First and foremost I would like to thank the Chelsea fans who were at Anfield at the weekend for their impeccable behaviour, in particular the dignity shown during the minute’s silence before the game in memory of those who died at the Hillsborough Disaster. The proverbial pin could have dropped at our end and you would have heard it on the Kop. Quite a few people had said to me privately beforehand that they were worried about some possible embarrassment. I am happy that my confidence in our fans turned out to be well founded.
As for the game, it was always going to be among the most difficult of the season. Liverpool are flying at the moment and they played at a tempo that few could have lived with. We buckled for that three-minute spell at the start of the second half and although Eden had two fabulous opportunities afterwards that he would usually slot away with his eyes shut, Liverpool were the dominant team and deserved the points in the end.
It was interesting when the team sheets arrived beforehand to see Maurizio Sarri go with his most radical tactical change once again. Eden playing through the middle as centre-forward has its positives and its negatives so it was always a risk. Against Manchester City in the Carabao Cup it worked very well, as it has done on a number of other occasions, even long before Maurizio was at the club.
Defenders sometimes do not know how to deal with the Belgian and if he can turn and can run at the defenders in the box, we all know how devastating he can be. He is also our top scorer and on top of that it allows the opportunity to give Callum Hudson-Odoi an opportunity to test himself against a top side with real international class players, which he hasn’t done very often in his career so far.
The down side of having Eden up front is that yes, you have a pretty good striker in there but you have also lost your most potent weapon, a world-class attacker on the left-hand side, one of the best in the world at that particular position.
So I understood the thinking and accepted the risk, but on this occasion I thought the team looked better balanced when Gonzalo Higuain came on and Eden then floated in from his favoured left-hand side.
I like to see Eden Hazard running with the ball at his feet and attacking defenders in front of him as often as possible, as opposed to having his back to the goal. When he receives the ball centrally with his back to goal he is an easier target for lumpen centre-backs to go through him ‘clumsily’. It can work sometimes, but maybe this time it was less effective.
Having said that, there is no reason to believe any other shape would have done any better, so all things considered it was worth a try. The biggest regret of the day was not being able to make the substitution before the second goal came. Clearly the boss wanted to do it, but couldn’t make it happen in time and suddenly any real chance of a comeback was lost. He spoke afterwards about the unlucky nature of that goal’s timing.
Fortunately, all is not lost in terms of the season, though clearly we have to go on another run of wins now. This Thursday night was always going to be an important game against Slavia Prague but the loss to Liverpool has added a little more spice to the evening, because we all know it might now be the most likely route to Champions League football next season. They were a very energetic side in the first leg and not afraid to be physical too, so the 1-0 cushion is a god-send. Actually, it is less like a comfy cushion and more like a sliver of a pillow at a cheap hotel, because if we lose an early goal, that could lead to a seriously uncomfortable 90 minutes.
'I suspect that even though there is a slender lead, the manager might want to play as strong a side as he possibly can.'
— Pat Nevin
An early goal or two for us and it would suddenly relax everyone and importantly, it might allow us the chance to cruise a bit towards the end. That would be handy as Burnley on Monday night may be a bit of a battle.
A win for Sean Dyche’s men would certainly be enough to ensure their Premier League football next season; in fact they might be mathematically safe before then if Cardiff lose to Liverpool on Sunday afternoon. For once we might actually be Liverpool supporters for the day, or maybe that is pushing it a bit too far!
The reason for all this consideration is that the game coming up at Old Trafford could end up being the decider in terms of our top-four chances. I am not often one for using the ‘this is a must-win game’ line, purely because there are so many variables in football. The next two league games however probably are ‘must-win’ in terms of our top-four hopes.
For all the tension surrounding the men’s team, I was so disappointed for the Women’s team in the semi-final of the FA Cup. The game was going on at precisely the same time as the men were playing Liverpool. As I was co-commentating for the BBC at Anfield the updates sounded hopeful throughout, with Fran Kirby and Erin Cuthbert in particular coming close to putting us ahead. Then in the 92nd minute the cruel misfortune of scoring an own-goal decider befell Magdalena Eriksson. With no time to recover it was torture to watch, even on replay later that night.
So a word here to Magdalena and the rest of the team. As I am sure they know and doubtless have been reminded by Emma Hayes, these things happen to all the best players and indeed the best teams at some point. It is really down to how you react to it. In the semi-final of the Champions League, let’s hope the luck falls their way against Lyon.