An Olivier Giroud header in the 32nd minute and a strong defence gave Chelsea the 1-0 win over Liverpool at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.
Former Red Victor Moses put in a cross from the right wing, and it was deflected right into the path of Giroud, who finished it into the corner past Loris Karius.
Liverpool had more possession throughout the game, but they were unable to get anything past Thibaut Courtois who earned the clean sheet. Former Chelsea flop Mohamed Salah, who is having a phenomenal season in the Premier League, was unable to get a shot on target.
Chelsea inched closer to a top-four place in the table, and if they were to grab all three points in mid-week against Huddersfield Town, they will be level on points with Liverpool going into the final day, although the Champions League finalists hold a big lead over the Blues in goal differential.
Here are five things we learned from Chelsea’s win over Liverpool.
Salah shut down
The Egyptian winger has enjoyed a record-breaking season since transferring from AS Roma in June but was held to a quiet day by his former team.
Largely by design, the Chelsea defence made a point to limit Salah’s touches, and Antonio Rudiger, along with the rest of the backline, made sure Salah’s only shot was off target.
Liverpool’s other forwards are still deadly in attack but help from N’Golo Kante ensured Chelsea kept the clean sheet in their quest for Champions League qualification.
Despite the uneventful game for Salah, his performance shouldn’t be used by detractors who think Chelsea made the right choice by selling him back in 2015. Sunday’s match was just one masterful defensive performance by Chelsea, while the winger that Chelsea sold has had a season that will go down in history.
Hazard parts the Red Sea
Eden Hazard channeled his inner Moses (not Victor Moses) and dribbled through all of Liverpool throughout the match.
The defensive 3-5-2 setup by Chelsea looked to limit many attacking chances for the home team, especially with “the jump-starter” Willian not in the starting XI. Somehow, Hazard got the engine running in this crucial game.
The Belgian weaved in between midfielders and defenders, leaving many red shirts in his dust. He reached top gear on Sunday, and even completed a rabona pass to top off the creativity. He deserved the standing ovation he received from the Stamford Bridge faithful after he was substituted for Willian.
Hazard and the rest of his teammates are in form late in the season. While it won’t be enough for a successful title defence, it could salvage the season with a top-four finish in the horizon.
Bakayoko, together with N’Golo
Tiemoue Bakayoko has had a rollercoaster of a season after his move from Monaco. After going out of favour for some bad performances, the French midfielder seemed to have turned things around.
He’s been patrolling the centre of the pitch with his midfield partner Kante. Bakayoko is now living up to the lyrics in his fan song as he hardly gave the ball away on Sunday.
It’s a great turn-around for the young player who has received the bulk of criticisms in this campaign. At only 23-years-old, Bakayoko has yet to reach his peak. Hopefully the club learns from its mistakes with Salah and Kevin De Bruyne. A few bad performances in one season doesn’t warrant giving up on a player, no matter what fans say on social media.
Rudiger shining in Chelsea defence
The Chelsea defender ensured he stopped his former Roma teammate from doing anything meaningful in the match.
The Germany international was tasked with stopping the Premier League’s Player of the Season, and he did just that. Rudiger warrants a spot in the starting XI, even if he (fairly) criticises his manager in post-match comments.
While it seems Andreas Christensen has lost his spot to Gary Cahill, the future looks bright for the young Chelsea defense. Rudiger, Christensen, and current Stoke City loanee Kurt Zouma are all 25-and-under. With veterans like Cesar Azpilicueta anchoring the backline, it seems like Chelsea is mostly set in front of goal as long as they sign Courtois to a contract extension.
What’s next for both clubs?
Chelsea’s win has made the race for top four tighter than ever. The Blues are only two points behind Tottenham, both with two games left in the season. Meanwhile, Liverpool still hold on to third place for now after playing an extra game and could be passed by Spurs when they take on Newcastle mid-week.
Both clubs also have one hand on other trophies. Liverpool are on their way to Kiev for the Champions League final against Real Madrid. If they can lift the big-eared cup, it won’t matter if they hold a top-four spot in the Premier League table. It has been a wonderful European journey for the Reds who only returned to the Champions League for the first time since the 2014–15 season.
Meanwhile, Chelsea will be taking on Manchester United in the FA Cup final. While a trophy won’t make up for the fact that is has been a tumultuous title defence for the Blues, lifting the FA Cup over Jose Mourinho would surely please Chelsea fans.
Both clubs have a lot on their plate, but the end is near. It’s going to be an exciting final month of football before the World Cup.