Andreas Christensen was sent off, Kepa Arrizabalaga gave the ball to Sadio Mane for the second and Jorginho missed a penalty. From that you might think Chelsea were the architects of their downfall here.
But, no. Liverpool were the better side, and Chelsea played them that way for 90 minutes. Even in the half that saw 11 against 11, Chelsea were looking to contain the champions more than beat them. Their game plan was to smother and, if possible, strike on the counter attack through Timo Werner. At half-time, not one Chelsea player had an average position in the opposing half.
Liverpool’s threat was growing in the 10 minutes before Christensen’s red card and, once it had been shown, the outcome had a certain inevitability. No matter the array of gifts from Chelsea, this was the performance of a team the rest must beat.
Liverpool sent a strong message to Premier League rivals Chelsea as a Sadio Mane double downed the Blues on Sunday
The Senegalese attacker punished Frank Lampard’s side with two quickfire goals just after the half-time break
The Liverpool star’s tenacity saw him net a second shortly after as he pinched the ball of Kepa to earn a strong advantage
The Spanish goalkeeper watches on as Mane makes no mistake in dispatching from close range after winning the ball back
Liverpool’s star trio of Mane (right), Mohamed Salah (centre) and Roberto Firmino (left) celebrate after a comfortable win
Mane was magnificent in both impact and effort, so too Mohamed Salah. Fabinho came into the heart of defence to plug a gap left by injuries and was outstanding.
And Thiago Alcantara got his introduction to English domestic football, as a half-time substitute for Jordan Henderson. He gave away the penalty that Jorginho could not make count, but that’s all part of gaining experience. His passing controls the game in the way Chelsea once hoped Jorginho would. A two goal away victory against Champions League opposition is no mean introduction either. And Alcantara completed more passes in his 45 minutes than any Chelsea player did across the whole 90.
So while the dismissal of Christensen was crucial, this was as much about the gulf between Liverpool and the rest. The money Chelsea have spent will not bring them nearer the champions until it delivers a defence and goalkeeper that can be trusted; and at the moment, it has not.
Thiago Silva may change that, Ben Chilwell, too. But on Sunday, the walking catastrophe that is Arrizabalaga combined with a wider defensive vulnerability to undo Frank Lampard’s strategy and deliver another three points to Liverpool. Chelsea have now won once in the last 12 meetings between these sides, and that was in 2018, four days after Liverpool had progressed to the Champions League final.
On Sunday, Chelsea didn’t really look like winning even when the teams were at full strength, then Christensen was tested by Mane and found dramatically wanting in the final attack of the half and that was the blue corner done.
Liverpool dominated the first 45 minutes and Chelsea were a man down before the break as Andreas Christensen was sent off
The Chelsea defender sent Mane tumbling to the turf as the striker was sent through on goal by Jordan Henderson
Referee Paul Tierney had awarded a yellow card but VAR intervened and he soon brandished a red for the defender
It was a deep ball from defence by Henderson that caused the trouble but Christensen had time to read and anticipate it, and his positioning was poor. Mane set off, the Chelsea man lost half a yard instantly, Arrizabalaga came tearing out which only added to the panic – for the record, he didn’t get the ball either – before Christensen took Mane out with a rugby tackle. A proper rugby tackle. One that would have been a red card in either sport. In football, it was a professional foul, and with an oval ball in hand it would have been a high tackle and an even longer suspension. Christensen put his arms around Mane’s neck and dragged him down.
The only surprise was that referee Paul Tierney considered, at first look, the correct punishment to be a yellow card. Advised to have a second glance by the voice of God in his ear, he upgraded. Straight red. There could be no complaints. Mane was on goal and didn’t really even have Arrizabalaga to beat; because everyone beats him, these days.
Liverpool did, five minutes after the second-half restart, a breakthrough goal that was always likely to result from numerical imbalance. The man who had tormented Christensen into an early return to the dressing-room was at the heart of it, as he is at the heart of so much that is great about this Liverpool team. It was a lovely move, quick and direct, Salah out to Roberto Firmino, his cross met by Mane, powering his header into the net.
The second, four minutes later? Well, that was very much a self-inflicted wound. Mane lost the ball and in a state of fury continued chasing, Fikayo Tomori – on at half-time as Chelsea re-organised – tidied up by knocking a pass back to Arrizabalaga. He had all the time to take the easy route out. Instead he tried to play a short pass to Reece James which Mane read like a big print library book. He nicked the ball and tapped it into an empty net. Chelsea have had all summer to sort out the lamentable decline of such a vital player, in a vital position. Surely with Edouard Mendy’s transfer from Rennes all but completed, his race is run.
Maybe that of Jorginho as penalty-taker, too, given that he missed one that could have brought Chelsea back to unlikely life with 17 minutes remaining. Alcantara gave it away, clumsily tripping Werner. The German earned one at Brighton last week, too, and watched happily as Jorginho converted it. Maybe he will have more to say now, having watched the Brazilian do his little hop, skip, sidefoot routine and pass the ball to Alisson.
Chelsea had the opportunity to get back into the game but Jorginho saw his tame penalty parried away by Alisson Becker
Chelsea new boy and former Liverpool target Timo Werner cuts a dejected figure as his new side were defeated on Sunday
Thiago also featured for the first time since arriving from Bayern Munich on Friday and put in an accomplished display
So Liverpool had moments of good fortune but, mostly, this was a reminder of how difficult it will be to depose the champions. This is an outstanding squad, confirmed by the way Fabinho fitted seamlessly into the centre of defence. Pep Guardiola loves a midfielder at centre-half. He did it with Javier Mascherano at Barcelona and, more recently, with Fernandinho at Manchester City.
He would have loved the look of Fabinho up against Werner, too, as no doubt Jurgen Klopp did. They went up against each other, one on one, on several occasions in the first-half and each time Fabinho won the battle.
They are smart, these central defensive midfielders. They read the play, know when to go in, know when to stand up, and their positioning is often the most intelligent, and important, on the field. It’s why it was always a rotten idea to play Jack Wilshere there for England. The guard position requires an innate sense of defensive strategy, which is exactly what Fabinho displayed. He won a foot race against Werner, which is never easy, while on another occasion holding his position and refusing to dive in, then nicking the ball as Werner tried his tricks. It was impressive stuff.
One might argue he looked considerably more comfortable than his counterparts in Chelsea shirts who consider central defence their specialist position. And that’s sort of the problem.
Mo Salah drills an effort across goal as Liverpool looked to break the deadlock in a tactical first half at Stamford Bridge
Fabinho, who was deployed at centre half, put in an assured performance as he handled Werner well for the champions
Kai Havertz had little impact for his new club and was withdrawn at half time owing to Christensen’s red card
Liverpool’s win on Sunday sends out a strong message to the rest of the league as they put in the performance of champions
Frank Lampard watches on as his new-look side showed little sign of closing the gap to the league’s top two teams