There’s something fundamentally wrong with Chelsea. And something right with Liverpool…
* For all the talk in recent weeks of Diego Costa losing sharpness, John Terry losing his last vestiges of pace, Cesc Fabregas losing vision, Nemanja Matic losing focus and Eden Hazard losing belief, there comes a point when you have to concede that there is something fundamentally wrong with this Chelsea side.
The majority of a team of sportsmen do not simultaneously lose form without something being awry at a deeper level. This is not a team and manager that even owns the same hymn sheet; the resultant sound is a tuneless cacophony of painful noise.
* Should Jose Mourinho pay the price with his job? It’s impossible to judge from outside but this current malaise should be the catalyst for a ruthless investigation. If Roman Abramovich is not yet asking a series of questions – the most pertinent being ‘what the f*** is going on?’ – of players and management staff then he should start on Monday.
The fear of speaking out against Mourinho – or whoever is the root cause of this series of ridiculously poor performances – should not be as powerful an emotion as the embarrassment of this collapse. Phrases like “we will just keep working hard on the training ground” are now sounding as hollow as they are trite. We hope more is being offered in mitigation behind closed doors.
It’s the kind of unfathomable situation that almost makes you long for a John Terry autobiography so we can say ‘oh so THAT’S what happened in 2015’.
* This performance and result makes a mockery of every pundit who has been blindly presuming that Chelsea will turn this around and (at least) finish in the top four – a theory bizarrely backed by bookmakers’ odds, regardless of the form of teams way above them in both table and performance and regardless of history that showed that an 11-point ‘haul’ from ten games has never taken any side higher than seventh.
After most ‘experts’ backed them to win the title, there has been a massive reluctance to admit that actually, this team looks like a lower mid-table side. Worse, it looks like a lower mid-table side looking over their shoulders at relegation, such is the frailty of their confidence.
Jermaine Jenas and Danny Murphy have been amongst those saying this week that it’s laughable that Mourinho is under any pressure at all. No, it’s laughable that anybody believes that this farce of a title defence does not deserve scrutiny. Mourinho is not an infallible higher being, just a man who appears to be making a c*ck of things.
* There will be those who will moan that I am not giving credit to Liverpool until the fourth conclusion but really, where would you rather be? Would you rather be the fallen favourites whose non-performance is dissected – as you were for swathes of last season – or the underdogs who have pulled off a phenomenal result and so inevitably get the ‘let’s not take anything away from Liverpool’ treatment?
Liverpool were very good in certain elements of their game, but they were not as good as Chelsea were bad. They thoroughly deserved victory because of their workrate, desire, fitness and three moments of individual skill, but they were undoubtedly the beneficiaries of facing a fractured football team. They were ruthless and unrelenting in pursuit of the kill and that should greatly please their manager.
* When Jurgen Klopp was appointed, my reaction was that fourth was theirs to lose, regardless of their league position at the time. Despite being very impressed with the job Mauricio Pochettino is doing at Tottenham, Liverpool have far greater potential under the right manager. And Klopp is undoubtedly the right manager, despite noises from those desperately trying to prick bubbles with 1-1 draws.
Liverpool are only going to improve as they become fitter, better educated and more suited to Klopp’s ideal of heavy metal football. They definitely moved into AOR territory with victory over Chelsea, and who doesn’t like a little blast of Dire Straits? Maybe not Jose.
If their intelligence with the ball starts to match the effort without, Liverpool will breeze to fourth.
* You have to go back to January 2014 to find the last time John Obi Mikel and Ramires started a Premier League game together for Chelsea. There’s a reason for that. I wrote in the summer that Arsene Wenger could learn a lot from Mourinho when it came to the art of the upgrade, but the Chelsea manager has defied all logic by presiding over the slump of his upgrades and then reverting to the players he knows are really not good enough.
For all his strengths in other areas, does he lack the skill of pulling players out of a slump? If his response is to turn to those previously discarded, that has to be the conclusion.
* And why persist with Kurt Zouma at right-back when the player himself has publicly (so presumably, privately) admitted that he is struggling in the position? He looks exactly what he is – a centre-half playing out of position. Willian’s strength is in working byline to byline, but for that to be effective, he needs a full-back willing to do the same. It was no coincidence that Liverpool directed a higher percentage of their attacks down Chelsea’s right – it looked like a weakness on paper and it proved the case on the pitch.
* Having said in midweek that his attacking midfielders – Willian, Oscar and Eden Hazard – had enjoyed their match against Stoke perhaps more than any other game this season, it’s beyond logic why he would change their positions four days later. The idea was presumably to play the more diligent Oscar (who, despite Trevor Francis’ repetitious nonsense on BT, really does like a tackle) up against the marauding Alberto Moreno.
