Mohamed Salah, Liverpool Go Top of Premier League After 2-0 Win vs. Chelsea

Liverpool's Egyptian midfielder Mohamed Salah celebrates after scoring their second goal during the English Premier League football match between Liverpool and Chelsea at Anfield in Liverpool, north west England on April 14, 2019. (Photo by Paul ELLIS / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or 'live' services. Online in-match use limited to 120 images. An additional 40 images may be used in extra time. No video emulation. Social media in-match use limited to 120 images. An additional 40 images may be used in extra time. No use in betting publications, games or single club/league/player publications. /         (Photo credit should read PAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images)

PAUL ELLIS/Getty Images

Liverpool regained their two-point lead over Manchester City at the top of the Premier League after beating Chelsea 2-0 at Anfield on Sunday.  

Goals from Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah helped the Reds take back top spot following City’s 3-1 win away to Crystal Palace earlier in the day.

City still have a game in hand, but Liverpool wouldn’t trade places. Confidence is now growing in the red half of Merseyside that this is a team ready to end a spell without a top-flight domestic title dating back to 1990.

   

Lack of Midfield Playmaker Will Cost Liverpool the Title

A lack of natural guile from midfield has been a problem Liverpool have been willing to ignore this season. Instead, manager Jurgen Klopp has been content to let energy and industry replace artistry and flair.

Liverpool struggled to win the midfield battle early on.

Liverpool struggled to win the midfield battle early on.PAUL ELLIS/Getty Images

It’s worked for the most part, particularly against teams athletically inferior and unable to match the Reds’ endeavour. Yet it’s in the bigger games when the absence of a true playmaker can cost Liverpool.

Fellow top-six sides have the fitness levels to match, or at least to better withstand, the high-intensity pressing Klopp has his players carry out. It takes more than just the tough running of Jordan Henderson or the dribbling power of Naby Keita to unlock teams at the top end of the table.

The problem was obvious during a cagey struggle of a first half against Chelsea:

Ironically, it was Henderson who eventually conjured some class to put the Reds in front. His deft chip was too inviting for Mane to miss, but it wasn’t enough to shake the feeling Liverpool need more of this kind of technique in possession to make the title safe.

Without it, Klopp’s men remain reliant on members of the front three producing magic out of nothing. Salah managed it moments after Mane had broken the deadlock, but it had taken something truly spectacular for Liverpool to pull away.

Those moments of magic won’t happen every week. When they dry up, Klopp will be left to rue not trusting a more natural technician to pick the passes at the tip of Liverpool’s midfield.

   

Loftus-Cheek More Important than Hudson-Odoi for Chelsea’s Future

If there is one ray of hope for Chelsea from a tough day on Merseyside it’s the promise of Ruben Loftus-Cheek. The midfield powerhouse showcased the brawn, skill and assurance to prove he can be the fulcrum of a top-six team at this level.

Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri has given 23-year-old Loftus-Cheek more starts recently, along with fellow academy graduate Callum Hudson-Odoi. While 18-year-old Bayern Munich target Hudson-Odoi has attracted more hype this season, it’s Loftus-Cheek who will ensure how successful Chelsea are in the near future.

His obvious physical power is matched by an eye for a pass and an appetite for goal. Chelsea haven’t had a central midfielder with this sought-after mix since Michael Essien.

A natural fusion of strength and technique is rare in central midfielders, especially in the modern game. Those who have both quickly become the focal point of their respective teams.

Loftus-Cheek proved why Chelsea must build around him in midfield.

Loftus-Cheek proved why Chelsea must build around him in midfield.PAUL ELLIS/Getty Images

Although he struggled with the pace of play at times at Anfield, Loftus-Cheek showed enough glimpses of the dominant force he can become. Chelsea must continue putting trust in him next season.

   

What’s Next?

European duty beckons for both clubs, with Liverpool in Porto on Wednesday hoping to protect a 2-0 aggregate lead in the second leg of the Champions League quarter-final.

Chelsea are in the last eight of the UEFA Europa League and welcome Slavia Prague to Stamford Bridge on Thursday, with the Blues 1-0 up after the first leg.

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