Liverpool 1 - 2 Chelsea
Liverpool: Sturridge 58’
Chelsea: Emerson 79’, Hazard 85’
It was largely a messy occasion, with the score bookended by two superb goals, and Liverpool exit the Carabou Cup on their very first go after failing to convert their chances and falling to the magic of Eden Hazard.
Despite Jürgen Klopp’s quotes about wanting to win the competition, the Reds are in the middle of a hellacious run of fixtures, and when it comes down to it, the League Cup was always going to represent the very bottom of the manager’s list of competitive priorities. As such, heavy rotation was — in the eyes of some writers — expected for Chelsea’s visit to Anfield, and Klopp did indeed make eight changes from the side that comfortably saw off Southampton at the weekend.
Simon Mignolet, Nathaniel Clyne, Alberto Moreno, Dejan Lovren and Fabinho all made their first starts of the season, with the latter making his full debut in the single pivot of Liverpool’s freshly composed midfield three. It was clear from the offset that the trio would need some time to find their rhythm.
With no coherence in their press, Liverpool’s midfield failed to close down Cesc Fabregas, allowing the Spaniard to pick his passes at will, and Chelsea to play into the final third whenever they had the ball. On 20 minutes, the Blues went extremely close, as a Fabregas ball over the top found Alvaro Morata running in behind Lovren, but the Spaniard’s chip was saved by Mignolet, before the follow-up effort from a narrow angle was volleyed well wide.
A minute later, Chelsea broke through midfield, Willian and Morata exchanged passes, and the former Juventus man was allowed to fire off another shot, again saved by Liverpool’s Belgian stopper.
The hosts were struggling to put together spells of meaningful possession, instead looking to strike through verticality, and halfway through the frame they almost succeeded, as a long ball over the top found Sadio Mane. The Senegalese attacker cut the ball back for Daniel Sturridge, but the striker’s effort from the top of the box was blocked.
On the half hour mark, Naby Keita cut inside from the left side of the box and went down under a challenge from Gary Cahill. The defender was predictably livid at what he perceived to be a dive, but while there was only negligible contact, the defender did swing his leg out at the Guinean midfielder, and on another day, could’ve been punished for it.
The home side had figured out their spacing now, and were pressing their visitors with much greater success. Keïta and Mané did well to win the ball on the left flank, allowing the latter to cut the ball back towards Shaqiri from the touchline, but the pass was cut out at the last instant. A few minutes later, they went close again, this time through Keïta, who cut inside and forced Willy Caballero into a solid save at his far post.
Daniel Sturridge will never be Roberto Firmino, but with five minutes to go in the first half, he did his best impression, sneaking up on Fabregas from behind and winning the ball, before releasing Shaqiri down the right. The Swiss winger curled a cross into the far post for Mané, but the forward was forced to stretch for the ball and couldn’t get enough power on his header to put it past Caballero.
In the dying seconds of the half, another pressing move saw Ross Barkley give the ball away in his own third, allowing Shaqiri to pounce, but the former Stoke man’s first time ball was a little too hot for Sturridge to handle, as the striker’s first touch let him down one on one with the goalkeeper.
Sturridge should have put his side up within a minute of the restart, as a sloppy backpass from Andreas Christensen, but having taken the ball past the goalkeeper, the striker failed to sort his feet out and placed a right-footed shot well wide of the post with the goal gaping.
At the other end, Chelsea went close again after a long dry spell, but Morata could not direct Willian’s gorgeous cross goalwards from eight yards. The visitors were unable to build on their foray into the opposition’s area, however, and five minutes later, Liverpool created three chances in the space of a minute.
First, a long, flowing move saw the Reds switch play from the right to the left, where Mané set Moreno free by the touchline. The Spaniard’s cross found Sturridge’s head six yards out, but the effort was blocked for a corner. As Chelsea looked to clear the subsequent set-piece, Barkley headed the ball towards his own goal, where Caballero was forced into a reactive save as Mané pounced on the loose ball. Dejan Lovren headed over the bar on the ensuing corner.
The hosts could not be denied for much longer, and after another relentless pressing move and a Mané nutmeg, Keïta skipped past his man and unleashed another shot. Caballero got his hands to it, but could only get his rebound as far as Sturridge, who executed and exquisite scissor kick to give his side the lead.hin an unstaopp
The game largely settled down after the goal, as the Reds controlled the ball without creating anything of note, and Chelsea struggled to get back into the game. Jordan Henderson and Bobby Firmino came on for James Milner and Mané, and the match looked like it would peter out.
Then, ten minutes from time, and against the run of play, Chelsea equalised. Keïta was adjudged to have fouled Kanté down Liverpool’s left, and Barkley rose above Matip to direct a header at goal from the set-piece. Full-back Emerson reacted first to the rebound and poked home from five yards.
As penalties with no extra time beckoned, Sturridge unleashed a long-range drive that crashed off the crossbar, before the Reds were made to rue the profligacy with five minutes to go. Eden Hazard got on the ball in midfield, exchanged passes with Victor Moses, slipped past Keïta and Moreno, before unleashing an unstoppable drive past Mignolet into the far corner. It was anything but deserved, but also representative of the sort of magic the Belgian playmaker is capable of.
The Reds failed to generate anything of note in the aftermath, despite bring on Mohamed Salah, and are eliminated from their first competition of the season.
Despite this writer utterly incapable of caring about the League Cup, the Reds will be right to feel disappointed in themselves after this early exit. Following some struggles in the opening twenty minutes, Liverpool were comfortably the better side and should have put the game away multiple times before Chelsea struck back.
Hopefully, Klopp’s men will rediscover their shooting boots by Saturday, as they travel to Stamford Bridge in an attempt to put more Premier League points between themselves and Sarri’s side. A loss in the League Cup can be shrugged off rather easily; a similar result in the league would be much harder to bear.