Sunday's match was a sequel to the 2014 tie between the same two clubs – except this game had a different ending from the one held five years ago
It was eloquence and excellence in one magisterial strike.
Targeted by Chelsea fans in racist chants on Thursday, Mohamed Salah constructed a wonderfully stirring response. A glorious goal helped defeat his former employers and return his current club to the top of the Premier League.
For Liverpool, it was a comeback of a different sort. Regardless of the conclusion of this title race, it was a sequel with a different ending. Chelsea had derailed their challenge at Anfield in 2014, ending a run of 11 straight wins.
Jurgen Klopp’s team flourished where Brendan Rodgers’ side had floundered. Jose Mourinho had proved the most stubborn of party-poopers. Maurizio Sarri’s side are yet to take an away point at top-six opponents, suffered a sixth loss on the road in 2019 and heard Anfield echoing to the sound of Liverpool’s anthem, Allez Allez Allez.
Perhaps ghosts were exorcised. Perhaps this Liverpool side simply showed they have more mettle than their predecessors. Either way, it was defined in part again by a Liverpool captain.
After Steven Gerrard’s slip five years ago came Jordan Henderson’s chip. Each led to the opening goal.
It was a second seismic contribution in as many league games from Henderson. “Hendo is a fantastic skipper for this club - I've said it from the first day,” Klopp said.
Sorely missed when he was suspended for this fixture five years ago, liberated to operate as a No 8 after an extended spell anchoring the midfield, Henderson relished the chance to get into the box. He scored at Southampton. This time, he was the supplier, lifting a cross to give Sadio Mane the simplest of headers for his 21st goal of the season.
It drew him level with a fellow forward, but only for a couple of minutes. Then Salah’s stunner, a spectacular strike from 25 yards, flew past Kepa Arrizabalaga.
“A brilliant goal, world-class,” Klopp said. “It blows me away.”
After almost two months without a goal, Salah has two memorable efforts in as many league games. The Egyptian troubled Emerson Palmieri and drew saves from Arrizabalaga in each half. Chelsea had further reasons to regret letting a superlative talent slip through their hands.
The one they still possess, Eden Hazard, struck the foot of the post a few minutes after Salah struck. He then emerged unchecked to draw a fine save from Alisson.
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“Ali saved our life,” Klopp added and the title, Sarri said, could depend on “post in, post out".
He had selected Hazard as a false nine, and the Belgian was resourceful enough to fashion a shot for himself as such, but if that starting 11 was an indication of how ineffectual Gonzalo Higuain has been during his time in England, his better chances came after the Argentinian’s introduction.
“We dominated the game for 80 minutes which is the best you can say about a game against Chelsea but in these 10 minutes they could have changed the game completely,” Klopp conceded. “What Bobby [Firmino], Fabinho and the two centre-halves did against this centre, the two centre-halves of [Chelsea], Jorginho and Hazard was the best I saw in my life.”
And Sarri could not park the bus as Mourinho did. His side were cautious in a first half when Mane came closest to scoring. “The target was to arrive in the last 20 or 25 minutes at 0-0,” the Italian added.
Liverpool stepped up the pace in the second. They revisited history in a different sense, blowing opponents away in a dynamic, destructive burst.
“Today was very, very important because Chelsea are so strong,” Klopp added. “What we did today to win that game was amazing.”
Updated: April 14, 2019 10:42 PM