The Blues rallied in the second half and scored through a superb N’Golo Kante strike, but an equaliser proved beyond us as two Liverpool goals before the break proved the difference at Stamford Bridge today.
Trent Alexander-Arnold and Roberto Firmino netted from set-pieces for the visitors, although things might have been so different had a Cesar Azpilicueta strike between those goals not been ruled out by VAR long after the ball had hit the net.
In the opening exchanges of the second half, Kepa kept us in the game with a pair of stunning saves, and then the Blues took control, laying siege to the Liverpool goal. With 20 minutes left the fit-again Kante got us back in it, crowning a solo run with an exquisite top-corner finish.
Sub Michy Batshuayi and Mason Mount had chances to level in the final few minutes, heading wide and shooting over respectively, but there was to be no deserved equaliser for Frank Lampard and his side.
The applause and singing after the final whistle from the Stamford Bridge faithful showed what a mammoth effort the players had put in, and although the result didn’t go our way, the quality of performance against a side on a 14-game winning run in the Premier League bodes well for the months ahead.
The return of Kante for the first time since the draw with Leicester here five weeks ago was the big news before kick-off. Mason Mount and Emerson, two other players affected by injury recently, were also selected as the Blues reverted to a back four.
Liverpool made a solitary change from their midweek defeat to Napoli, replacing James Milner with Georginio Wijnaldum.
Just as in Istanbul, it was a fast and furious start to the latest meeting between us and Liverpool. Azpilicueta read a dangerous situation perfectly to intercept a cross before it could reach Sadio Mane, and then on 10 minutes some super feet from Mateo Kovacic in front of the dugouts gave Mount space to run and centre. Tammy Abraham and Willian were both close to making something of it.
A foul by Andreas Christensen on Mane right on the edge of our box spelled trouble, and so it proved. From the resulting free-kick Alexander-Arnold blasted the visitors ahead after the set-piece was backheeled into his path.
Marcos Alonso replaced Emerson in the aftermath of the goal, the Italian international’s return to the side after injury coming to a premature end.
Despite the unusual sensation of conceding first at the Bridge in the league this season, we responded well. Midway through the half, Christensen superbly released Abraham from inside his own half. The no.9 timed his run to perfection but found his match in Adrian, who blocked his shot as Mount screamed for a pass to his left.
The Blues did find the net on 27 minutes, though. Mount and Willian neatly swapped passes and the Brazilian’s delivery was backflicked goalwards by Abraham. A combination of Fabinho and Adrian kept it out, but there was Azpilicueta to sweep home the loose ball. The celebrations had died down, and we were all set to restart when a VAR check showed Mount had been fractionally offside earlier in the move.
It was a gutting blow, compounded three minutes later when Liverpool doubled their lead.
Robertson swung a disputed free-kick over from the left and an unmarked Firmino powered a header home from six yards out.
A brave block from Christensen stopped Salah making it 3-0, but he picked up a knock in the process and like Emerson earlier in the half had to be replaced. Kurt Zouma came on.
With the interval approaching, Abraham headed an Azpilicueta cross wide, so at least two second-half goals would be required if we were to get anything out of the game.
It needed a miraculous save from Kepa 90 seconds after the restart to keep us in the contest. Firmino was again left completely unmarked, and his back-post volley was goalbound until Kepa clawed it over with his left hand.
Our keeper was at again soon after, somehow stopping Azpi inadvertently putting through his own net with a strong right hand this time. The offside flag was up against Alexander-Arnold, who had crossed, but replays suggested it might have stood if Kepa hadn’t performed heroics.
A frantic few minutes ensued as we began to get a better grip on proceedings and a couple of 50/50 decisions went our way. Azpi, energetic as ever down our right-hand side, centred low and hard, and Abraham’s innovative effort took a touch on its way past the far post. From the corner Kante fired wide on his left foot.
We appealed for a penalty when yet another Azpilicueta cross was taken off the head of Mount by Alexander-Arnold’s boot, but the goal our performance deserved arrived with 20 minutes left.
There didn’t seem much danger on for Liverpool when Kante picked the ball up from Willian 30 yards out in the inside right channel, but the Frenchman created a shooting chance out of nothing. He glided inside Fabinho and dribbled at the heart of the visitors’ backline. With no obvious pass forthcoming, he went it alone and how, thumping the ball into the top right-hand corner from the edge of the box.
There was no time for celebrations. We had to keep our foot on the throttle if we were to get a second. Michy Batshuayi replaced Abraham, who had taken his fair share of knocks, with 14 minutes left.
Alonso, with a header, forced a good save from Adrian although the offside flag was up. Next it was Batshuayi’s turn to go close, generating good power on his header from Alonso’s delivery and watching on as it skipped off the turf and agonisingly past the post.
The golden chance arrived on the brink of stoppage time. Willian switched the play to Alonso who saw Mount in space and quickly picked him out. Running on to it, Mount could only fire his first-time shot into the Matthew Harding End.
In four minutes of stoppage time, Jorginho curled over with our last attempt, and so a first home league defeat since December was confirmed. Despite the result, the players and Lampard received a huge ovation from the home support after the final whistle, recognition for a fine performance that merited more.
Chelsea (4-3-3): Kepa; Azpilicueta (c), Christensen (Zouma 42), Tomori, Emerson (Alonso 15): Kante, Jorginho, Kovacic; Willian, Abraham (Batshuayi 76), Mount.
Unused subs Caballero, Barkley, Pedro, Pulisic.
Scorer Kante 70
Booked Tomori 20, Kovacic 84, Alonso 90+4
Liverpool (4-3-3): Adrian; Alexander-Arnold, Matip, Van Dijk, Robertson; Henderson (c) (Lallana 84), Fabinho, Wijnaldum; Salah (Gomez 90+2), Firmino, Mane (Milner 71).
Unused subs Kelleher, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Shaqiri, Brewster.
Scorers Alexander-Arnold 14, Firmino 30
Booked Alexander-Arnold 57, Fabinho 78, Milner 86
Referee Michael Oliver