Chelsea eliminated Liverpool from the FA Cup on Tuesday night, getting the better of the visitors in a chaotic clash at Stamford Bridge thanks to goals from Willian – assisted by an ugly Adrian error – and Ross Barkley, who finished after a superb solo run.
The result marked a third defeat in four games for Jurgen Klopp’s side, who lost 1-0 to Atletico Madrid in the first leg of a Champions League last-16 tie in February before being stunned 3-0 by Premier League strugglers Watford at the weekend.
While their lead in the league is still unassailable, the cracks are starting to show in Liverpool’s formerly pristine season, with the treble now beyond them.
But Tuesday night was as much about Chelsea’s intrepid, at times irrational performance as it was about another confused Liverpool showing.
Here are the main takeaways from the FA Cup fifth-round match.
1. Chelsea win via pinball wizardry
Lampard’s side emerged victorious from a frenetic fixture via a tactic that consisted mainly of encouraging chaos. The home side consistently ambushed Liverpool in the middle of the pitch, gaining possession frequently and refusing to dwell on lost exchanges. From there, it was a matter of taking the most direct route to the visitors’ goal at the most frightening pace possible.
The final step? Shoot on sight like trigger-happy teens at a paintball party. It paid off when Willian’s long-range effort ricocheted off Adrian’s gloves and into the Liverpool net, and again with Barkley’s mean strike to double the hosts’ lead.
Sure, the Blues rode their luck in defence, but they won’t mind.
2. Klopp did not overreact
Coming into Tuesday night’s game, Liverpool had just suffered two defeats in as many weeks. But within the context of their season, that was merely cause for attention, not alarm. As such, Klopp did not panic unnecessarily and resort to any drastic tactical switches, nor did he cast aside and undermine the youngsters. Instead, the German selected a balanced team, finding places for Takumi Minamino, Curtis Jones and Neco Williams, recalling Joe Gomez upon his return from injury, and relying on stalwarts Fabinho and Virgil van Dijk.
Ultimately, though, his side lost again. That is undoubtedly greater cause for concern, but still no reason to lose the plot – after all, they still won’t lose the Premier League.
3. Kepa deserves credit
The goalkeeper has endured a torrid season, and a game as turbulent as Tuesday night’s was a potentially hazardous environment for Kepa to make his first start in a month and a half. But the Spaniard followed the blur of action in front of him admirably, making a vital quadruple save early in the first half. On an evening on which his team-mates were much more concerned with attacking than defending, Kepa’s performance was crucial – especially considering Adrian’s nightmarish moment at the other end of the pitch.
4. Gilmour leads youth rally
Kepa deserves credit, but not quite as much as Billy Gilmour, the undisputed protagonist on Tuesday evening. The 18-year-old was under a lot of pressure, positioned in the centre of the home side’s midfield at Stamford Bridge. In spite of the occasion, he played with an impressive composure – but also an evident passion – excelling in his passing, dribbling and tracking back. Liverpool’s youngsters Jones, Minamino and Williams also put in noteworthy shifts in an encouraging evening for the game’s up-and-comers.
5. Don’t write off Willian yet
Hakim Ziyech is arriving in west London this summer, but that should not necessarily spell the end for Willian at Stamford Bridge. The Brazil international, whose future has been made no less clear by stalled contract negotiations in recent weeks, played like someone not yet prepared to say goodbye to the Chelsea faithful. His fierce drive would have been the difference even if not for Barkley’s eye-catching run and finish. Adrian should have handled it much, much better, though.