Going to Stamford Bridge is usually a difficult proposition, because Chelsea doesn’t suck, and they don’t suck particularly well right now. People keep mentioning the mini-premier-league, the internal table between the supposed “big six”, but honestly, I don’t know that either Manchester United (to my great delight) or Arsenal really qualify to be in it at the moment any more than, say, Leicester does.
Spurs, Chelsea, and the of course City clearly do. So it’s more of a big four. And before the opening whistle today, this felt like trapdoor game – you can walk in with all the confidence in the world, and one wrong movement finds you moaning in pain at the bottom of a ten-foot pit.
Kante’s breathtaking goal – definitely a contender for goal of the month – was an illustration of that trapdoor opening. It was sublime all the way through, and as Klopp pointed out after the game, that’s some big toe he got there, that Kante. But it was also too little, too late, which brings me to my feelings about this match.
To win the premier league you need a lot of things. Consistency, though, is probably the most important. Remember the heavy metal of Klopp’s early days at Liverpool? It was terrific to watch, but the results were all over the place. Were I neutral, I would be yearning for that to come back, but I’m not, and for me, having a team that simply asserts itself over the opposition with a sort of inevitability is a treat.
Sure, our two goals came from free kicks, and essentially the very same one in two different circumstances – both started with getting the ball moving. Trent’s strike was… wow. I think I pointed it out in another column recently, but some of the things he pulls off are just not normally in the realm of fullbackery. We are getting ourselves a sort of modern incarnation of a right-side Roberto Carlos. That strike was practically dripping acid as it was flying to the top corner, and for a moment I thought it would slice through the net by force of chemistry. The next thought was that it was simply Trent being Trent, which reminded me that the only other player I think of in those terms is Firmino, as in Bobby being Bobby, and that’s some high compliment for our young scouser.
But that’s just the thing. Chelsea at home can be explosive. That trapdoor can open at any moment. You get ‘em where you can, and Liverpool today is near-to being the best free kick taking top team in the world. It really matters how you manage an early two-goal lead in a minefield. And we did that with calmness and, dare I say it, aplomb. I never for a moment thought we would ship out a second, even as my colleagues were reliving the “trauma of a Liverpool fan”, which if you are one, you know all too well, and if you aren’t, trust me, you don’t want to ever comprehend. There was a level of maturity to the way we managed out the game, and in the end, we are still sitting pretty, uh, pretty at the top of the league.
It takes a certain kind of player to make this happen, and many of ours showed up today ready for real work. Van Dijk commanded. Fabinho terminated. Matip dominated. Henderson got face-to-face with Jorginho so many times I thought they were going to have a go at it, but it was crucial, because Jorginho was definitely trying to rile other players up, and Hendo wouldn’t let him do it. He was also constantly harassing every other blue shirt that happened in his vicinity. He felt like a giant in many moments. I think Klopp acknowledged it to him when Hendo finally came off for Lallana, if you watch the replay of that moment. Hendo gets my man of the match for knowing what kind of game this was going to be, and bringing on the minesweeper.
Adrian deserves a word of praise. Do I need to remind anyone where he comes from, and under what circumstances he found himself as our top keeper? His performance was so good I half-jokingly wonder if he’ll get a call-up to the Spain national team at his ripe age. It’s not just the saves; it’s his command of the box and the reading of the game that foiled many a trapdoor from opening up suddenly (that ball he gobbled up from a low cross into the box late in the first half was one of those). He’s still no Allison, but he sure is a serious goalie. I am so happy we have him.
With all that, the team’s mentality won this game. It was a display of maturity that I’m not used to from the Reds. Or to repeat the well-established Liverpool fan mantra, this has to be our season. And maybe, just maybe, this once we won’t be disappointed.