Liverpool, Chelsea prove title credentials in gripping clash

1 Comment

LONDON — When all is said and done this season, both Liverpool and Chelsea will not be far off winning the Premier League title.

[ MORE: 3 things learned ]

That was the main thing we learned on a gripping, intense evening under the “Friday Night Lights” at Stamford Bridge.

With smoke machines, spotlights and blue lasers before the game in west London, everything was box office about this encounter. Their intense rivalry over a record-breaking 53 meetings in all competitions since 2000 has been brewing and now they both seem set to challenge Manchester City, Manchester and Arsenal for the Premier League title this season.

[ MORE: Player ratings | Slow start for Blues ]

With two talented and hungry managers in Antonio Conte and Jurgen Klopp passionately patrolling the sidelines on Friday, their two teams proved there is little between them. Liverpool came flying out of the traps, scoring the opener via Dejan Lovren after a defensive mix up, then Jordan Henderson scored a sublime goal (see above) to make it 2-0 to Klopp’s side.

Despite Diego Costa‘s strike early in the second half to bring Chelsea back into the game, Conte’s side couldn’t grab an equalizer as Liverpool, like Chelsea, now have 10 points from their opening five games.

Are they title contenders like most people are starting to think they are?

“I am really not interested in what people think. I had the same question the game we won here 3-1 last time against Chelsea. My answer was ‘are you crazy?’” Klopp laughed. “Everything is good, we have 10 points that is fantastic. I am really happy after these difficult fixtures but the season is not over, we have to play football. We know we can play football and we are convinced in our quality, that is all the truth. In the end we have to prove it every week.”

As for Conte, he was more reserved post-game as he bemoaned his team’s inability to defend properly as they badly missed injured captain John Terry at the heart of their defense as they lost for the first time this season.

“We conceded the goals in a strange way. They took the free-kick quickly for the first goal and it was a great shot from a long distance for the second but if we are in the right position he must not receive the ball unmarked. When you want to think like a great team you must pay attention in every moment,” Conte said. “We played with good intensity and anger in the second half. We scored a goal and could have scored another with Diego Costa. We played a good second half. I must work more to improve my players. Defeats are never good. We know this, we must work and keep our concentration.”

Chelsea won’t have a bad season like last season. They have enough going forward to beat most teams — which they showed in the second half against Liverpool — in the Premier League but the truth of the matter is that for all of Liverpool’s dominance in the first half, only a Henderson wonder goal separated these two teams.

The main reason both Chelsea and Liverpool will be closer to the title this season then last is because they have no European action to contend with. That will give them an edge over Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur, Man United and maybe even Man City. Looking at all 20 PL teams overall in the opening five games, Man City are the only side who have been better than Liverpool and Chelsea.

With no Eutopian games to worry about Klopp and Conte will have plenty of time to iron out these defensive mix-ups which have so far been their Achilles heel, and the intense bosses represent two managers tasked with returning their clubs to glory after transitional periods.

Liverpool are further along that route, which is expected after Klopp took charge last October and his side have already beat Arsenal, Leicester City and now Chelsea this season. Liverpool have scored 52 goals in 2016, more than any other Premier League team and Klopp’s methods are clearly working. That feeling of comfort for Klopp was also evident as Conte gesticulated wildly on the sidelines throughout as his team labored in the first half and failed to stop Liverpool’s fluid attacking machine, while his opposite number sat down for most of the first half, observing the brilliance of Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum in the heart of midfield.

As the game wore on Klopp beat his chest like a maniac under the bright lights as he urged his players to give their all for victory. His true colors came out and this is now truly his team. It will take a while for Conte to make his marm at Chelsea and this game was a reality check for how much work he still has to do at Stamford Bridge after a promising start.

Liverpool and Klopp won the battle against Conte’s Chelsea on Friday but when the final battle takes place in the war to win the Premier League this season, troops from both Liverpool and Chelsea will be on the front line.

This intense battle between two rivals lived up to the hype and proved both have what it takes to win it all.