After the euphoric scenes midweek in reaching the Champions League final, Liverpool were brought back down to Premier League reality on Sunday as they fell to a disappointing 1-0 defeat to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
In a game that had very much resembled an end-of-season fixture between two sides with one eye on upcoming cup finals, Olivier Giroud’s first-half header was enough to clinch three points for Antonio Conte’s Blues, ending Liverpool’s hopes of pipping Manchester United to second place.
As for Chelsea, they are now two points behind Tottenham Hotspur with two games remaining, their top-four hopes staying alive thanks to their clinical Frenchman in attack.
If Chelsea can beat Huddersfield Town on Wednesday night, they will go into the final round of Premier League games level on points with Jürgen Klopp’s Reds.
A drab spectacle that won’t live long in anyone’s memory, here are five things we learned.
The Alexander-Arnold experiment
Trent Alexander-Arnold endured a difficult night against Roma midweek but Klopp cleverly took the teenager out of the firing line by pushing him up into midfield, giving Nathaniel Clyne a start at right-back.
With Jordan Henderson on the bench and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain injured, it afforded Alexander-Arnold the opportunity to prove his credentials higher up the pitch.
And, in a sleepy, low-intensity first-half, the 19-year-old was often the man offering a sense of urgency to Liverpool’s play, notably when a clever pass created a chance for Sadio Mané.
However, there were moments when the full-back-cum-midfielder switched off, notably when he let Cesc Fàbregas ghost into space, the Spaniard coming close to scoring.
After Chelsea’s opener, it was difficult to pick out many moments in which Alexander-Arnold troubled the home side. It was an intriguing experiment from Klopp but one that did not produce the desired outcome.
Chelsea get away with risky game in midfield
Liverpool really should have been ahead going into half-time. Mané, operating centrally, caused Chelsea’s midfield all sorts of problems, with the Senegalese speedster finding pockets of space behind N’Golo Kanté on more than one occasion.
There was a moment when Kanté made up plenty of ground on Mané before executing a perfectly-timed tackle but the sight of the Liverpool man roaming into space in front of Chelsea’s penalty area was an alarmingly regular sight for the Blues.
Fortunately for the hosts, Mané’s finishing was below-par as he failed to capitalise on Chelsea’s slack marking.
After the half-time interval, Chelsea tightened up and Liverpool wilted as an attacking unit, allowing Tiemoué Bakayoko and Kante a much more comfortable second 45 minutes.
Giroud continues fine form
A collector’s item: an Olivier Giroud goal in a Premier League game in which he started. Amazingly, the Frenchman’s powerful header to open the scoring was the first time that had happened in a year.
Giroud has been in fine form recently but his brace in the 3-2 win at Southampton arrived as part of a thrilling 29-minute cameo from the bench. The 31-year-old has in recent years been given the tag of ‘super-sub’ but he remains an effective spearhead in attack from the start.
Here, the former Arsenal striker proved a handful for Virgil van Dijk and Dejan Lovren, his physicality and aerial prowess making him a clear focal point for Chelsea.
And true to form, his goal was a headed one, beating Lovren in the air to apply the finishing touch to Victor Moses’ cross. As per Opta, Giroud now has 17 headed goals since the start of the 2015/16 season, more than any other player in Europe’s top five leagues in that time.
The list of top headed goal scorers in PL since Olivier Giroud moved to England in 2012 pic.twitter.com/B6RMyS48We
— Sky Sports Statto (@SkySportsStatto) May 6, 2018
Reds surprisingly blunt in attack
Klopp will certainly hope that his side’s uncharacteristically listless attacking display was a mere blip – and not a sign of fatigue three weeks before the Champions League final.
For all their possession, Liverpool lacked the attacking verve and swagger that has shaped their season. As previously mentioned, Mané spurned a few presentable opportunities but Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah were curiously ineffective, with the Egyptian even suffering the ignominy of being booked for diving.
Salah no longer needs to prove what a different player he is to the one that struggled to make an impression at Chelsea, but his 50th appearance in a Liverpool shirt was certainly one of his most anonymous.
Wary of over-exerting themselves and risking an injury that could potentially rule them out of the Champions League showpiece in Kiev – particularly given hoe Oxlade-Chamberlain’s season has ended – Chelsea’s defenders will still have been surprised at just how comfortably they kept the Mané-Salah-Firmino trident in check.
Hazard dazzling ahead of FA Cup final
For Chelsea, it’s been a season to forget for many reasons, but the form of Eden Hazard has certainly been one thing for the Stamford Bridge faithful to smile about recently.
The Belgian sparkled recently in the FA Cup semi-final win over Southampton and, if today was anything to go by, he will make Wembley his playground once again when Chelsea meet Manchester United in the final.
As Liverpool struggled for inspiration, Hazard bobbed and weaved his way through tiring limbs all afternoon. At one point the 27-year-old led Firmino and Clyne on a merry dance down the left wing, leaving both red shirts in his wake before forcing a save from Loris Karius.
Whether it was showing the Liverpool midfield a clean pair of heels or delighting the crowd with needlessly exquisite rabona passes, it was clear that Hazard’s confidence levels are seriously high right now.
Hazard was dialled in against Liverpool, completing 87 per cent of his passes, making three key passes and touching the ball 57 times.
He also completed all seven of his attempted dribbles – an exceptional effort – as he reminded us, once again, that he is one of the best players in the world at running with the ball at his feet.
That’s not the best news for United.