LONDON: Newly-arrived Thiago Alcantara appeared as a substitute to celebrate his Liverpool debut with the 2:0 victory at Stamford Bridge which condemned fellow Bundesliga exiles Kai Havertz and Timo Werner to a first Chelsea defeat.
Liverpool were in command throughout the game with Sadio Mane striking twice in eight minutes after half-time. Chelsea committed football suicide: Andreas Christensen was sent off just before half-time and the latest blunder from keeper Kepa Arrizabalaga gifted Mane the Liverpool second goal.
The Reds thus equalled their longest winning streak against Chelsea in the league of four matches, set between November 2010 and May 2012. It was also a seventh win in their 13 last league visits to Stamford Bridge.
Liverpool, criticised for a lack of transfer activity, had suddenly sprung to life in midweek by spending £61m in a week on Thiago from FC Bayern and Portuguese winger Diogo Jota from Wolves.
Thiago fills a need for more midfield creativity which has been evident ever since Philippe Coutinho’s move to Barcelona in 2018. He is also the obvious successor to Ginio Wijnaldum if the Dutchman decides to join his coaching compatriot Ronald Koeman at Barcelona.
Thiago came straight on to the subs’ bench in what was perhaps Liverpool’s strongest team, albeit with Fabinho in the centre of defence alongside Virgil van Dijk. Chelsea missed Ben Chilwell, Hakim Ziyech and Christian Pulisic through injury and Thiago Silva, still in his own pre-season after his move from Paris Saint-Germain.
Frank Lampard and Jurgen Klopp had a touchline clash during the 5:3 win after which Liverpool celebrated their title win in July. But this time there was a friendly handshake between the two managers before kickoff.
Chelsea lost three of their four games against Liverpool last season which may have explained their cautious start. They relied for their counter-attacks on the pace of Werner on the left while Havertz sought space as a ‘decoy No9’.
Events turned in Liverpool’s favour when Chelsea were reduced to 10 men just before half-time when Christensen was sent off for pulling back Sadio Mane on the break.
Referee Paul Tierney upgraded his card from yellow to red after viewing the pitchside monitor. The Dane thus became the first Chelsea player sent off in the league in 89 games.
Havertz was the forward sacrificed so Chelsea could bring on Fikayo Tomori in defence. Simultaneously, Liverpool sought to capitalise by bringing on Thiago in place of Jordan Henderson.
The Spaniard immediately slotted into midfield as if he had been playing for years with Liverpool. They camped in the Chelsea half for the opening four minutes of the second half and went ahead with a Mane header. Roberto Firmino provided the right-wing cross for the Senegal forward’s first-ever goal for Liverpool at Stamford Bridge.
Four minutes later Mane scored again after the latest blunder by Chelsea keeper Kepa, caught out with a weak attempted clearance to Tomori’s back pass.
Thiago contributed a mistake of his own when he tripped Werner but Alisson saved Jorginho’s 73rd-minute penalty. Later Alisson also saved well from substitute Tammy Abraham.
Thus Liverpool, with two wins from two games, can sit back comfortably to watch Manchester City kick off their own season at Wolves on Monday.