Liverpool too soft on stars as Chelsea's depth proves the differenceSeptember 27, 2018
LIVERPOOL — Sometimes it all comes down to one piece of genius. Two well-matched teams slug it out for 90 minutes and up pops a special talent to make all the difference.
It was Eden Hazard who stepped up to the plate to do just that for Chelsea at Anfield on Wednesday night, but it could so easily be Mohamed Salah who does the same for Liverpool at Stamford Bridge on Saturday when Premier League points, rather than Carabao Cup progression, are at stake.
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There is so little to choose between Liverpool and Chelsea in terms of quality and depth — the same applies to their second string teams, which contested the Carabao Cup third round tie won by Hazard’s late wonder goal — that individual meetings are likely to come down to which of Hazard or Salah, or maybe Alvaro Morata or Roberto Firmino, delivers that extra touch of brilliance to decide a tight encounter.
One thing for certain is that Wednesday’s cup tie will bear little resemblance to Saturday’s league encounter in terms of the outcome, but it is the star players on each team that hold the game in their hands.
But Wednesday’s game, won 2-1 by Chelsea, will give Maurizio Sarri’s team the confidence and belief that they win at the weekend because of the psychological advantage of overturning a 1-0 deficit to end Liverpool’s 100 percent winning start to the campaign.
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Any win boosts morale, particularly one against a major rival in the race for silverware, but Liverpool will not be weighed down by the defeat in the same manner as Chelsea are uplifted by their victory. Both Sarri and Jurgen Klopp made eight changes to their team for the Carabao Cup tie, and you can probably expect another eight at Stamford Bridge.
But if Wednesday’s encounter taught us anything it was that Liverpool still need their best team out on the pitch to win the big prizes.
That may be a statement of the obvious, but Chelsea are not quite so reliant on individuals as Liverpool, so the absence of Marcos Alonso could be compensated by the presence of Emerson, while the same could be said if Gary Cahill stepped in for Antonio Rudiger.
Liverpool look far less convincing with Alberto Moreno at left-back than with Scotland captain Andy Robertson in that position, while they simply have no adequate replacement for Virgil van Dijk at centre-half.
Dejan Lovren and Joel Matip played together against Chelsea and they both looked vulnerable at times against Morata. Neither Liverpool nor Chelsea have players who can fill the void for Salah or Hazard respectively, but some players are irreplaceable and you simply have to everything you can to ensure that they are fit and ready for the games that truly matter.
But Chelsea’s advantage over Liverpool right now is that they have better options at full-back and in defence and pretty much all over the pitch when it comes to providing cover for their first-choice players.
Jurgen Klopp insisted that his public exchange with Xherdan Shaqiri, after Liverpool’s 2-1 loss to Chelsea in the Carabao Cup, was solely about the Reds free-kick in the closing moments
One to eleven, Liverpool are arguably as strong as champions Manchester City when their best team is available, but a Premier League season is all about having the depth of resources to go all the way.
Chelsea have done that twice in the last four years, winning the title under Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte, so they know how to get the job done and why it is not always about the superstars. It is also about the nuts and bolts and Chelsea have theirs in place and tightened as they need to be. Klopp has yet to cover all of his bases at Liverpool, although he is getting much closer to getting that job done.
When you consider that the likes of Jon Flanagan, Ragnar Klavan and Marko Grujic — all now either sold or loaned out — played in the Carabao Cup third round defeat at Leicester last season, it is not easy to see that Liverpool have made progress. But they cannot rely on Salah and Firmino every week, or Van Dijk, James Milner and goalkeeper Alisson Becker, so they have to hope that the fringe players are capable of filling in the gaps.
They made a decent fist of that against Chelsea before Hazard’s wonder goal sealed the win for the visitors and closed off another route to silverware for Liverpool. On Saturday, it could easily go the other way with one of Liverpool’s magic men producing the decisive moment, but this season will be about the foot soldiers doing their bit and Chelsea’s look to be more reliable and experience right now. And they also know how to win the league.
If Sarri’s team win again on Saturday, perhaps it is they who will emerge as the side to beat this season, simply because they have the greater options beyond the first XI.