LONDON — Three points from Stamford Bridge as Liverpool held on to defeat Chelsea 2-1.
1. Liverpool stun Chelsea at home
After a marathon full of sprints at Stamford Bridge, Liverpool just about lasted the pace. A battle between two of the most energetic teams in the Premier League ended with Jurgen Klopp’s side claiming a fine 2-1 win over Chelsea. The momentum of Antonio Conte’s team is checked by their first defeat of the season, while Liverpool claimed their seventh point from three of their most difficult trips to London.
Following their win at Arsenal and draw at Tottenham Hotspur, Friday’s performance was a seriously impressive statement of their title credentials, and the win was just reward for a seriously impressive first-half performance, even if the nature of their nervous last half-hour made that a little too easy to forget.
Chelsea initially found them very difficult to deal with. Liverpool completely pegged them back in the first half, overpowering one of the most forceful sides in the Premier League. Chelsea found themselves 2-0 down before they even had a shot on target. In fact, they were caught cold in so many ways as Dejan Lovren was left unmarked (along with two other Liverpool players) to hit the opening goal from a set piece after 17 minutes.
Chelsea still hadn’t really threatened when Jordan Henderson almost broke the net with a block-busting 36th minute strike from distance. It was one of the goals of the season, and seemed to be setting up one of the routs of the season until Liverpool inevitably lost energy.
Chelsea finally responded through Diego Costa, who finished from close range after a Nemanja Matic run on the hour, but the home side still couldn’t get close enough to Liverpool to turn it around. Klopp’s side had set too much of a pace.
2. Questions remain about Reds’ consistency
Liverpool’s performance went from so impressively frenetic to so worryingly fragile, from so commanding to very nervous over the 90 minutes at Stamford Bridge. They got there in the end, calming the game down in the closing 10 minutes, but as impressive as this start and Klopp’s work is, it does raise a question over whether they will be able to truly sustain a title challenge.
They are still a team who play in waves, and that perhaps partly explains why they are able to pull off results like this but then lose to sides like Burnley. It is like there is a constant risk-calculation going on within them. The spells of overpowering attacking are so impressive, granted, but are they capable of playing without leaving themselves so stretched at the back? Is the offset enough? Can they tweak it so they are still as fast-paced going forward but a bit sturdier at in defence?
After all, they went from being 2-0 up without even allowing the home side a shot on target, but then being engulfed for spells in the second half.
A further contradiction to this game was that neither of their goals actually came their attacking style; they came from breaks in play. The first was a set piece of sorts with a cross from the wing and the second a pot-shot from distance, albeit after Liverpool pressure.
Liverpool need to find a way so that pressure is more prolonged, even if not quite as intense.
It could be the difference between getting special results in isolation and making this a special season.
3. David Luiz not to blame
If Chelsea were looking for a scapegoat, it wasn’t David Luiz. He actually stood up well on what was his second debut for the club after returning from Paris Saint-Germain and was often their best defender and best attacking player.
On Friday night, there were so many faults elsewhere and very few attributable to the Brazilian. Gary Cahill was a different matter, and there were signs of what was to come early on. While Luiz played a polished pass across the Chelsea area that easily found its target, both Cahill and Branislav Ivanovic hit balls straight to the opposition. By the 17th minute, they couldn’t even find the Liverpool players.
As Philippe Coutinho swung in a free kick, he didn’t just have three unmarked players to aim for. He had an entire unprotected tranche of the pitch, allowing Lovren to so easily slot home. In middle of this, it was Luiz who was the first to react as he immediately turned and berated his teammates.
Cahill was most at fault for the second, too, as one of those poor passes out eventually told. He hit the ball straight to Henderson, who hit it straight into the top corner.
Amid all of this, Chelsea only threatened from set pieces, with Luiz usually the target. That changed in the second half as Costa sharpened up, but the returned defender stayed constant as one of their most reliable players. In fact, he was one of the few Chelsea players not taking a gamble.
The match ended with Conte throwing on three players (Victor Moses, Cesc Fabregas and Pedro) after the 80th minute. It didn’t pay off, but Luiz might.
Miguel Delaney covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MiguelDelaney.