Desperate was a phrase used to describe Liverpool’s approach of play in their notorious collapse against the same opposition five years ago. This, however, was vindication. A performance for the ages where the Reds ignited their class to overcome perhaps their biggest hurdle before the end.
Anfield, on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster, was more emotionally charged than usual to say the least. Emotion poured throughout the city of Liverpool and players in red used it as their shot to the arm.
The Reds 26th victory of the season ensured they reached the 85 point mark with still four games to play. It already surpasses their points tally for the entirety of their title-challenging season in 2014 and puts them a point off their best ever Premier League total of 86 back in 2009.
Fitting that such a performance would unfold on Jurgen Klopp’s 200th fixture in charge of the Reds. Two minutes was all it took to blow Chelsea away. With anxiety starting to creep into the minds of Liverpool players as the game wore on Anfield reverberated into sheer bedlam when the ball finally struck the Chelsea net six minutes into the second half.
Another sentimental touch on an afternoon that was covered in history was Jordan Henderson's contribution to the cause. The Liverpool captain shared the pain of five years ago and may have felt partly responsible following his suspension that made him ineligible to play on that crushing day with destiny in 2014.
The Reds skipper was utterly dazzling marching across the midfield, breaking up play and spreading between the Chelsea lines. It was the 28-year-old’s lofted ball that gifted Sadio Mane the opener and it was Henderson who set the tone for a memorable victory.
No wonder the Reds No.14 walked off to a standing ovation as well a beaming hug from his smiling manager.
Mohamed Salah was also a gulf in class from the rest after his succulent strike bewildered both Emerson and the utterly hapless Kepa Arrizabalaga to give the visitors the final coup de grace with a thunderbolt from 25-yards out that arrowed into the top corner in front of the Kop.
The roar following the goal was extraordinary and one that was encapsulated with emotion and sentiment from the entire stadium.
The story of the match
Chelsea have recently established themselves as Liverpool’s bogey side in their home fortress with the Reds - before today - winless against the Blues in their previous six Premier League games at Anfield(D4 L2). The hosts had never endured a longer winless run in the history of the competition.
Liverpool could not afford to let occasion distract them after already having to respond to the gargantuan challenge of matching the Citizen’s routine victory at Selhurst Park to keep their illustrious title credentials on course.
The scent minutes silence displayed by the Kop was nothing shy of mesmerising as the city of Liverpool paid their respects to the 96 who never came home 30 years ago.
The result in the capital made for a cautious Anfield five minutes before kick-off. The relief on Pep Guardiola’s face at full-time against Crystal Palace was one of relief rather than jubilation. The Spaniard is beginning to understand why only two Premier League managers - Sir Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho - have ever managed to retain the title.
Heading into this fixture their title rivals then, as now, were Manchester City, who were away at Palace on 27 April 2014 as Liverpool prepared to meet Chelsea at Anfield in another date with destiny.
Liverpool made two changes to the team that routinely won 2-0 against Porto with Joel Matip and Andy Robertson coming back into the defence for Dejan Lovren and James Milner.
Meanwhile, the visitors made six changes to the team that was victorious in Prague. The most notable change was their talisman Eden Hazard operating as a false nine.
The experiment in truth was ineffective, with the imminent Real Madrid target utterly isolated up-front before his manager Maurizzio Sarri decided to deploy him on his desired left-hand side.
Anfield was bouncing, the atmosphere nothing shy of electrifying. The hosts matched the intensity of the crowd with an immediate direct approach.
Both teams were guilty of lacking an attacking impetus in attack with a number of good opportunities squandered by both sets of teams.
Salah - the only player to start form the off in that deceitful game five years ago - came close after Mane’s lofted cross into his forward partner who snapped at the shot hitting it low and direct into the palms of Arrizabalaga.
The biggest cheer of the opening exchanges came when Fabinho cleaned out Hazard with a fair challenge before the Belgian forward hit the deck gasping for his life. Boos quickly followed the Chelsea No.10 from that point.
There was a penalty shout for the Reds after Salah picked the ball up on the right byline darting in-between Willian and Emerson before drawing in David Luiz who chopped towards Salah, but there was not enough contact to deem a spot-kick.
Hazard continued to play amongst the groans and jeers that surrounded his every touch and his class shown when he perplexed Matip with some dazzling trickery before drawing Alisson Becker into his first save of the afternoon.
Liverpool certainly were not looking a team overwhelmed by the pressure that can unbuckle teams in challenging games or burdened by the history of this famous fixture.
Instead, the hosts continued to dominate and Henderson - operating in a much more attacking role - struck a fierce shot that was well blocked by Luiz and cleared for a corner.
Chelsea despite looking overwhelmed on the ball certainly looked dangerous on the counter when Luiz, as simple as you like slotted a pass through five Liverpool bodies towards a gaping hole of space that Willian soaked up heading goal bound towards Alisson.
Virgil van Dijk did well to cut off the angle - similarly as he did against Tottenham - towards Hazard and forcing the Brazilian to shoot with his right before his effort was blazed wide of the post.
A goal appeared imminent, and Klopp’s team came agonisingly close again following some slick, intricate play that gave the front trident space to exploit in between Chelsea lines.
Henderson robbed Ruben Loftus-Cheek in possession allowing Fabinho to intervene and pass to Firmino who spotted the pocket of space for Salah to dart into before pulling back a low cross towards Mane who curled his effort inches shy of the right post.
Antonio Rudiger - who had been solid for large periods of the first half - lasted only 40 minutes after hobbling off with a knee injury before being replaced by Andres Christensen.
Anxiety levels were increasing with every waking minute as the second-half loomed. The groans following Naby Keita’s fluffed effort two minutes in typified the hosts prerogative to get ahead.
However, their prayers were answered when Roberto Firmino robbed Emerson in the box allowing Henderson to sweep the ball up before chipping a perfectly executed pass towards the back post where Mane was lurking to head home his 21st strike of the season.
The Senegalese ace’s goal ensured it was Mane’s highest goalscoring tally in a single season since he arrived in England back in 2014.
Two minutes later, jubilation sparked into raptures. Salah picked up the ball from distance and the Kop, waiting for the forward to pass were stunned to see the Egyptian pull the trigger and unleash a thunderbolt into the top corner for his 19th league goal of the season.
It should of given Liverpool an incentive to play with more control and assurance. However, the hosts were guilty of becoming more open following Salah’s strike.
Sarri was perplexed on the sidelines when Hazard was denied by the post. Cesar Azpilicueta spotted the run of his team-mate and lofted a ball over the Reds back-four drawing Alisson out from his goal before the forward struck the woodwork with a low shot.
Salah continued to toy with Emerson, who by the end appeared completely bamboozled by the class of Liverpool’s talisman who struck an effort straight at Kepa.
Ross Barkley was welcomed to the home of his former rivals with outdoor of boos and groans as Chelsea’s grip on the game appeared all but lost with 20 minutes to play.
Mane later spurned a chance after being denied by the palms of Kepa but it mattered little as the Reds eventually marched to their first home victory over Chelsea for the first time since 2012.
Klopp bounced onto the Anfield turf with his usual fist pump in front of the Kop. This didn’t just appear as a statement to City, but rather an indictment.
Whatever the magnificent City appear to do, the irresistible Liverpool have proved to match them at every corner. There were no hiccups today as the Reds reclaimed their spot at the summit of the Premier League table.