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Friday 28 July 2017

Conte still has work to do to secure the title

Chelsea’s Diego Costa goes to ground after clashing with Joel Matip resulting
in a penalty (which he missed) at Anfield last night.
Chelsea’s Diego Costa goes to ground after clashing with Joel Matip resulting in a penalty (which he missed) at Anfield last night.

The best thing that happened for Antonio Conte last night was when Watford did him a favour and beat Arsenal at the Emirates.

His own team was off colour and couldn't do it for themselves at Anfield but they now have a lead which is getting towards unassailable.

I was disappointed with Chelsea's first twenty minutes against Liverpool and ultimately, the whole performance. They were ill at ease, not comfortable as racing title favourites.

Here was a chance to make a statement as Premier League leaders by doing all the things they've been doing right all season.

But they gave the ball away a lot and I was expecting better.

Liverpool couldn't get any momentum or rhythm going simply because Chelsea players began to do their jobs well and that's been the story of games like this between the two clubs at Anfield over many years.

Jose Mourinho knew how to resist the " go-go-go" football favoured by Brendan Rodgers and now Klopp and Conte's instincts make him the perfect man to keep up the tradition.

Chelsea set up with two banks of four and Liverpool found it very hard to make headway. Then they threw away home field advantage with a mad defensive moment.

David Luiz, behaving himself all season in Chelsea's defence, saw an opportunity from a set-piece and let go a rocket which whistled into the net while the entire Liverpool defence stood watching.

Laughable

It was laughable and evidence of poor planning and poor training. Worse, it gave Chelsea the position they wanted and the one any Italian manager loves - 1-0 away from home.

Whatever it was that inhibited Chelsea in that opening spell was wiped away in a flash. Confidence surged through the team but they kept doing the rights things well.

I was expecting them to drive on after half-time but the opposite happened. Again, they started to give the ball away and while Liverpool responded reasonably well to Klopp's interval message, they weren't playing that well when Chelsea drew level.

It was a blunder in the defence which has been so good all season which let Liverpool back in.

A good ball from James Milner turned the whole defence and Georginio Wijnaldum headed home.

There was one more big moment, a controversial penalty awarded to Diego Costa who went over with the faintest of touches but couldn't get the ball through Simon Mignolet who guessed well and saved the spot-kick.

In fact, both managers probably heaved a sigh of relief at the final whistle after a job not so well done.

At the end of it all, we learned that Chelsea have a way to go before we can be anoint them as Champions but with Arsenal losing so badly, the points dropped at Anfield are no great loss.

For Klopp, it was a welcome respite from the pressure which has been slowly building during this poor run of results.

I think he is learning valuable lessons about his squad and his own approach to the Premier League.

He now knows that he could do with two full teams if he wants to continue his all-action, relentlessly positive philosophy.

And if he was sitting in my seat, he would see that he should stop talking for five minutes and give himself time to think about what he is saying.

Klopp cannot be all things to all men, much as he would like to try. Being so open makes every defeat that bit harder and a bad run seems worse if the manager is rolling out the same lines in ten different ways.

His credibility is chipped away little by little until he becomes a Sam Allardyce; plenty to say but not a lot of substance.

None of this matters if he can preserve his authority within the club but results focus pressure and club owners read newspapers too.

Whether we like it or not, the media matters to this level of football and given the history of John Henry and his wish to micro-manage buying and selling at Liverpool, Klopp does not need to open that door an inch.

Of greater importance still is how all of this plays in the dressing room.

Players read through flannel quicker than anyone and what plays well when the team is winning and everyone is happy becomes an annoyance or worse when the tide turns in the other direction.

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