In the days since he announced that he was leaving at the end of the season, it had become more and more obvious that Jurgen Klopp was craving an antidote to the preoccupation with his impending departure that had gripped English football. At Anfield on Wednesday night, he got a shot of it.
It came in the shape of a 20-year-old kid called Conor Bradley, a young player wrapped in excitement and energy and skill and optimism and love for the game, a kid who could not more accurately personify the themes of renewal and hope that are coursing around Anfield this season if he tried.
If the club’s supporters have spent much of the past few days glorying in Klopp’s past and celebrating his present, then Bradley represents a taste of the future that the manager is bequeathing to the fans on the red half of Merseyside who worship him.
But there was something about Bradley, something about his youthful assurance, something about his brio and his enthusiasm, that made him stand out.
Conor Bradley enjoyed a stunning evening, scoring and grabbing two assists
Dominik Szoboszali (left) and Luis Diaz (right) both scored in emphatic Liverpool win
Jurgen Klopp's trademark fist pumps were savoured even more than usual at Anfield
Thiago Silva cut a dejected figure after full time as Chelsea were well beaten
It was all crystallised five minutes before half-time when he galloped on to a pass just inside the Chelsea half and set off for goal. No one was going to catch him and when he was 20 yards out, he lashed a shot across Djordje Petrovic that fizzed and whirred past the Chelsea keeper’s despairing right hand. It felt like the moment when a star was born.
Liverpool (4-3-3): Alisson; Bradley (Alexander-Arnold 68), Konate, Van Dijk, Gomez (Robertson 68); Mac Allister, Szoboszlai (Elliott 68), Jones (Clark 85); Jota (Gakpo 68), Nunez, Diaz
Goals: Jota, Bradley, Szoboszlai, Diaz
Booked: Nunez, Konate
Manager: Jurgen Klopp
Chelsea (4-3-3): Petrovic; Disasi, Silva, Badiashile, Chilwell (Gusto 46); Caicedo (Chukwuemeka 66), Fernandez, Gallagher (Nkunku 46); Madueke (Mudryk 46), Sterling, Palmer (Casadei 85)
Booked: Caicedo, Fernandez, Chiwell, Disasi
Manager: Mauricio Pochettino
Bradley celebrated with gusto. He had already kept Trent Alexander-Arnold, one of the most talented players in the league, out of the starting line-up and now, as he stood waiting for play to resume, the Kop broke into song. ‘There’s only one Conor Bradley,’ they yelled. If there has been much consternation at Liverpool since Klopp’s announcement, this match was a celebration.
It was a celebration of everything Klopp has built here and the legacy he is leaving and the season that he is masterminding in this year of his leaving of Liverpool. Chelsea were simply overwhelmed. The previous seven meetings between these teams had ended in draws. In this dress rehearsal for the Carabao Cup Final, Liverpool were far, far too good for that to happen again this time.
Klopp has spent much of the time since the announcement of his impending departure fending off questions about how the club and its players would fare without him at the helm. Fires, inevitably, have broken out here and there and Klopp has doused them energetically.
‘Write what you want,’ Klopp said at a press conference this week, after it had been reported that Virgil van Dijk, was unsure whether he would be part of the post-Klopp era on Merseyside. ‘This club is stable. The boys love this place. I know that for a fact.’
Van Dijk was quick to explode the narrative, too. ‘We want to achieve things that we dreamed of at the start of the season,’ he said. ‘Don't get it twisted, I'm fully committed to the club - I love each and every second that I am the captain.’
Van Dijk gathered his side in a tight circle just before kick-off and they stayed there for a while in a huddle that suggested the skipper was telling his that, for all the speculation and angst about the manager, this was about them now and their pursuit of another league title. It was time to get back to business.
Both teams started as if they did not want to extend the sequence of draws. The match was all-action. Darwin Nunez attempted an audacious lob over Djordje Petrovic that the Chelsea keeper caught comfortably enough and then unleashed a thunderbolt of a shot that was hit so hard it came with its own vapour trail. Petrovic tipped that one on to the bar.
