As always, match data from Stats Zone and Squawka.
Yesterday was the day where Liverpool finally ran out of gas. It'd been coming.
Liverpool completed and attempted fewer passes than expected, took fewer shots than expected, had less possession than expected, even considering the opposition and venue. But of course, the same 10 players started the last three matches over eight days – the only changes coming at left-back – with Gerrard, Sturridge, Enrique, and Flanagan all unavailable through injuries picked up over the last month.
Even Suarez was susceptible – okay, maybe he's not a cyborg (*sigh*) – taking just two shots (tied for his low in a match this season, against Crystal Palace, where he also scored) and creating just two chances (he created none against Sunderland, his first match back, but scored twice).
But the midfield seemed most vulnerable. Liverpool couldn't stem the tide as Chelsea responded to the opening goal, unable to get a foot on the ball, with Chelsea attempted and completed twice as many passes as Liverpool between the first and second goals.
Liverpool completed just eight passes in Chelsea's half during that 14 minute spell. Eight. And just two in the attacking third, both on the edge of the attacking third. In full flow, Chelsea are a very good side (even if Mourinho rarely releases those shackles), but they played through Liverpool with ease during the first half, attacking midfielders dicing through the center of pitch, prancing past all three of Liverpool's midfielders on both goals.
"Joe Allen and Jordan Henderson probably played at 70 per cent, they were both injured. Joe had an injection to try to quash the pain in his abductor. Eventually when that wore off, it went really. We'll see how long that will be. We'll obviously assess Jordan as well."
Well, that'd help explain it.
Liverpool completed just 49 passes in the attacking third, attempting just 80, the lowest since Rodgers became manager.
Liverpool were better in the second half, but not better enough.
The only match where Liverpool came close to that low was last season's 2-2 draw at Arsenal, where Liverpool completed 54. Every other "bad" attacking third performance has seen Liverpool complete at least 60 attacking third passes, as in this season's matches at Swansea and Everton, both matches that Liverpool drew. And at least in last season's match at Arsenal, Liverpool were trying to protect a two-goal lead, with Arsenal only turning the screws after Liverpool scored the second in the 60th minute. Chelsea began turning the screws in the 4th minute yesterday, pushed back in the second half, but with Liverpool almost totally unable to threaten an equalizer.
Another facet that stood out was how many of Chelsea's tackles and interceptions took place in Liverpool's half. Seven of 12 interceptions and nine of 19 tackles. At their best, Liverpool are usually the side who presses the opposition, Suarez and the rest of the front six hassling players into mistakes, preventing them from setting the tenor or tempo. That simply wasn't possible yesterday, whether due to Chelsea's style or the aforementioned fatigue. And I'm tempted to place the blame on the latter.
Just two of Liverpool's 11 interceptions and nine of 29 tackles took place in Chelsea's half. Below is the average line for each side's defensive actions: tackles, both successful and unsuccessful, as well as interceptions.
Chelsea also recovered the ball higher up the pitch than Liverpool.
Mourinho's side did well to put Liverpool's fatigued midfielders and attackers under pressure, preventing them from creating the intricate moves which led to the goal against City (and nearly led to more). Liverpool were forced massively deeper than usual, and deeper than Chelsea played, a trait reinforced by each side's average player position.
Still, for all the condemnation, for all we're ruing injuries and the fixture list, losing at Chelsea (and City) shouldn't be wholly unexpected, no matter how high hopes have been raised. Only two top-7 teams have won on another top-7 team's ground so far this season: Liverpool, when thrashing 7th place Tottenham 5-0, and Everton, beating 6th place Manchester United 1-0.
Arsenal lost at City and United, drew at Everton. City lost at Chelsea, by the same scoreline as Liverpool. Chelsea drew at Arsenal and United, lost at Everton. Everton drew at Arsenal, lost at City. United drew at Tottenham, lost at City and Liverpool. Tottenham lost at City and Arsenal, drew at Everton.
None of those sides played more than three top-7 away games in the first half of the season; City only played one. Liverpool played five, winning at Tottenham, drawing at Everton, and losing at Arsenal, City, and Chelsea. Arsenal, City, Chelsea, Everton, and Tottenham all still have to come to Anfield.
After 19 games, Liverpool sit one point off the Champions League places, six off of top spot. This season's not over by a long shot.