Chelsea’s Eden Hazard fires spectacular winner to knock out Liverpool

Andy Hunter at Anfield 

Wed 26 Sep 2018 21.56 BST 

Jürgen Klopp found faults with Chelsea’s equalising goal at Anfield that VAR could not. For the moment that brought Liverpool’s winning streak to an end, however, there could be only admiration. “Eden Hazard at full speed in the box is not easy to stop,” said the Liverpool manager. “A wonderful goal.” Chelsea reaped the benefits of the Belgium forward’s brilliant intervention.

The first instalment of Chelsea’s double-header with Liverpool may lack the significance of Saturday’s Premier League meeting at Stamford Bridge but the value of victory will not be lost on Maurizio Sarri. His team kept their nerve and belief against the league leaders before securing a place in the Carabao Cup fourth round with a devastating late flourish. Hazard sealed the win in the 85th minute, beating four Liverpool players in a mesmerising run before finding the far corner of Simon Mignolet’s net.

“Eden is one of the best players in Europe, one of the best in the world for sure,” said assistant manager Gianfranco Zola, taking over media duties from Sarri. “What he has done tonight is proof of that. He is doing the right things at the right moment. He is getting better and better.”

For Liverpool, recognition of the flash of genius that condemned them to defeat was laced with frustration at a missed opportunity. Klopp made eight changes and was clearly unhappy with Xherdan Shaqiri after the final whistle, exchanging words over his use of a stoppage-time free-kick, but this was not a glaring example of fringe players failing to deliver.

Liverpool created enough chances to have won but either squandered them or found Chelsea’s No2 goalkeeper Willy Caballero blocking their path. And not for the first time in the League Cup. Without Virgil van Dijk and Alisson they simply lacked the defensive authority to repel a team of Chelsea’s quality and Hazard’s excellence. It was a return to the suspect foundations of last year and a heavy price was paid.

The visitors started confidently with Ross Barkley and Mateo Kovacic prominent in central midfield. Liverpool, once they “got used to Chelsea’s specific style of play”, according to Klopp, finished the first half the more threatening side and Caballero saved impressively from Naby Keita and Sadio Mané. The referee and VAR were also unmoved by three Liverpool penalty claims against Cesc Fàbregas, twice for handball, and Gary Cahill.

Chelsea almost imploded after the restart. First Andreas Christensen undercooked an attempted back-pass to his goalkeeper. Daniel Sturridge seized on the mistake and rounded the keeper, who managed to get a hand on the ball but not enough power to push it clear. The goal was gaping but Sturridge, perhaps unaware he still had time and space, skewed a first time shot badly wide. A careless header from Barkley then freed Mané inside the Chelsea penalty area but Caballero again reprieved his team.

Pressure was mounting on the Chelsea goal, however, and the introduction of Hazard for Willian could not alleviate it initially.

The breakthrough was in keeping with the visitors’ start to the second half. Fábregas and César Azpilicueta both failed to clear their lines on the edge of the penalty area and the right-back gifted possession to Mané. The Liverpool striker released Keita on the angle of the box and though Caballero parried the midfielder’s shot the ball dropped invitingly for the unmarked Sturridge. It was not a simple chance but the striker made it appear so, leaping into the air before sweeping a left-footed volley into an unguarded net.

The goal was Sturridge’s ninth in his last nine League Cup outings but Chelsea struck back emphatically. Sarri’s side had barely tested Mignolet in the second half but took full advantage of a dangerous free-kick awarded for a foul by Keita on Victor Moses. The referee’s assistant had awarded a throw-in. Hazard’s delivery was met by a glancing header from Barkley and though Mignolet saved well, Emerson beat substitute Roberto Firmino to the rebound to equalise from two yards out. The goal was allowed to stand following a VAR review that showed Álvaro Morata and Azpilicueta in offside positions but not directly involved in the goal.

“I don’t think it’s a foul,” said Klopp. “Then you have two players that are clearly offside and they block. They don’t touch the ball but they block my players. That means a big impact in the situation. Why do you use VAR if you don’t want to make the decision?”

There was no questioning the validity or brilliance of Chelsea’s winner. Two minutes after Sturridge had rattled the crossbar, Hazard took possession in central midfield. He spun away from Jordan Henderson and the debutant Fabinho before finding Azpilicueta on the right wing. Reclaiming the ball, the Belgian then beat Keita, twisted Alberto Moreno inside and out and drove an angled shot beyond Mignolet into the far corner. A superb finish worthy of winning any game.

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