Bradley was magnificent in every single department and the crowd were right behind him
Diogo Jota put Liverpool in front after bundling his way through Chelsea's defence
Luis Diaz put the icing on the cake for the Reds with the fourth goal for the hosts
Darwin Nunez hit the woodwork four times as he failed to score but provided an assist
Nunez was operating a shoot-on-sight policy and each of his efforts were hit with a venom which suggested he is recovering the confidence that was part of the package that made him such a prized asset when Liverpool bought him.
Midway through the half, Nunez ran on to a superb, flighted pass from Ibrahima Konate and, taking the ball on his left foot this time, hit the ball across Petrovic. It was destined for the far corner but Petrovic got a despairing left hand to it as he dived and pushed it on to the outside of the post.
Chelsea offered little but in the midst of all the Liverpool pressure, they fashioned one golden opportunity when Liverpool old boy Raheem Sterling, who was booed with every touch, laid the ball back into the path of Conor Gallagher.
Gallagher eschewed the chance to shoot and tried to dribble past Van Dijk. He fell under Van Dijk’s challenge and Chelsea appealed for a penalty but referee Paul Tierney and VAR decided there was not enough contact to warrant the award of a spot kick.
Midway through the half, Liverpool got the goal they deserved. Ben Chilwell lost the ball on the Chelsea left, Bradley broke forward and zipped a pass to Diogo Jota 25 yards out.
Bradley was brilliant throughout in defence and in attack for the hosts
Christopher Nkunku pulled a goal back for Chelsea but it was far too little, too late
Jota was faced with Benoit Badiashile and Thiago Silva on the edge of the Chelsea box. Jota moved the ball from one foot to the other and ran right through the middle of them. He got a lucky rebound as he bundled his way through but Chelsea’s defending was nowhere near good enough and Jota ran on and smashed the ball past Petrovic.
Chelsea were being overwhelmed. Enzo Fernandez, who was second to everything in midfield, was booked for a mistimed tackle on Curtis Jones, who was simply too quick for him. Chilwell was booked for a pathetic dive as he tried to dribble round Konate.
Five minutes before half time, Anfield thrilled to its magic moment. Alexis Mac Allister won the ball in midfield and played it forward to Luiz Diaz. Diaz spread it wide to Bradley and he outpaced the Chelsea defence and then lashed his shot across Petrovic and into the far corner.
Liverpool should have put the match beyond reach in the second minute of added time at the end of the first half. Van Dijk took a driven pass on his chest on the left of the Chelsea area and volleyed a cross towards the six-yard box.
Jota got to it ahead of Badiashile, Badiashile stood on the top of his foot and Mr Tierney pointed to the spot. Mac Allister was primed to take it but gave way to Nunez. Nunez slammed the kick against the face of the left-hand post and it was hacked away to safety.
Liverpool are still top of the Premier League and travel to face Arsenal next up
Klopp loved what he saw from his side after a week of his impending departure dominating the headlines
Mauricio Pochettino rang the changes at half time and brought on Malo Gusto, Christopher Nkunku and Mykhailo Mudryk to try to spark his side into life and the ploy nearly paid immediate dividends. Gusto broke down the right and whipped a fine low cross to the back post but even though Mudryk was in space with only Alisson to beat, he lifted his left foot shot high over the bar.
Liverpool soon resumed their dominance. Bradley’s performance went from strength to strength, Mac Allister’s influence increased, too. Some of Liverpool’s play was breathtaking. One outrageous dummy from Dominik Szoboszlai set up Nunez for a stinging shot that was plucked out of the air by Petrovic.
And then, midway through the half, Liverpool removed any last lingering doubt about the result. Van Dijk drilled a pinpoint pass out wide to Bradley on the right, Bradley delivered another cross hit with pace and precision and Szoboszlai rose to head it home in front of the Kop.
Nkunku pulled a goal back for Chelsea 20 minutes from the end with a smart finish, Nunez crashed a header against the bar, Harvey Elliott saw his shot saved by the legs of Petrovic and then, ten minutes from the end, Diaz ghosted in at the back post to latch on to a pass from Nunez and forced the ball home for Liverpool’s fourth.
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