06 May 2018

Liverpool 0-1 Chelsea

Giroud 32'

I often wonder what it'd be like to follow a football team who did things the easy way.

A month ago, top four seemed all but certain. But then Liverpool went and drew with the 19th and 20th-place sides in the division while Chelsea won three in a row.

And then today happened. The exact way you don't want a match with Chelsea to go. And now we're going into the last day probably needing all three points at Anfield against Brighton.

As if Liverpool would have it any other way. As if Liverpool would happen any other way.

Chelsea are really good at doing things that Liverpool are sometimes bad at stopping. They're one of the best sides at defending deep, in position and in numbers. They counter incredibly well, especially through Moses and Alonso, exploiting Liverpool's full-backs proclivity for getting forward; both cross well, both shoot well. Hazard is a ball-controlling dribble machine. And Chelsea are very good in the air, whether it's Giroud or Morata attacking crosses, or them and midfielders and center-backs on set plays.

And that's exactly how it played out. Liverpool on top for the opening half hour. Patient, prodding possession – which, you know, not my favorite Liverpool, but not a bad idea against a side that plays like Chelsea play and when Liverpool are as fatigued as Liverpool are. Firmino's shot saved from no angle very early on, then two decent chances from Mané, first a blast from distance well saved, then a tame toe-poke straight at Courtois.

So far, fine.

Then all the evil. A warning from Bakayoko: Chelsea straight down the pitch after Mané's shot was saved, Alonso in acres of space, Hazard, Fabregas, Moses, awkward header wide. Warning not heeded. A minute later: possession lost on Robertson's attempted ball over the top, Alonso in acres of space, Bakayoko cross-field, Moses gets an inch around Robertson, cross, Giroud between the center-backs, goal.

We've got Chelsea with a lead. We've got a tired Liverpool. We've got a hot day. We get 60 minutes of slow, silent death.

Playing against a Chelsea side, at home, when they've got a 1-0 lead is like trying to get out of quicksand. The harder you struggle, the worse it gets. The dumber you struggle, the worse it gets. The more tired you are, the worse it gets.

The worse it got.

Needing just a point, Liverpool took all of two shots between Chelsea's goal and the 88th minute. With 70% possession. Both from outside the box. Both nowhere near the target. With none between the 49th and 88th minutes.

Liverpool's substitutions? Henderson for Clyne, Solanke for Robertson, and – very late – Moreno for Milner. The Alexander-Arnold in midfield experiment fails again. Solanke, who had two of Liverpool's three late shots, off-target with both headers and irrelevant otherwise. Liverpool resorting to throwing van Dijk up front, his header just before the final whistle tame and straight at Courtois.

Liverpool literally had no answer for Chelsea's defense. Liverpool's front three is often reliant – not always, but often enough and increasingly so – on space and pace. Chelsea gave them no space. The fixture list, Liverpool's lack of depth, and Liverpool's participation in the Champions League robbed them of that pace, especially Salah, who seemingly might as well not have played.

And, honestly, Liverpool were lucky not to concede a second. No one on the end of Fabregas' or Moses' dangerous low crosses across the six-yard box. Hazard saved at the near post after dribbling past half of Liverpool's side. Rütiger's "goal" from a corner ruled out for offside. Alonso's insane volley from another Moses cross whistling just wide.

This was bad. This was Chelsea completely doing Chelsea, and Liverpool utterly failing to do Liverpool.

This is the first time that Liverpool have failed to score in consecutive Premiership matches since Klopp became manager. Liverpool are stumbling, face-first, to finish the campaign. Liverpool are paying the price for mounting injuries and the lack of squad depth.

But the sky isn't falling. Yet. Even if Tottenham and Chelsea win out, Liverpool can still qualify for next season's Champions League if they beat Brighton at home. A Brighton who are safe from relegation, with seemingly nothing to play for. But a Brighton which just beaten Manchester United two days ago.

Or, you know, Liverpool could just win this season's Champions League in a couple of weeks.

But that we've gotten to this point in the league is beyond annoying. And that we've gotten to this point in Europe remains remarkable.

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