For close to 45 minutes on Sunday, Chelsea stood toe-to-toe with English champions Liverpool, hardly giving the Reds an inch.
Then Andreas Christensen made a bad mistake in first-half stoppage time, when he hauled down Sadio Mané and, following an intervention by the video assistant referee, was shown a red card and expelled from Liverpool’s ultimate 2-0 victory.
Liverpool punished Christensen’s gaffe with Mané scoring both goals against the 10-man Blues in the second half at Stamford Bridge.
Here are three quick thoughts on the highest-profile match of the Premier League season so far.
Thiago Alcantara debuts, performs as advertised for Liverpool
It was no surprise that the 29-year-old Thiago began on the bench for Jurgen Klopp’s side after arriving from reigning Champions League winners Bayern Munich last week. After Christensen was sent off, though, Klopp saw the perfect opportunity to integrate the Spanish maestro and subbed him on from the start of the second half.
And as he did over seven seasons with Bayern, the classy midfielder immediately took control of the pace of the match by finding pockets of space and expertly moving the ball around the shorthanded hosts. And while he wasn’t directly involved in setting up Mané’s opener, it was no surprise that the breakthrough — which came after a slick give-and-go between Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino —arrived within minutes of Thiago stepping onto the field.
The debut wasn’t perfect. With Liverpool cruising at 2-0, Thiago was whistled for fouling Blues striker Timo Werner inside his own penalty box, potentially handing the hosts a lifeline. But Reds goalkeeper Alisson Becker saved Jorginho’s effort from the spot to preserve the clean sheet.
Another blunder by Chelsea keeper Kepa Arrizabalaga
If Mané’s first goal was the result of a beautifully worked passing play, his second came off another error by under-fire Blues backstop Kepa. Instead of playing a safe lateral pass out of his own six-yard box, Kepa tried to go directly up the middle of the field.
Mané, anticipating the error, closed down the Spaniard at pace, and was able to extend a toe and take Kepa’s pass out of the air. At that point, he had all day to settle the ball and deposit it into Chelsea’s net and effectively put the outcome beyond Frank Lampard’s team.
Lampard, who benched Kepa for a spell last season, now has a big decision to make. The 25-year-old appears to have lost all the confidence that made him the most expensive keeper in history when he transferred from Atletico Madrid two years ago for a world record fee.
The sense is that Kepa will not be in the manager’s lineup when the Blues visit West Brom next weekend.
Liverpool keeps rolling en route to perfect 2-0 start
For all the talk about how Liverpool might find it difficult to repeat as champs this season, there hasn’t been much evidence off that so far in 2020-21. Sure, promoted Leeds United scored three against the Reds last weekend, and only a late penalty gave Liverpool all three points.
The boss has given his verdict after our 2-0 win at Stamford Bridge 🙌 #CHELIV
Watch in full on @LFCTV GO now 💻
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) September 20, 2020
But as much as the match-changing red card helped on Sunday against an opponent that until that moment looked very much up for the fight, Chelsea did little during that first 45 minutes at even strength that suggested that the hosts were ever going to be able to take more than a point out of this one.
Meantime, Mané, Firmino and Salah look as devastating a front three as they did last season, when they were virtually unstoppable. Now Klopp added Alcantara to the mix, and his team sits atop the table with a perfect record following what many believed would be one of its most difficult tests of the new campaign. Liverpool passed it with flying colors.