By Matt Ramirez – @Matt_J_Ramirez
The Carabao Cup clash at Anfield saw a heavily rotated Liverpool side just fall short of victory, thanks to an Eden Hazard wonder goal. The Belgian dribbled past a flurry of lifeless Liverpool defenders before unleashing a thunderbolt past Simon Mignolet.
The victory sees Chelsea become the first team since Real Madrid to secure a win against Jurgen Klopp’s men.
The first half was a relatively drab affair with neither side shining brightly in terms of attack. Chelsea were the better side however, edging the home side in possession as well as chances created – the best of which fell to Alvaro Morata which was dealt with comfortably by Simon Mignolet.
The Belgian stopper made his first appearance for Klopp since an FA Cup defeat to West Brom in January, and although he was kept busy during the opening half, he never really seemed troubled.
One player who did seem to struggle, however, was Alberto Moreno – with the Spanish left-back consistently targeted by Chelsea as the weak link in the Liverpool back line.
One positive to come from the first half, however, was the inclusion and performance of Anfield new-boy Fabinho. The Brazilian was handed his full first team debut by Klopp and didn’t disappoint – breaking down play, holding up the ball and passing well.
Fellow new-boy Xherdan Shaqiri also impressed, arguably serving as Liverpool’s biggest threat before the half time break.
The second half got underway to an almost perfect start for the home side, with the Chelsea defence gifting the ball to Sturridge and leaving him one-on-one with Caballero. The tricky striker expertly wiggled round the on-rushing keeper but was unable to find the empty net, slotting the ball wide of the post.
Having just missed a golden opportunity, Liverpool fans were relieved to see Sturridge stick the ball in the back of the net only minutes later. A Naby Keïta shot saw Caballero only able to parry the ball out to Sturridge who twisted brilliantly, connecting with an overhead kick to slot the home side into the lead with 30 minutes left to play.
Liverpool looked a reinvigorated side in the second half but were unable to make their new-found dominance count, being pegged back by Chelsea in the 78th minute. An in-swinging cross by Hazard connected with the head of former Evertonian Ross Barkley.
Mignolet made an impressive reflex save to deny the Englishmen, but was only able to deflect the ball into the path of the on-rushing Emerson who tapped the ball into the empty net.
Klopp’s men responded well to the equaliser and almost took the lead again through Sturridge, after he unleashed a curling effort in the 83rd minute which skimmed off the visitors’ crossbar.
With Anfield still in disbelief having just witnessed Sturridge come so close, Hazard picked up the ball in the 84th minute and snatched the victory for Maurizio Sarri’s visiting Londoners.
The Belgian, who later received the man of the match award, dribbled past four Liverpool challenges, magically dancing his way into Mignolet’s penalty area before unleashing an unstoppable drive past the flailing keeper.
Nonetheless, Liverpool fans would be wise to not put too much importance on the result, and should take what positives they can – mainly the performances of Fabinho, Shaqiri and Keïta.
Klopp will no doubt look to reinvigorate his team, and will head to Stamford bridge on Saturday looking for revenge.