September 29, 2018
There were two minutes of normal time remaining when Daniel Sturridge, new to the game, let fly with an elegant swish of his left foot. Liverpool had given everything to finding an equaliser but, until that moment, it had begun to seem futile. Sturridge’s goal was a beauty and the body language of Jürgen Klopp’s players at the final whistle made it clear they could live with giving up their immaculate run of results in the Premier League.
Liverpool’s Daniel Sturridge hits back after Eden Hazard’s Chelsea strike
Nobody could argue that it was undeserved bearing in mind the number of chances they passed up before Sturridge, an 86th-minute substitute, deceived Kepa with the swerve and trajectory of a high, angled shot. Mohamed Salah, one of the repeat offenders, had endured such an exasperating evening he was replaced just before the midway point of the second half.
His replacement, Xherdan Shaqiri, proceeded to squander a golden opportunity and at that stage it seemed as though the only possible consolation for Liverpool could be that it was another six months before they were due to face Eden Hazard again.
Twice they have faced Chelsea in the space of four days and on both occasions Hazard has seemed determined to advance the point that, while Liverpool have their own elite performers, none is currently playing with his level of expertise. Again, Hazard scored a classy goal. He was always alive, the game’s outstanding performer, but Liverpool never seemed too disheartened, even when the number of wasted chances was driving Klopp to the point of distraction on the touchline.
Liverpool certainly moved the ball around like a team with serious aspirations to finish the season with Manchester City, not just Manchester United, in their rearview mirror. A lot of visitors to Stamford Bridge, facing a side that had won all their home games, might have started a match of such significance with a certain amount of restraint. Not Klopp’s men. Straight away, the players in red were swarming forward and Salah will not care to remember how many presentable opportunities came his way, untaken, in the first half.
To say Salah is falling short of last season’s enthralling heights would be to omit the fact that he is still stretching opposition defences, always showing for the ball and, for Chelsea, a difficult and elusive opponent to subdue. It is true, nonetheless, that a little of that precious magic has deserted him for the time being. Not all the subtle flicks and touches are coming off.
A few passes are going astray that he would ordinarily expect to complete and twice, from roughly the same position, he let Chelsea off the hook before Hazard skipped away to fire Chelsea into a 25th-minute lead.
In one television interview before kick-off, Hazard had acknowledged what everyone probably already knew: that, yes, he had wanted to change clubs after the World Cup and it was still his ambition to play in Spain. Chelsea are clearly going to have their work cut out to keep him beyond this season but, if this is to be his final year at Stamford Bridge, he also seems utterly determined to make sure the supporters cherish the memories.
The Belgian was a constant threat, continuing where he left off at Anfield on Wednesday, and the excellence of his goal should not be underappreciated. The low, diagonal shot to pick out the corner of Alisson’s net, taken on the run, was impressive enough, but Hazard had actually set everything in motion 40 yards back with a wonderfully elegant flick in the centre circle. He was on the move immediately and, in this slick exchange of passes, Mateo Kovacic’s through-ball provided the shooting opportunity. Hazard’s speed and movement took him away from Trent Alexander-Arnold, hardly a slouch, and for the first time this season Liverpool had conceded a first-half goal.
Although the away team had the better of the possession for long periods, Chelsea could always be encouraged by the dangers Hazard was creating and the gaps that occasionally appeared in Liverpool’s defence. David Luiz might have looked slightly accident-prone at times but his pass to send Willian clear, a few minutes before Hazard’s goal, was one of the outstanding moments of the match. The ball was launched fully 50 yards, leaving Willian bearing down on the penalty area, but Alisson quickly came off his line to block the shot and conclude a flurry of all-Brazilian action.
For that period of the match, however, Liverpool could be forgiven for feeling frustrated that they were behind and when Salah did beat Kepa Arrizabalaga, the Chelsea goalkeeper, Antonio Rüdiger had sprinted across to block the shot just as an equaliser seemed inevitable.
Klopp’s team took a little longer to work up a head of steam in the second half but, just before the hour, it needed a splendid save from Kepa to turn Sadio Mané’s shot away for a corner. Maurizio Sarri appeared to have set up his team to make sure they were not vulnerable to the counterattack.
Instead, it was Chelsea operating on the break and when N’Golo Kanté’s quickly taken free-kick sent Hazard sprinting clear the most dangerous player on the pitch had a wonderful chance to double the lead. Alisson was alert again, sprinting out to block the shot.
That was a vital moment. Shaqiri could not get a clean connection on Andy Robertson’s cross for his chance of an equaliser. Sturridge, on the other hand, caught his shot beautifully and Liverpool had completed their feat of escapology.
Liverpool’s Daniel Sturridge hits back after Eden Hazard’s Chelsea strike
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