Taking three points away at Stamford Bridge is an important result for Liverpool regardless of the circumstances, let alone if they’re “attacking” another title, but by taking three points from a passive Chelsea side, Liverpool have cleared a hurdle that will likely be more challenging for rivals.
To say the Reds were the dominant side offensively on Sunday is an understatement. Liverpool held Frank Lampard’s Chelsea to a total of five shots, including the penalty (with only three of these on target), and the Blues took half of their shots from outside the Liverpool box. Indeed, over the course of the match Chelsea were held to just three passes inside the Liverpool penalty area, and were limited to creating just two total chances. Liverpool, in contrast, took 18 shots (with six from inside Chelsea’s penalty area), creating 12 chances and completing 24 passes in their opponent’s box.
This dramatically lopsided performance might be expected of a match where one side was forced to field 10 men for a full half, but the red card does not tell the entire story. In the first half, a full-strength Chelsea side (including £119.5M worth of new attacking talent) managed just one off-target shot from distance — a shot Liverpool keeper Alisson looked to have covered as it sailed wide — with out-of-position center half Fabinho putting in a man of the match performance over the 90 minutes.
Though sitting deep and looking to hit Liverpool on the break was certainly not a surprise given the pace of new striker Timo Werner, the extent of Chelsea’s passivity was. Despite Liverpool having the lion’s share of possession in the first half, the Reds put more pressure on their opponents, and the two sides attempted a similar number of tackles.
Even when limited to just the first half to avoid focusing on the red card’s impact, then, the picture of the match is one which would be expected if Liverpool were playing a defensive side hovering in danger of relegation — a side looking to play it safe against opposition they consider far better than themselves. In other words, this is not what you would expect from a side who are expected to finish third, if not challenge for the top two spots.
Lampard’s extremely passive tactics likely reflect where we are in the season, as Timo Werner and Kai Havertz, though talented, could use time to settle, and other signings who missed out through injury or lack of match fitness will certainly add to the level of this Chelsea side. We should not expect to see these tactics from Chelsea when they come to Anfield; indeed, if Liverpool had played Lampard’s Blues in November, say, rather than as the second game in a new season, the manager’s approach may have been hugely different.
Taking three points from Stamford Bridge this early in the season is therefore a huge positive, with Liverpool turning what could have been the negative of a tough opening weeks fixture into an advantage.
Meanwhile, Manchester City travel to Stamford Bridge for their first match of 2021, making the trip on January 2nd after they face a (dare I say it?) promising-looking Everton at Goodison Park on December 28th. Manchester City have slipped up over the hectic holiday period previously, dropping points to Wolves at the end of December last season and losing to Liverpool in the League and Champions League in the early January period in 2018/19. Pep Guardiola will not be happy to have two seemingly difficult fixtures in such a short space of time, especially in a season made more challenging by the lateness of the previous season’s end.
By the holiday period, we can expect this Chelsea side to be bedded in. Should Lampard manage to get the star-studded Blues to perform to expectations, these early three points away will likely seem a huge advantage in retrospect.