Enter: the wobble. On a chilly, slightly wild night at Stamford Bridge Chelsea progressed to the quarter-finals of the FA Cup at the expense of the team previously known as Jürgen Klopp’s Irresistible Red Machine. watch live
Sport loves a premature note of crisis.
Perhaps one or two will now be offered, although Klopp has probably earned a little breathing space before the cleaver is unsheathed. Liverpool played well in patches and might have wrenched the game their way with better finishing. But there was something else too, a sense of a pattern emerging. Even, whisper it, of some more systemic vulnerability being winkled out.
How do you kill that which cannot be killed? How do you derail a runaway train? The answer, English football seems to have concluded – belatedly, Napoli might say – is you close down the full-backs. Take the flanks. Win wide. Hope they don’t score first. Stick to the plan. Here endeth the lessons of Watford. watch live
Chelsea came to Stamford Bridge with something similar in mind. They packed the central midfield, pressed hard on the flanks and took their chances. At the end of which Liverpool have three defeats from four and an FA Cup exit at the hands of a Chelsea team led in midfield by a fine display from Billy Gilmour. Gilmour is 18-years-old and 5ft 5in. He glided about the pitch like some wonderfully gifted Yugoslavia playmaker of the late 1980s, albeit in this case from Scotland via Cobham.
How much will this defeat hurt Liverpool?
This is not a club that defines itself in FA Cup wins, as two in the last 28 years might suggest. More interesting is the sense of opponents finally locating some traction.
Klopp did pick a callow Cup team. Neco Williams started. Curtis Jones, a year older at 19, was in central midfield. Right-back was the key change, though, in a team who locate their attacking pulse on the flanks.
It isn’t hard to see who Williams bases his game on. The surge, the stroll. The ball pinged in from the right with vicious fade and slice. Williams was even caught upfield early on, Trent-style, as Pedro skittered in behind, but closed the space with a spurt of gas. If you do not see the thrillingly cavalier red-shirted right-back you require please ask – others are available. That early diagonal pass looked like a plan. Frank Lampard had packed his flanks with speed and hustle, albeit slightly venerable speed and hustle in Pedro and Willian. Between them they helped make Chelsea’s opening goal.