N'Golo Kante, Victor Moses keep Chelsea's UCL hopes alive with win over Liverpool
Chelsea's Champions League qualification hopes remain alive following a 1-0 win over Liverpool at sun-drenched Stamford Bridge.
Olivier Giroud scored the only goal of the game, sweetly heading home a fine cross from Victor Moses. The Blues weathered an early Reds storm and had goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois to thank for remaining in the contest before Giroud beat Loris Karius shortly after the half hour mark.
Antonio Conte's side drew strength from that point on and had further chances to score but were unable to capitalise on the opportunities created which made for a nervy ending for the home supporters.
Chelsea's backline and midfield had the measure of Liverpool's prolific attack for much of the game and creatively the Blues made the most of their competence in this area which allowed Eden Hazard to flourish and pose the type of attacking threat which always causes opponents problems. It may still be a case of too late when it comes to Champions League qualification but a fine victory nevertheless keeps the season bubbling along nicely for the team and the fans.
Not for the first time this season, Chelsea failed to make the most of the chances they created. Marcos Alonso, Cesc Fabregas, Tiemoue Bakayoko and Eden Hazard all went close and had Courtois not been at the top of his game early on the final outcome might have been very different.
Manager rating out of 10
8 -- There was a sense among Chelsea supporters that Conte's starting XI were auditioning for a place in the Italian's FA Cup side and judging by the committed way each man played it certainly seemed the case. Bakayoko has come in for much criticism over the course of a frustrating campaign and the Blues boss deserves credit for persisting with the 23-year old whose appetite for the game he has clearly restored.
Player ratings (1-10, 10 = best, players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Thibaut Courtois, 8 -- Always in command of the penalty area, Courtois was well-placed to expertly deal with everything Liverpool could fire at him which gave the defence in front of him added confidence.
DF Cesar Azpilicueta, 7 -- Had his work cut out for him early on in trying to contain Sadio Mane, but stuck doggedly to his task of marking the Senegalese who posed Chelsea a far greater threat than Mohamed Salah. Eventually came out on top in this important duel.
DF Gary Cahill, 7 -- Chelsea's captain led by example and will have done his chances of securing a place in Gareth Southgate's England World Cup squad a world of good with a combative display of robust defending. A couple of mistimed passes were a reminder of his problems earlier in the season but they went unpunished.
DF Antonio Rudiger, 8 -- Rudiger's mobility and sheer physical presence not only helped contain Salah but also enabled the Germany international to pose a threat going forward. Had a headed goal from a corner ruled out for offside.
MF Victor Moses, 8 -- Had the measure of James Milner and Andrew Robertson on the right flank and created the space for himself to fire an inch-perfect cross to Giroud which resulted in the only goal of the game. Withdrawn late on and received a standing ovation from Blues fans for his endeavours.
MF Marcos Alonso, 7 -- Recalled by Conte following a three-match ban, Alonso wasted no time in making the most of the opportunities that came his way. Created plenty of problems for Trent Alexander-Arnold and Nathaniel Clyne on the left and might have scored when volleying a fine shot just wide of the post.
MF N'Golo Kante, 9 -- Kante provided the glue that bound Chelsea together. Tireless running, well-timed tackles and perfect distribution appeared to give the Blues a man advantage over Liverpool at times.
MF Cesc Fabregas, 7 -- Linked up well with Kante and Hazard and was at the hub of some excellent one-touch football when Chelsea broke forward. Had a chance to score shortly after Giroud found the net but saw an effort skim narrowly past the post. Like Moses, Fabregas was withdrawn late on and received a standing ovation for his efforts.
MF Tiemoue Bakayoko, 8 -- At the start of the season, Chelsea supporters concocted a song for Bakayoko which praised the fact that in tandem with Kante he never gave the ball away. That form floundered over the winter, but the young France international was back to his prodigious best against Liverpool and worked seamlessly with his countryman to give the Blues the edge in midfield.
FW Eden Hazard, 8 -- Hazard has tended too often this season to play when he wants which has led to some hit and miss performances. Against Liverpool, the Belgium international was definitely in the mood and all that was missing was a goal from what was an electrifying, defence-traumatising performance that also got him a standing ovation when subbed off late on.
FW Olivier Giroud, 8 -- Like Cahill, Giroud's sudden surge in form may owe much to his ambition to make his country's World Cup squad. The 31-year old striker worked hard to lead Chelsea's line and showed supreme ability to meet Moses cross and direct it past Karius.
FW Willian, N/R -- Replaced Hazard for the final minutes of the game but was largely uninvolved in play as Liverpool pressed forward for an equaliser
MF Davide Zappacosta, N/R -- Replaced Moses shortly before the end and brought added energy to Chelsea's defensive play.
FW Pedro, N/R -- Replaced Fabregas in the 90th minute.
Mark Worrall is one of ESPN FC's Chelsea bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter: @gate17marco