Chelsea’s four match win streak is over after Sunday’s expected defeat at Anfield. A repeat of 2014 this was not.
A largely even and fairly cagey first-half was followed by a quick second-half collapse from the Blues — seen that one before! — and while Chelsea mounted a brief resurgence, we failed to capitalize on a couple clear cut chances — seen that one before, too! — and the match eventually petered out into a 2-0 win for the home side. It’s a massive three points for Liverpool in the title race and a potentially devastating three points lost for us in the race for the top-four.
Despite the familiar patterns, Maurizio Sarri claims in a half-hearted effort at positive spin that he’s seeing some improvement from the team.
“Liverpool are one of the best teams in Europe at this moment, they play very well for 90 minutes but I think we stayed in the match really well. We were a bit unlucky on the second goal. Salah is a talent [but] the second goal was a little bit unlucky for the timing. Then [we were] a bit unlucky because in three minutes we have three opportunities, two with Hazard and one with Higuain and we hit the post, number 35 of our season.
“I am happy with the performance, we stayed in the match, probably two or three months ago we weren’t able to stay in this game.
“We are improving, it’s hard to cover the gap because the level is high and to cover it against Liverpool and City for us will be difficult. Now we are close to the other teams.”
The idea of Chelsea being far behind Liverpool and Manchester City has been one of Sarri’s main themes all season, so he’s tying into that nicely, though his assessment that we are now closer to the two runaway leaders of the league seems a bit optimistic.
That said, Sarri did opt for his “big game” approach — perhaps explaining more why Chelsea were able to “stay in the game” better than any supposed improvement — with Hazard at center forward / false-9, and a more pragmatic, defensive setup from the team. It was a similar strategy to the League Cup final, when Chelsea pushed Manchester City all the way to penalties after a scoreless 120 minutes. The crucial difference today was Chelsea’s extremely poor start to the second-half, which scuppered Sarri’s best-laid plans.
“We were defending low at the start of the second half, but we did that at the start of the first, too. [The way] Liverpool is able to approach the first and second half in the [first] ten minutes, it isn’t easy to play against them in that moment.
“I think [if] we were able to pass the first ten minutes with the same result [as the first-half, then] in the last 20-25 we could find a lot of spaces because they needed to win. The target was to arrive in the last 20 minutes at 0-0.”
-Maurizio Sarri; source: Football.London
Instead, Chelsea arrived in the last 20 minutes at 2-0, with the game long over.
Are Chelsea improving? It’s not exactly obvious if we are. We had already beaten Liverpool once this season, and were it not for another wondergoal, that time by Daniel Sturridge, would’ve done so a second time as well. Meanwhile, we’re a whopping three (3!) points better off after 34 games than last year, and probably sitting outside of the top-four once all the other teams play their matches-in-hand.
If there is improvement, it’s probably quite marginal. Unless Sarri finishes top four or wins the Europa League, it’s doubtful that it will be enough to save his job.
In the Game of Chelsea Managers, you either win or die, and Maurizio Sarri, an honest man like Ned Stark, is swiftly approaching the end of Season 1.