Chelsea’s late season charge continues. An Olivier Giroud header in the first half settled our penultimate home game of the season in the Blues favour and keeps the pressure on the teams above.
It was our fifth win in a row, fourth in the league and second 1-0 victory in succession. It was deserved to, the reward for a committed performance across the pitch and one in which Chelsea carried the greater goal threat, while largely shackling Liverpool’s revered front three.
We are now just three points behind today’s opponents with a game in hand, albeit with an inferior goal difference, and two adrift of Tottenham following their loss at West Brom yesterday.
Before kick-off there was a minute’s applause from the crowd and the players as sadly, for the second home game running, it was time to mark the recent passing of another Chelsea legend and former captain. Against West Ham it had been Ray Wilkins, today it was Roy Bentley.
For the present day Chelsea, the target on this sunny early May day was clear. We needed to win. A draw would be a far better result for the Merseysiders. Liverpool fired on target first, Thibaut Courtois saving from Roberto Firmino after a long ball had sent him in behind the Blues defence.
Before 10 minutes were up, Eden Hazard was the recipient of a very strong foul by James Milner on halfway. That referee Anthony Taylor chose not to book Liverpool’s on-field captain today was a surprise to almost all who witnessed the tackle. Hazard was hurt but thankfully could continue.
Chelsea opened Liverpool up for the first time not long after that. Victor Moses, against a club he previously played for on loan, cut a ball back from the byline towards the penalty spot but Tiemoue Bakayoko and Olivier Giroud got in each other’s way. By the time Giroud did shoot, he was surrounded by red-shirted players.
Marcos Alonso, from the edge of the area, did strike a shot powerfully but his was straight at Loris Karius. Alonso, in for Emerson Palmieri after suspension, was the only change Antonio Conte had made to the team that won at Swansea last weekend. Prior to the game, today’s line-up had been read out on the pitch by Michael Buffer, the famous American boxing announcer who was present as an ambassador for the club’s betting partner William Hill, and there was no shortage of punching and counter-punching, in a football sense, as this afternoon’s game progressed.
Liverpool, so good on the break this season, set off worryingly towards our goal with Sadio Mane on the ball and with space in which to run. We should not have been concerned however, as N’Golo Kante was in pursuit and our dynamo made it, with a sliding challenge before Mane reached the penalty area. Exceptional!
Midway through the half, Mane was able to go for goal and hit his effort cleanly, but Courtois dived and parried. Our keeper did less well with the corner that followed but no damage was suffered.
Mane extended Courtois again on half-an-hour, and now it was Chelsea’s turn to launch a counter-attack. Alonso took the ball into the danger zone, the move switched to the other flank but when Moses crossed, Bakayoko’s tumbling header went wide. It was a good dress rehearsal however for what followed moments later when Moses sent over a higher cross.
This delivery went to just the man we wanted. Giroud rose between Liverpool defenders and sent a header beyond Karius who barely reacted. There were 31 minutes on the clock and the deadlock had been broken.
Mo Salah, so far pretty quiet, was booked for diving just outside the area on 39 minutes, and Nathaniel Clyne was shown a yellow too for clattering into Alonso a minute later.
The Moses-Giroud link could have produced for Chelsea again at the start of the second half but the Nigerian’s hammered low cross was too far in front of the centre-forward, running in at the far post. Despite that inaccuracy, Moses was one of the afternoon’s best players.
Hazard, as in recent weeks, was on the top of his game, and he somehow managed to find a path past a succession of Liverpool players on 55 minutes. His drive from a tight angle was saved by Karius at the expense of a corner. Toni Rudiger was successful in bundling that set-piece into the net, but from an offside position.
Chelsea continued to look the side more likely to score a second-half goal. When Liverpool did get into our half, the Blues were tight on them and forcing mistakes. We were pushed back for a spell inside the final 20 minutes but the defending was strong with Gary Cahill again making his presence felt in the centre of the back three.
Alonso was close to scoring what would have been a late contender for Goal of the Season when he sweetly struck a volley after Moses had fired a cross beyond the far post, but in the end Giroud’s fourth goal in five appearances was enough. When substitute Dominic Solanke was off-target with a stoppage-time header for the Reds, we had our first home win against them in four years.
Next up, Huddersfield at the Bridge on Wednesday, a game for which tickets are on general sale.
Chelsea (3-5-2): Courtois; Azpilicueta, Cahill (c), Rudiger; Moses (Zappacosta 89), Fabregas (Pedro 90+3), Kante, Bakayoko, Alonso; Hazard (Willian 86), Giroud.
Unused subs: Caballero, Christensen, Emerson, Barkley.
Scorer Giroud 32
Booked Alonso 79, Moses 81, Courtois 90+1.
Liverpool (4-3-3): Karius; Clyne (Henderson 59), Lovren, Van Dijk, Robertson (Solanke 74); Alexander-Arnold, Wijnaldum, Milner (c) (Moreno 89); Salah, Firmino, Mane.
Unused subs Mignolet, Klavan, Woodburn, Ings.
Booked Salah 39, Clyne 40
Referee Anthony Taylor