Analysis: Tired Reds struggle to break down resilient Chelsea

Olivier Giroud scored the only goal as Chelsea won 1-0 against Liverpool, keeping their Champions League ambitions alive.

Analysis: Tired Reds struggle to break down resilient Chelsea
Mo Salah and Liverpool were left frustrated at Stamford Bridge (Photo credit: Getty Images: James Williamson - AMA)

Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool team fell to a 1-0 defeat at Stamford Bridge, meaning they need to win against Brighton on the final day of the season at Anfield to ensure a top-four finish, provided Chelsea do not slip up against Huddersfield in midweek.

Olivier Giroud got the only goal of the match on a warm afternoon in the capital, and while Liverpool did have more than two-thirds of the possession, they did not create many clear-cut chances.

After a gruelling two-legged European tie with AS Roma, Klopp only made one change from Wednesday night's eleven, with Trent Alexander-Arnold moving into midfield in place of Jordan Henderson and Nathaniel Clyne coming in at right-back.

Despite heavy rotation earlier in the campaign, Klopp's team looked jaded as Chelsea stood firm.

Possession without penetration

In the first half in particular, Liverpool were well on top in terms of having the ball under their control, but were unable to fashion any clear opportunities.

Chelsea’s back five were organised and resolute, but so often this season that has not been enough to stifle an attack brimming with creativity and incision. Today it was, as Liverpool huffed and puffed.

Sadio Mané was fairly bright, again the stand-out member of the front three as he was against Roma, but his shots were from the edge of the area and Thibaut Courtois was barely troubled. The Senegalese winger remains one short of 20 for the season.

James Milner and Alexander-Arnold probed but their legs were lacking the zip they would have wanted, with the former unable to reach full speed, and the latter over-hitting crosses on a regular basis.

Gini Wijnaldum was often too deep in the number six role to contribute significantly in an attacking sense as the usual crisp, brisk attacking play the Reds have become known for was missing.

In contrast, N’Golo Kanté was superb, flying into tackles with typical efficiency, breaking up any Liverpool attack that was even remotely threatening. It was a combination of his brilliance and Liverpool's sluggish passing that led to the visitor's downfall.

Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso in the wide areas tucked in and defended diligently, and Tiemoue Bakayoko always offers legs if little else.

The worry will be that Liverpool are this lethargic in their final two games of the season. With four league games remaining, they needed five points, but draws against the bottom two teams have been costly.

Time will tell just how costly, but it just goes to show the perils of going deep into European competitions, and how much of an effect that can have on league points tallies. 

Salah subdued again

Mo Salah, a former Chelsea player, has been well off the pace in his last couple of Premier League outings, and struggled here too on his 50th game since signing in the summer for £36 million.

Rightly booked by referee Anthony Taylor for a blatant dive in the first half, he had the fewest touches of the ball of any Liverpool player including Loris Karius as Antonio Rüdiger, his former teammate at Roma, kept him under close supervision with the help of Alonso.

For most of the game, Salah received the ball with his back to goal and several blue shirts around him; the one time he was found in a position to get at Rüdiger, with no other defender in sight, his touch uncharacteristically let him down. It was to be one of those days.

Only 63% of his passes found their intended destination, and despite scoring 43 goals this season, neither he nor any of his teammates have found the net in either of their last two league matches, drawing a blank against now-relegated Stoke City too.

If anyone deserves a period off the boil with no criticism, it is a man who has contributed so much to Liverpool's season, but he needs to find his golden touch again if the Reds are to achieve what they hope to before the end of the season.

Sergio Ramos was confident he could deal with the Egyptian when asked earlier this week, and this performance would back that up. Whether it is the same Salah that turns up for the Champions League final, though, seems unlikely.

He will need to produce a big performance on the biggest stage for Liverpool to have any kind of chance.

Game-changers lacking

The threadbare nature of Liverpool's squad at this moment in time has been well-documented, and it again was telling that the bench that Klopp could turn to had nothing to add to the game.

The only attacking options at the German’s disposal were Ben Woodburn, Danny Ings and Dominic Solanke. Only the latter made his way onto the field, and he never looked like scoring despite getting into some good positions.

Woodburn and Solanke are both very young, while Ings has endeavour but lacks quality, but with Liverpool in need of a goal that would have effectively ensured they come in the Champions League places thanks to a far superior goal difference to Chelsea, turning to Alberto Moreno and Jordan Henderson is far from ideal.

Adam Lallana, Emre Can and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are all injured, which is the root of the issue, and the quicker they return to the fold the better.

Oxlade-Chamberlain is not going to be seen until next season, but the other two have hopes of being able to feature at least from the bench before Liverpool's season ends towards the conclusion of this month.

Giroud a threat

It has been some time since a physical striker was able to cause Liverpool problems, but French international Olivier Giroud did just that on the day.

Some time ago, in previous seasons, the thought of facing him would have made Liverpool's defenders scared, but no more.

Generally, Liverpool's backline have been far more watertight that they get given credit for, although it was a header from Giroud that proved the difference.

Virgil van Dijk was a yard further forward than he should have been, and that was all it took for Chelsea to score. Dejan Lovren did his best to come across, but with the penalty area crowded, Giroud was able to place a header into the top corner and out of goalkeeper Karius’ reach.

It was by no means a disastrous goal to concede, and one that is rare for Liverpool these days, but it proved to be costly. One minor error was punished in the heaviest possible manner.

Win at home to Brighton – a team who will have faced Manchester City at the Etihad on Wednesday and have nothing to play for having already secured survival – on the final day of the season, and Liverpool will finish in the top four.

In this case, a tired Liverpool team will be disappointed but not disheartened in defeat.

They now have a week to prepare for a victory, just as they did last season when Middlesbrough were the opposition on the final day at Anfield, to make sure before travelling to Kiev that they are back in the Champions League for a second successive season.

It will not have to be pretty, but to fail to make the top four after being in such a promising position would be a disaster. They would also qualify by beating Real Madrid in Kiev and winning the Champions League, but should not need to put themselves in such a position.