It was actually a few seconds after the moment when Sadio Mane, sprawled on the ground, had the ball blasted into his head from point blank range by the substitute Mateo Kovacic that Liverpool looked truly beaten last night.
It was when Mane leapt up to instigate an understandable retaliation, but just as he had his hands up to the throat of Chelsea’s smirking midfielder the anger seemed to drain from him, his body language suggesting there was simply no point as he turned away.
The tables had truly turned. Chelsea were about to wrap up a composed victory at the home of the champions. Liverpool looked like yesterday’s men.
Mane knew he had been wronged but, as the closing minutes of a fifth-straight home defeat dwindled away, he looked resigned to it.Embed from Getty Images
Mohamed Salah had a similar look when he was substituted just after the hour with Liverpool in search of an equaliser. Premier League top scorer, with two of the past three golden boots, but of course he was being taken off.
After the game Jurgen Klopp downplayed the move: “Just bringing fresh legs. Mo looked like he suffered a little bit, he plays a lot of games. I could have taken off Sadio or Bobby [Firmino].”
Salah did look about five years older as he trudged to the side-line, his displeasure matched only by his weariness.
Mane and Salah should have combined to take the lead. With the game still goalless, minutes after the tightest of VAR offsides had ruled out Timo Werner’s opener, Salah’s first-time ball over the top from the right landed next to the penalty spot in stride for Mane to lash home, but he miskicked completely, and Edouard Mendy claimed.Embed from Getty Images
Werner probably knows how his Liverpool counterparts feel lately. His manager had named him as the central striker for one reason, speed, and it appeared to have paid off as he raced beyond Liverpool’s high line, beat the onrushing Alisson to the ball, then beat the covering defender to finish in the 24th minute.
His relative lack of reaction when the VAR check confirmed the top of his arm was marginally offside suggested he knows this season’s pattern for him well enough now.
Thomas Tuchel could afford to be circumspect, having moved into the top four with a first away win over Klopp: “It was clear it was a super close decision and you never know where the line is. You have to accept this sometimes.”
Werner was always an outlet, combining especially with Mason Mount down the left as Chelsea looked to exploit the space behind Trent Alexander-Arnold.Embed from Getty Images
This was how Chelsea eventually did take the lead in the 42nd minute, as N’Golo Kante released an early ball down the left channel to instigate a quick counterattack. Mount ran onto it, cut inside Fabinho, restored perhaps too early to form Liverpool’s 15th centre back pairing this season, and with the shadow of Alexander-Arnold’s former self not yet close enough, curled a low finish into the far corner.
If Liverpool are quickly looking past their prime, Mount, perhaps freed from the accusations of favouritism under Frank Lampard, truly seems to be coming of age.
Were it not for the medley of celebrations he broke into after scoring, and the deodorant adverts currently running where he looks all of 15, it would be easy to forget that the 22-year-old had not yet broken into the Chelsea first team before the start of last season.Embed from Getty Images
The England midfielder seems to be developing more of a presence on the field to go with ability on the ball, while his physical attributes appear to be improving, with Mount admitting after: “I’m not the quickest but I have a little bit of a burst of pace.”
Tuchel’s system, for all its lack of cutting edge in attack at times, does seem to be benefiting players previously considered too lightweight for the Premier League.
As Liverpool tried to muster the strength to mount a comeback late on, attacking the Kop without any fans in it to suck the ball into the net, Andreas Christensen, often resembling an overgrown schoolboy himself, stepped up alongside Antonio Rudiger to show a command rarely spotted before his run in place of Thiago Silva, making key interceptions and showing composure on the ball under pressure.Embed from Getty Images
Of his successful game plan Tuchel said: “The point is when you play at Anfield you cannot over-think. We told the players we need your best performance, but we don’t need anything extra special.”
He was right on this occasion but during the 68-game home unbeaten run which seems like ancient history now but only ended six weeks ago, it would have taken something extra special to beat Liverpool.
It could have been different. Early in the second half Roberto Firmino clipped the ball into Kante’s hand from close range inside the area. Perhaps an equalising penalty at this stage would have brought more belief, but for the second game running Chelsea got the benefit of the doubt.Embed from Getty Images
Unlike Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Klopp did not even mention the incident afterwards, so downcast he seemed at the situation.
He said: “The individual quality of Mason [Mount] in that moment was the difference. They scored, we didn’t, that’s it.”
With his men now lying in seventh, he added: “If you lose that many games, you don’t have the right to go to the Champions League.”
For the side crowned European Champions less than two years ago that is quite a fall from grace, but Andy Robertson summed it up post-match: “We can’t rely on the past. Last season’s done. The season before’s done. We’ve been nowhere near good enough.”
Maybe next season with Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez, and Jordan Henderson all in the team the old Liverpool will return, but currently they seem to be ruing what they had now that it has gone.
All quotes from Sky Sports
Click here to read about Chelsea’s previous match against Manchester United.