BY PAUL LAGAN
Chelsea collapsed to two second half goals at Anfield this afternoon as Liverpool returned to the top of the Premier League with an emphatic 2-0 win. The Blues fluffed their chance to go back to third, they remain in fourth, two points ahead of Manchester United but have played a game more.
Eden Hazard missed two golden opportunities to snatch a point, that, in truth they did not deserve.
Chelsea head coach opted to drop strikers Gonzalo Higuain and Olivier Giroud to the bench and employ Hazard as the so-called false nine.
If the objective was to try and contain the Scousers – it worked in the first 45 minutes.
But, not for the first time this season, the west Londoners capitulated minutes into the second half.
Goals from Sadio Mane and a belter from ex-Blue Mohamed Salah were enough to crush the spirit of the Blues
The first effort of the game fell to Salah, his left-footed volley from eight-yards out was well held by Kepa.
A Callum Hudson-Odoi right, byline cross was beaten out by Alisson, as the Blues had a very occasional foray up front
Salah felt he had a penalty on 15 minutes, when a mazy run on the right resulted in a challenge by David Luiz on the byline, The Egyptian fell to the ground, but referee Michael Oliver waved away the appeal.
Hazard produced a wonderful run of his own, on 19 minutes, tricking his way through three Liverpool players. He managed to get a shot away, but Alisson was on hand to snaffle the angled effort.
Willian had a great chance to open the score on 31 minutes running the length of the Liverpool half. He skipped past Van Dijk and Matip but, on the edge of the Liverpool penalty area, he left fly with a right-footer, but skied the ball into the Kop.
Antonio Rudiger hobbled off six minutes from time with a thigh problem and was replaced by Andreas Christensen.
There were no further changes by either side at half time.
A wayward blaster by Keita on 49 minutes, the ball flew well over Kepa’s crossbar signalled a repeat of the first half, in terms of pressure and possession – both in the home side’s favour.
Pressure finally told and the Blues resistance was broken. A typical slow second half by the Blues saw Sadio Mane, at the far post with the simplest of chances from a Jordan Henderson right-byline cross.
Salah ended Chelsea’s ability to get back in the game – the Blues hadn’t even got out of their own half before Salah ripped the ball past Kepa with a majestic left-footed strike from 25 yards on 53 minutes.
Sarri then replaced ineffectual Hudson-Odoi with Higuain two minutes later.
Hazard was desperately unlucky as he beat the offside trap, on 59 minutes, after an Emerson defence-splitter beat Alisson, but the ball ricocheted off the goalkeeper’s right post.
Seconds later Alisson thwarted Hazard again as he beat the offside trap once more. But the mercurial midfielder failed to connect properly, and the Brazil stopper dived, low to his right and grabbed the ball.
Ross Barkley replaced Loftus-Cheek on with 16 minutes left on the clock. But he was as innocuous as the rest of the side.
Chelsea face Slavia Prague, at home on Thursday in the Europa League. The lead their quarter-final first leg 1-0.
Teams: Chelsea, Kepa, Azpilicueta, Luiz, Rudiger, Emerson, Jorginho, Hudson-Odoi, Willian, Kante, Loftus-Cheek, Hazard
Subs: Caballero, Barkley, Kovacic, Giroud, Higuain, Pedro, Christensen
Liverpool: Alisson, Trent-Arnold, Robertson, Van Dijk, Matip, Henderson, Keita, Fabinho, Salah, Mane
Subs: Wijnaldum, Lovren, Milner, Sturridge, Mignolet, Shaqiri, Origi
Referee: Michael Oliver