- 1) ‘Is Jurgen Klopp a Messiah or a myth?’ asked one prominent website in February 2018. It is a headline that, little over 12 months on, seems almost certainly satirical, the sort one might find in a particularly uninspiring version of The Onion.
Yet such questions were genuinely being asked with Liverpool three months removed from a Champions League final. That Klopp had matched predecessor Brendan Rodgers’ record of 70 wins from his first 135 games in charge was being used as a stick to beat him with. Not long before that, Klopp’s reign was even being unfavourably compared with that of David Moyes at Manchester United.
Those detractors have been silent – or, rather, silenced – for some time. Klopp has now won 112 of his first 200 games as Liverpool manager, has recorded the club’s fifth-highest English top-flight points tally in a single season with four games still to play, and has equalled their record for most league wins in a single campaign.
He is neither Messiah nor myth; he is just a damn good football manager. Liverpool cannot change that for the worse over their next four league games, but they can make it an awful lot better.
2) Not that this was a performance to delight a manager who demands no less than for his messages be heeded to the letter. There were moments, especially at 2-0 up, that Klopp was apoplectic on the touchline as his players threatened to be carried away on the wave of an immense home support.
Liverpool played better with the scores level than they did in the ten minutes after earning a two-goal advantage. Passes went awry, Roberto Firmino started attempting random Rabonas and Andy Robertson was still charging recklessly into the Chelsea area to leave the hosts completely exposed to the counter-attack. Their game management was terrible until they eventually settled.
But it was endearing, and the result of a collective release of colossal pressure after a few day’s worth of build-up. That Klopp will be eager to eradicate such emotional play exemplifies just how high his and Liverpool’s standards have become.
3) Chelsea were unfortunate in that an excellent first half was cancelled out by two suicidal second-half minutes, at which point a result seemed beyond them. They still had their chances but know all too well the pain of failing to capitalise on a situation.
Maurizio Sarri will likely be hammered for his team selection and tactics as even the worm appears to have turned against what has actually been a respectable debut season at Chelsea. But it is worth remembering that he delivered a starting line-up with Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Emerson Palmieri, that the Blues were the better side in the first half, and that playing Liverpool at Anfield really is the most difficult fixture of this Premier League season.
Some defeats can be blamed on the manager. Others see players, either as individuals or the collective, shoulder responsibility. But there are a handful of losses throughout the season that can only be attributed to one thing: the opposition simply are – and were – better.
Chelsea lost to a team today who were just better. That doesn’t mean Sarri should be sacked or CHO & Ruben should be dropped. It just means at this moment in time we are not at the level to compete with the very best
Stop being so reactionary..
— Con (@ConnCFC) April 14, 2019
4) It was actually quite refreshing to read the general consensus when both sides announced their starting line-ups. Liverpool kept faith with the usual goalkeeper, defence and attack, supplementing it with an energetic and physical midfield of Fabinho, Naby Keita and Jordan Henderson. There was cause for optimism.
But the same could be said for Chelsea, with Sarri resisting the temptation to recall Marcos Alonso while keeping the faith with Loftus-Cheek and Hudson-Odoi.
There were inevitable complaints at Eden Hazard being deployed as a false nine, but the narrative often ignores that Chelsea have won four of the six Premier League games he has started in that position this season, with the Belgian scoring three and assisting four goals. It worked against City in December, and with the alternative being Gonzalo Higuain or Olivier Giroud offered on a plate to Virgil van Dijk and Joel Matip, it made perfect sense. Even those who disagree with Sarri’s management and coaching could surely understand the justification.
5) It also allowed for a more pragmatic, organised and diligent Chelsea approach. As brilliant as Hazard is and as regrettable as it may be, playing him in his favoured left-wing position necessitates a degree of sacrifice either to his or his side’s game. There are matches in which his lack of protection for a full or wing-back is not worth the risk.
With Hazard as the focal point, Chelsea enjoyed a fine first half. The Belgian was the only outfielder not to make a single tackle, interception or clearance for the visitors in the opening 45 minutes, and while his natural attacking talents were somewhat neutered his movement constantly occupied Liverpool. The space he created was crucial on the counter-attack for Willian in particular.
Chelsea completed 22 tackles in the first half at Anfield, at least three more than any other team in the first half of a Premier League game this season. It was when that intensity and focus dropped – they made just eight tackles in the second half, and none from the 46th minute to the 56th when Liverpool won the game – that their resolve was finally broken.
6) As if to enforce the point that Klopp was eager to stress on Friday, both the performance and the scoreline mirrored that of five years ago. Liverpool temporarily allowed the occasion to consume them, but only when the task at hand was more or less complete.
The pre-match narrative was typically overblown, with no Liverpool players from the 2014 game featuring half a decade on. But that should take nothing away from what was an emotional, poignant occasion. Playing on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the Hillsborough tragedy added yet another tear-soaked layer to this veritable onion of a match.
Liverpool paid their respects beautifully but retained their focus, even with City having beaten Crystal Palace earlier in the day. These “mentality monsters” Klopp has created will not let up.
Oh, and Mark Lawrenson is a genius.