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Liverpool have created history and achieved many milestones under Jürgen Klopp but this will cut deep. For the first time in their 129‑year existence, the club endured a fifth successive defeat at Anfield as Chelsea took a significant step towards Champions League qualification at the expense of the fallen Premier League champions.
They may need another miracle in Istanbul, the stage for this season’s final, to rejoin the European elite next season.
Mason Mount’s exquisite finish shortly before half-time maintained Thomas Tuchel’s unbeaten run as Chelsea manager and sealed a merited, potentially invaluable win. Only poor finishing, a marginal VAR decision and a goal-line clearance prevented the visitors winning more comfortably.
When Liverpool belatedly improved in the second half, Andreas Christensen, Antonio Rüdiger and the rest of the Chelsea defence stood firm. Edouard Mendy, the Chelsea goalkeeper, was the exception, although only on account of being underemployed all night. He made a routine save in the 85th minute from Georginio Wijnaldum. It was Liverpool’s first attempt on target.
Klopp was involved in a heated discussion with the fourth official after the final whistle. It could only have centred on the officials’ refusal to consider N’Golo Kanté’s handball inside the Chelsea area early in the second half as, overall, Liverpool could have no complaints about the outcome. The hosts were laboured throughout, regularly caught out playing a defensive high line and, in keeping with their ignominious home run, unable to turn promising possession into genuine opportunity in front of goal.
Mohamed Salah reflected the lack of energy and invention on the pitch plus Liverpool’s mood off it when he reacted angrily to the earliest substitution of his Anfield career. Salah kicked a water box as he made his way past Klopp before scowling on the bench for the final 28 minutes. Diogo Jota made a welcome return as a substitute after three months on the sidelines with a knee injury but could not inject the spark or menace that Liverpool have mislaid in his absence.
Chelsea, assured in defence and clear in their plan to hurt the home side, always carried the greater threat and the lively Timo Werner should have rewarded it before the interval. The £53m striker controlled Ben Chilwell’s long ball expertly to create his first opening, driven over Alisson’s crossbar from the edge of the area. The Liverpool goalkeeper had declared himself available after the tragic death of his father last week.
That chance was difficult, but there were no excuses when Werner failed to convert César Azpilicueta’s overhead kick into the Liverpool area. With Thiago Alcântara unable to intercept the defender’s cross and Ozan Kabak playing Werner onside, the striker had only Alisson to beat from six yards. To the audible despair of Tuchel, he stretched for the high ball and steered a tame lob straight into the grateful keeper’s grasp.
It appeared third time lucky for the Germany international when Jorginho exposed Liverpool’s high line with a long ball over the fit-again Fabinho. Werner raced clear, poked the ball beyond the advancing Alisson and then into the net under pressure from Kabak.
Both teams were in position for the restart when the doom of VAR was signalled. Its forensics team found Werner’s shoulder to be fractionally ahead of Andy Robertson’s foot when the ball was played and Liverpool were reprieved. But only temporarily.
For a spell after Werner’s disallowed goal there was more urgency and invention about the hosts. Sadio Mané was presented with an excellent chance when Salah released him behind the Chelsea defence with a glorious ball from deep, but he completely fluffed his attempt on goal and Mendy gathered with ease.
That was Liverpool’s one and only opening of the first half. Their high line continued to invite Chelsea to drop balls over the top and it was eventually punished when Kanté, in possession after Azpilicueta intercepted a Roberto Firmino cross, sprayed a pass out to Mount racing into the space vacated by Alexander-Arnold. The 22-year-old’s intent was clear as he attacked the Liverpool area and rounded Fabinho easily before curling an inch-perfect finish inside the far, bottom corner. It was no more than Chelsea deserved.
Liverpool’s passing and movement improved in the second half – it had to – and they were denied a penalty for what appeared a clear handball by Kanté when Firmino’s chip inside the area struck his raised right arm. Referee Martin Atkinson, a late replacement for the self-isolating Craig Pawson, was unmoved by Liverpool’s appeals and VAR did not intervene. The close proximity of Firmino to Kanté may have saved Chelsea but let’s be honest, who knows anymore?
Robertson prevented Hakim Ziyech doubling Chelsea’s lead when Alisson blocked Chilwell’s shot and the rebound fell to the former Ajax winger, whose low effort was cleared off the line. Klopp introduced Jota and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain for Salah and Curtis Jones but to no avail; just more problems in the form of an unwanted piece of Liverpool history and a sulking star.