N'golo Kante
Wikimedia Commons/ Amir Hosseini

Chelsea fail to impress at home again

Welcome to Stamford Bridge. Please take your seat and prepare for kick-off. Your future support is much appreciated. We hope you enjoy your evening.

This is the Chelsea of 2023. A corporate, bland, mind-numbing experience that tranquilises and frustrates in equal measure.

As the game started, Bruno Saltor, the new man with a shining bonce (the Pep comparisons stop here), stood lonesome in a technical area which, for the first time this year, was Graham Potter-less. A man thrust into the limelight from a backroom role following Todd Boehly’s trigger-finger execution order over the weekend; a man chiefly known to the general footballing populace from his laudable portfolio collated during his time at Brighton – which could also describe the outgoing Potter, not surprising given Potter’s entourage had too made the trip north with him to SW6. Blurred confusion between administrations in the dugout applied to the football on display as well; nothing of real substance had ostensibly changed.

N’Golo Kanté was back. That was nice. Then there was the stat that his last three home games have all come under different managers. That was surprising.

It’s hard to imagine what Kanté, who hasn’t started for Chelsea since August, must think of this whole situation. In the Frenchman’s time spent side-lined with a stubborn hamstring injury the club has brought in 12 players, his erstwhile Italian midfield partner now plays at a London club on a diametrically opposite trajectory to Chelsea’s, Thomas Tuchel is managing – at Bayern Munich, Lionel Messi finally lifted the World Cup trophy aloft the sands of Qatar and Liz Truss happened. Like turning your attention back to a subtitled foreign-language film after a moment checking your phone, the result is surely a degree of disorientation.

The home side did end up with the ball in the back of Alisson’s net twice, only to be denied by VAR

Expected goals, that metric so damning of Graham Potter’s time in the Premier League, both in West London and on the south coast, painted The Blues as the dominant team, comfortably, by 2.14 goals to be exact.

But nothing about this game was comfortable. Chelsea toiled, their all-too-familiar horseshoe-of-death passing network (dangerous not to the opponent, but to how supporters’ levels of patience are tested) carefully kept hold of, display-like, as a tribute piece to the foiled regime. It’s a feature of Potter’s sides that their build-up is so slow, so ponderous and tired, that by the time the ball makes its way into a dangerous area of the attacking third, forward players are swarmed by opposition shirts and chances are snatched at.

The home side did end up with the ball in the back of Alisson’s net twice, only to be denied by VAR. First thanks to the temerity of Enzo Fernández’s right knee being in an offside position; second due to Kai Havertz bundling in a goal using a part of his upper body which is frowned upon, by law. They say that out-of-form strikers often need one to go in off their rear to get themselves out of a tricky patch. They don’t recommend the intervention of a forearm.

Everyone ought to confine this game to distant memory – it should be quite easy

Be that as it may, Chelsea did create other chances. Mateo Kovačić ran out of space bearing down on goal in the first half and had too much of it while doing the same in the second; Havertz, meeting a João Félix low cross, had a neat flick rebuffed by Alisson and later on Félix caught a volley slightly too well, leaning back to see it sail over the crossbar at the Matthew Harding end.

However, these opportunities weren’t fuelled by any kind of sustainable creativity. Chelsea sort of stumbled into good positions, almost by surprise, slightly puzzled as to why certain spaces opened up before their very eyes.

This was, by a large part, down to the unearthly quality of Liverpool. As in not of this earth. As in not on this earth. As in at times it was like they weren’t there.

The famed and much celebrated Jürgen Klopp press was absent for the night, gone as it has been for so much of this bewildering season. There was no Mo Salah, no Virgil van Dijk but there were similar frailties, similar issues with both system and player. There’s a greater chance of Todd growing bored of his latest plaything, rejecting all material pursuits and leaving for a Greek Orthodox monastery by the end of the month than there is of Jordan Henderson reducing the radius of his minibus-like turning circle anytime soon.

Though perhaps more worrying for Klopp was that in swapping Trent Alexander-Arnold for Joe Gomez (who at least registered a shot on target for the away team), Liverpool’s right-hand side didn’t appear any more solid than usual – twinkle-toed Félix always looked a threat picking up the ball on the Chelsea left.

Where both teams go from here is anyone’s best guess. There’s enough quality in this Chelsea squad for it all to click into place at some point. Throw in a proper striker and a defensive midfielder and you’d think there’s a lot to be excited about. Things are less clear in Liverpool’s case. Should Klopp stay on over the summer he’s going to need to undertake a grand refresh, something he seems quietly aware of. For now, everyone ought to confine this game to distant memory – it should be quite easy.


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