Liverpool’s Daniel Sturridge hits back after Eden Hazard’s Chelsea strike
Daniel Taylor at Stamford Bridge
Sat 29 Sep 2018 19.47 BST
There were two minutes of normal time remaining when Daniel Sturridge – so new to the game there could not have been a scuff of grass on his kit – let fly with an elegant swish of his left boot. Liverpool had given everything to conjure up an equaliser and Sturridge struck just as it had started to seem futile. His goal was a beauty and the body language of Jürgen Klopp’s players at the final whistle made it clear they could live with giving up their immaculate run in the Premier League.
Nobody could argue, either, that it was undeserved, bearing in mind the number of chances Liverpool passed up before Sturridge deceived Kepa Arrizabalaga, the Chelsea goalkeeper, with the swerve and trajectory of his high, angled shot.
Mohamed Salah, one of the repeat offenders, had already left the game by that point, substituted on an evening when he missed more chances than he will probably wish to remember. His replacement, Xherdan Shaqiri, proceeded to squander his side’s most inviting chance and, at that stage, it seemed as though the only consolation for Liverpool could be that it was another six months before they were due to face Eden Hazard again.
Twice, they have faced Chelsea in four days and on both occasions Hazard has advanced the point that, while Liverpool have their own elite performers, none is currently playing with his level of expertise. Again, Hazard scored a classy goal to emphasise the point.
He was always alive, the game’s outstanding performer, and on this evidence Chelsea’s supporters should probably just cherish him while they can. In one television interview, Hazard acknowledged what everyone probably knew anyway: that, yes, he had wanted to leave after the World Cup and it was still his ambition to play in Spain.
Chelsea clearly have their work cut out to keep hold of him beyond this season but, if this is his final year at Stamford Bridge, he seems determined to leave a wonderful portfolio of memories.
Ultimately, though, Hazard was playing for a team that struggled to match Liverpool’s authoritative passing. The visitors certainly moved the ball in the manner of a team with serious aspirations to finish the season with Manchester City, not just Manchester United, in their rearview mirror. They never seemed too disheartened as their missed chances racked up and there was something profoundly impressive about the way they took the game to their opponents.
A lot of visitors to Stamford Bridge, facing a side that had won all their previous home games, might have set off with a measure of restraint. Not Klopp’s men. They attacked in numbers and the only possible criticism, much like their previous away game at Tottenham, was that they did not accept a greater percentage of their chances.
For that, Salah was not the only culpable player, but it was unusual to see him being so profligate, and tempting to think that increasingly familiar facial expression – a look of smiling disbelief, eyes raised to the skies – displayed the telltale signs of fraying confidence.
To say Salah is falling short of last season’s heights would be to omit the fact he is still stretching opposition defences, always showing for the ball and, for long periods, a difficult, elusive opponent. It is true, nonetheless, that some of that precious magic has temporarily deserted him. Not all the subtle flicks and touches are coming off. A few passes are going astray that he would normally expect to have completed as a matter of routine.
Twice, at 0-0, Salah let Chelsea off the hook and when he did go round Arrizabalaga, shortly after the half‑hour mark, Antonio Rüdiger had sprinted across to clear from the goal-line.
Hazard, on the other hand, oozed confidence. The Belgian was a constant threat, continuing where he left off in the Carabao Cup match at Anfield on Wednesday, and the excellence of his goal should not be underappreciated.
The low, diagonal shot to pick out the corner of Alisson’s net, connecting with the ball on the run and firing in left to right, was impressive enough, but Hazard had actually set everything in motion 40 yards back with an elegant flick in the centre circle. He was on the move immediately and, in this slick exchange of passes, Mateo Kovacic’s through ball provided the shooting opportunity. Hazard’s speed and movement took him away from Joe Gomez, who is hardly a slouch, and Liverpool had conceded a first-half goal for the first time in the league this season.
Although the away team had the better of the game, Chelsea could always be encouraged by the problems Hazard was creating and the gaps that occasionally appeared in Liverpool’s defence.
It was the home side who were playing on the counterattack but they did so effectively and can reflect on two fine chances of their own when Willian and then Hazard sprung the Liverpool defence. For the first one, the 50-yard pass from David Luiz to send Willian clear was one of the game’s outstanding moments.
Hazard’s chance originated from N’Golo Kanté’s quickly taken free-kick. On both occasions, however, Alisson was quickly off Liverpool’s goal-line to block the resultant shots.
For the most part, it was Liverpool on the front foot and Klopp was not exaggerating when he said that his team could have won, never mind drawn.
Shaqiri could not get a clean connection when Andy Robertson’s cross left him with the chance to equalise. Sturridge, however, caught his shot beautifully. Klopp had brought him on after 86 minutes. It was Sturridge’s first effort at goal and a wonderful moment for a player whose previous appearance at this ground, in April, could hardly have been a greater contrast: on loan at West Brom, and lasting only four minutes before he was taken off injured.
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