Maurizio Sarri lost a battle of wits against Jurgen Klopp on Sunday afternoon as his ambition of sneaking into the top-four took a potentially decisive hit on Merseyside.
The pre-match narrative suggested that Eden Hazard was the man who could inspire an upset at Anfield after his scintillating display against West Ham United earlier in the week.
But his position was tweaked on Sunday as he moved into centre-forward, with natural strikers Gonzalo Higuain and Olivier Giroud parked on the bench.
Hazard is familiar with the role and has been trusted to operate as a false-nine in a handful of big games in the past under both Sarri and Antonio Conte, but this was a change which failed to provide the visitors with a clear strategy from which to unpick Liverpool’s stark defensive unit.
If anything, it actually played into Klopp’s hands, and the merits of the decision were begging to be placed under scrutiny after Gonzalo Higuain’s introduction stimulated Chelsea’s most promising spell of the entire game.
Higuain moved to the spearhead of Chelsea’s attack after replacing Callum Hudson-Odoi and suddenly Hazard came alive.
The Belgian became increasingly elusive and difficult for Liverpool’s defenders to get hold of after changing positions.
Chances arrived and Hazard ought to have bagged on two separate occasions, leaving the Blues faithful and Manchester City fans in a state of utter disbelief and frustration.
While it must be acknowledged that the Argentine’s substitution arrived immediately after Liverpool doubled their lead – a time when you would expect Chelsea to offer some resistance – the manner in which their goal threat was immediately transformed was as alarming as it was tangible.
Hazard, the most game-changing talent at Sarri’s disposal, was at the heart of everything the top-four chasing outfit did after falling two goals behind, and the tale of two different Chelsea sides both with and without Higuain on the field underlined the extent of the blunder which lay within the Italian’s team-selection.
Chelsea’s centre-forward conundrum continues.