In the build-up to the blockbuster at Stamford Bridge, there was a desperation from sections of the media to teleport back to the sphere of animosity that existed when Jose Mourinho and Rafa Benitez were the men in the dugout as Chelsea and Liverpool tussled.
Both Jurgen Klopp and Frank Lampard had been asked about a growing rivalry between themselves and their clubs on multiple occasions by multiple platforms. Both were as bemused by such talk as they were annoyed by it: these are managers and teams in completely different cycles, who are only really each other’s concern when they meet on a matchday.
And as Sunday afternoon turned to Sunday evening, that truth was lit up: Liverpool are competing against what they have produced over the past two seasons. Chelsea, for all their exciting and accomplished attacking additions, can only look as far as themselves and the issues that saw them finish 33 points off the pace in 2019-20.
One of which was goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga, devoid of any self-belief and disastrously unable to box off the basics of his position. The psychological effects of his selection – with everyone associated with Chelsea expecting him to make a mistake and the opposition preying on the situation – was highlighted again.
Andreas Christensen’s red card in the first half was a combination of glorious movement from Sadio Mane, back-foot defending and having no trust in his keeper.
Before Liverpool were gifted a man advantage, Chelsea had not tested Alisson – they offered one shot from outside the box and zero corners.
After the interval, the champions immediately maximised their numerical superiority. Roberto Firmino’s superb interplay with Mohamed Salah led to the Brazilian delivering a fine cross into the middle for Mane to oust Reece James and head into the corner.
Four minutes later, Kepa tried to locate Jorginho on the edge of the area, but having initially lost the ball, the Senegal forward chased the pass down and cooly tapped in from close range. It was another horrid, anticipated error from the keeper, but also an underlining of the difference in decision making, relentless and so much else between these teams.
Perhaps it was too familiar given he brushed Timo Werner’s ankle and unnecessarily conceded a penalty.
But Alisson saved from Jorginho to compound a thankless encounter for Chelsea. While defensive uncertainty and erring defined their play, Fabinho excelled as a makeshift centre-back in a man-of-the-match display.
Liverpool have continued their art of reacting to setbacks by just shrugging them off and getting the job done.
Beyond personnel, the west Londoners can draw from their mental resilience.
A deal for Edouard Mendy from Rennes is lined up to remedy the Kepa problem and the negativity around it, but Lampard’s rebuild needs to be more than just cosmetic.
Chelsea have spent over £200 million this summer and have collected some of the biggest talents in world football. But as Werner had pointed out, he moved to Stamford Bridge “to play straight away and be a regular. With this project, I can grow. This is an opportunity that Sadio Mane or Mohamed Salah may have seen four or three years ago at Liverpool.
“I would like to see that development.”
Different cycles. And the players know it. Lampard knows it too. Klopp said Chelsea were not “in tune” offensively, which is natural given the amount of new faces in the squad. Overseeing such an extensive change at once is never a streamlined process. “With new signings, we usually get a month or so in pre-season to bed them in,” Lampard agreed. “It was a lot shorter to work together. We have to have time. Our process starts here. “Our objectives and expectations are higher, but I saw a lot of character and spirit.”
Chelsea’s outlay has undoubtedly escalated the pressure on them and Klopp’s men ultimately have to be their rivals. But that is still a way and plenty work off.