Once again, it was an idea born of negativity and there was no surprise in Hazard’s utterly anonymous performance, having been moved into a crowded midfield. Between Lucas Leiva and Liverpool’s two excellent centre-halves, Hazard was easily muted.
* The reaction to Liverpool’s starting line-up amongst the BT pundits was of incredulity. There was suspicious talk of false 9s and a lack of a focal point, with Francis particularly flabbergasted at the idea that strikers can come in all shapes and sizes. Firmino has of course played as a striker for Hoffenheim so was nowhere near as confused by the concept as an ‘expert’ who actually encouraged Klopp to change things soon after Chelsea took a fourth-minute lead.
Has nothing been learned from Olivier Giroud’s success as a substitute at Arsenal? There is only one thing centre-halves like less than a forward with pace – a forward with pace being replaced with an entirely different kind of striker mid-match. Benteke reaped the rewards of facing a Chelsea defence being pulled hither and thither by the movement of Firmino, Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana.
* Lallana spoke in midweek about Klopp asking his attacking players to do “dirty work” and that was certainly in evidence at Stamford Bridge, where they did an awful lot of pressing and claiming of second balls (aided by a Chelsea side apparently lacking both energy and motivation) to keep incessant pressure on the hosts. Too often they won the ball only to give it away again, but Klopp will surely prefer that scenario to the alternative of a Liverpool side not winning the ball at all.
* As soon as Chelsea took the lead, you knew they had scored too early. Even against a Liverpool XI who had scored just two Premier League goals this season, Chelsea were too fragile to hold out for 86 minutes. The goal should have relaxed them but instead it seemed to make them even more tense. It became a matter of when rather than if they would concede an equaliser.
If Liverpool had been better in possession – and James Milner’s dithering was clearly a cause of massive frustration to a screaming Klopp – then the goal would have come sooner. But Chelsea’s retreat and the knowledge that Benteke was a weapon holstered on the bench made the equaliser seem inevitable despite Liverpool’s oft-clumsy attempts at breaking down a Chelsea side almost begging to be put out of its misery.
* Sorry but I don’t care how many seconds over the allotted injury-time had elapsed before the equaliser. The Chelsea players would have had no clue whether one, two or three minutes had passed and their mistakes can find no excuse in a ticking timepiece. John Terry can share the blame with Ramires, but we would prefer to credit Coutinho.
Although he walks away with the man of the match champagne, let us not pretend that the Brazilian was anything more than average before his goal. It looked like another of those ‘not quite’ performances until he shifted the ball from one foot to another in his usual fashion and curled his shot home, in not quite the usual fashion of this season. Liverpool needed a moment of individual skill as collectively there was little creativity to match the endeavour, and Coutinho delivered. Like a proper player.
* Whatever Mourinho said at half-time after the blow of Coutinho’s late equaliser, it did absolutely nothing to calm the Blues’ nerves. They just about stopped short of actual shaking and Klopp clearly sensed that he could turn a credible point into a famous victory if he turned the screw. On came Benteke for Milner – when a more neutral substitution would have been to haul off Lallana – and we all simultaneously thought ‘here we go’.
Having a genuine game-changer on the bench is quite the luxury and Chelsea really did not adapt. There were miscommunications, hurried clearances and panicked passes. And very little sign – barring a piece of 45-yard cheek from Oscar – that they could even vaguely threaten themselves. The bus had been parked and the wheels were coming off.
* Let’s talk Lucas. Should he have seen red for what was clearly an offence worthy of a booking when he was on a yellow card? Similarly to Nemanja Matic last week, I have to say a reluctant yes. Would it have changed the game? Possibly. Does it change the fact that Chelsea were really very rotten? Not at all. Certainly, there was little in Chelsea’s performance to suggest that they would have gone on to win the game even against ten men. And they may still have remained vulnerable to the long ball into Benteke.
* The ball came a long way, Benteke did exactly what Benteke was brought on to do, and Coutinho did what he did before – only this time his feint came the other way and the finish came with the other foot. Everybody knew exactly what Coutinho was going to do but once again, the Chelsea player bought the con like an old man getting a phone call from the building society needing his account details. Cleaned out.
* By the time Liverpool’s third goal came, Chelsea were on their knees, barely walking and barely bothered. After scoring just nine goals in ten games, a three-goal Liverpool haul looks incongruous, but we would not bet against it happening again soon. This is a Liverpool side that will get better and better. And with better and better will inevitably come more and more goals. It is the second-most fascinating story of this season so far – just how good can Klopp make Liverpool if they are willing to work and listen and listen and work?
The most fascinating? What the f*** is wrong with this Chelsea side?