Two league games into their season and Liverpool have twin examples of the destructive impact of their outstanding attackers. First Mohamed Salah scored a match-winning hat-trick against Leeds United and now Sadio Mane recorded a different sort of treble, reducing Chelsea to 10 men before delivering a quickfire brace.
Two games into theirs and Chelsea have ample evidence that spending £200 million (Dh950m) is only of limited use if they have a liability in goal. Kepa Arrizabalaga’s error did not cost them against Brighton but Liverpool and Mane capitalised on a glaring blunder. The world’s most expensive goalkeeper is the Premier League’s worst and Chelsea must wish they had fast-tracked the deal for Rennes’ Edouard Mendy to provide a much-needed upgrade on the £71.6 million misfit rather sooner.
Liverpool, who gave Thiago Alcantara a debut as a substitute, have been noted for their surer touch in the transfer market in recent years. Mane was Jurgen Klopp’s first major signing and he illustrated that he remains a catalyst. An uneventful first half, almost the antithesis of Liverpool’s 5-3 win at Anfield in July, had featured a solitary, forgettable attempt on target until he transformed it.
Indeed, it was notable only for early indications of Arrizabalaga’s failings. The Spaniard ventured unwisely out of his goal and Andreas Christensen was required to make a goal-saving interception to stop Roberto Firmino from meeting Salah’s cross.
Christensen’s next intervention was less well-timed and more costly. He hauled down the faster Mane as they chased Jordan Henderson’s superb through pass. Paul Tierney initially brandished a yellow card but, on reviewing the incident on a monitor, upgraded it to a red. It also marked the last contribution of Henderson, who was excellent, influential but injured, with a thigh problem, and Kai Havertz, sacrificed so Fikayo Tomori could take Christensen’s spot in defence.
That rejigged rearguard was soon breached as Liverpool’s front three combined with Firmino chipping a cross for Mane, who had evaded Reece James, to plant a header in. If it would be harsh to blame Arrizabalaga then, he bears sole responsibility for the second. Perhaps Mane had been ordered to press him. Certainly he closed the Spaniard down, intercepting a weak pass to give himself a tap-in.
Chelsea’s best-laid plans were in ruins. They had begun solidly with Mateo Kovacic and N’Golo Kante harrying in midfield and a deep defensive line who were only caught on the break once, fatally, by Mane.
Their two marquee signings made Stamford Bridge bows in unexpected roles, with Havertz leading the line and Timo Werner beginning on the left, though he took over as the striker when Chelsea were down to 10 men. Werner has had more time to train with his teammates and, again, he was the sharper of the Germans. He shot just wide in the first half. He skewed a shot glaringly wide when the offside Havertz set him up, but he remained a threat.
Werner won a second penalty in as many games, when Thiago rather needlessly caught him. Yet Jorginho, often the spot-kick specialist, lost his 100 per cent record in the Premier League. Alisson was not distracted by the Italian’s trademark hop, skip and jump and guessed right. A further fine save, from Tammy Abraham, showed the difference a high-class goalkeeper can make.
His defence also impressed. Having sold Dejan Lovren and lacking the injured Joe Gomez and Joel Matip, Liverpool were forced to field Fabinho at centre-back, but the Brazilian made two well-judged challenges on Werner.
Ahead of him, Gini Wijnaldum, Mane and Salah were denied a third Liverpool goal by Arrizabalaga, but by then the damage had been done. Chelsea had shown that spending is not enough in itself and Liverpool, who finished 33 points ahead of them last season, underlined why they remain the team to beat again. They will never replicate last season’s start of 26 wins from 27, but with two from two, they have begun well. The same cannot be said for Arrizabalaga.