Liverpool slumped to a fifth consecutive home league defeat for the first time in their history as Mason Mount’s strike moved Chelsea into the Premier League’s top four with a 1-0 win at Anfield.
After a 68-game unbeaten league run at Anfield over nearly four years was ended in January, the English champions slump has seen them slide to seventh, four points adrift of Chelsea in the battle for a lucrative place in next season’s Champions League.
“It’s a massive blow. If you lose that many games, you don’t have the right to go to the Champions League,” said Liverpool coach Jurgen Klopp, whose decision to substitute Mohamed Salah when chasing an equaliser sparked fresh questions over the Egyptian’s future.
By contrast, Chelsea are on the rise as their unbeaten run since Thomas Tuchel replaced the sacked Frank Lampard in January stretches to 10 games.
“Of course it was a six-point game because when you win the other (one) loses,” said Tuchel. “There is 11 games to go and the race is on.”
Tuchel was appointed with Chelsea five points adrift of the top four, but they are now in pole position to secure a much-needed return to the riches of the Champions League after spending £220 million on new players in last summer’s transfer market.
Timo Werner is one of the big money signings that has failed to live up to his price tag, but starting as a central striker for the first time under Tuchel, the German international showed flashes of the qualities that made him one of the Bundesliga’s deadliest strikers for RB Leipzig.
Werner was long linked with a move to Liverpool before arriving at Stamford Bridge and was desperately unlucky not to register just his second goal in his last 18 Premier League games midway through the first-half.
He flicked the ball beyond onrushing goalkeeper Alisson Becker and bundled the ball over the line.
A VAR review, though, controversially chopped the goal off for the most marginal of offside decisions.
The combination of Fabinho and Ozan Kabak was Liverpool’s 19th central defensive partnership of an injury-ravaged season.
– ‘Last season is over’ –
Chelsea were easily exposing the lack of co-ordination in the backline and another simple ball over the top three minutes before half-time freed Mount before he cut inside to brilliantly find the far corner.
Andy Robertson cleared Hakim Ziyech’s goalbound shot off the line as the visitors also started the second-half strongest.
And the Scotland captain berated his teammates for letting their heads drop after going behind.
“Too many heads are going down when we go 1-0 down, we cant do that. Football is about taking knocks,” said Robertson.
“We can’t rely on the past. Last season is over with, it is done. We have been nowhere near good enough to what a Liverpool team should be. We are dropping further and it is not good enough.”
Needing a goal, Klopp took the surprise decision to withdraw the Premier League’s top goalscorer Salah as Diogo Jota made his return from a three-month injury layoff.
The Egyptian shook his head in frustration at the call in a further sign all is not well in the Liverpool camp.
Salah’s agent responded with posting a full stop on Twitter, suggesting the 28-year-old’s time at Anfield may be coming to an end.
“I just brought on fresh legs. Mo looked like today he suffered a bit, he played a lot of games. I could have taken off Sadio (Mane) or Bobby (Firmino), that is all clear but at that moment it looked like Mo,” explained Klopp.
Injuries have played a major role in Liverpool’s demise, but pressure is mounting on Klopp to come up with solutions after a run of just three wins in their last 13 league games to tumble down the table since topping the standings at Christmas.