Chelsea lost their first Under-21 match of the season on Friday night, going down 4-1 to an opportune and talented Liverpool outfit.
A scoreless first half belied an action-packed second, with Jack Robinson, Conor Coady, Krisztian Adorjan and Michael Ngoo grabbing goals for the visitors. Patrick Bamford’s effort had offered hope in response but turned out to be a mere consolation.
Chelsea’s headline act, at least in terms of team selection, was German winger Marko Marin, who was afforded an over-age spot in order to get some match minutes under his belt.
Lewis Baker and Lucas Piazon missed out, with Islam Feruz joining Marin in flanking Bamford in attack.
Liverpool featured England youth internationals in all areas of the pitch as well as new signing Samed Yesil from Leverkusen.
In front of another sizeable crowd it was the Blues who started the better, looking to make gains down the left side through the lively combination of Marin and Aziz Deen-Conteh.
Tough tackles from George Saville and Conor Coady on either side in quick succession reminded everyone of the potential for a little bit of attrition but most of the match was being played in wider areas; both clubs played the same 4-2-3-1 shape and looked to get their ‘number ten’ involved to spread the ball towards the flanks.
Chelsea – and Billy Clifford in particular – did this the better for the most part and it was he who had the first shot on target, albeit a tame one easily saved by Peter Gulacsi.
However, Liverpool came on closer to the break and should have been ahead on more than one occasion. Two or three gilt-edged chances went Yesil’s way but also went begging, whilst Brad Smith drove wide from distance.
It was Adam Morgan who looked most threatening and after a couple of looseners he showed guile and alertness to take a quick free kick with Chelsea asleep. Fortunately for the hosts, his powerful effort came back off the post.
The Blues offered a timely reminder of their capabilities just before the half time whistle when Jeremie Boga – on for the injured Ruben Loftus-Cheek – picked up a loose ball but saw his goalbound effort cleared off the line by Smith.
Marin departed at the break with his allotted minutes played, and allowed Adam Coombes his first outing of the campaign.
Again, it was Chelsea who looked sharper from the kickoff, with Bamford and Feruz both going close to breaking the deadlock.
They were unable to really work Gulacsi though, and as the game ticked past the hour, Liverpool put themselves in the ascendancy with two quick-fire strikes.
The first came from England Under-19 left-back Robinson, who rose highest to head a looping cross towards goal. Blackman was beaten at the near post in less than convincing fashion and will most certainly want that one back.
Moments later, Morgan surged into the box but whereas Deen-Conteh had denied him with a perfect tackle earlier in the game, this time he sent his man tumbling.
A penalty was awarded, and Coady confidently beat Blackman from twelve yards.
As Chelsea sought to find a way back into the game, tackles began to fly in from all angles. Saville, Roddan, Aké and Sama all had their names taken and deservedly too.
With ten minutes remaining Bamford got one back with a well-taken strike on his weaker foot which nutmegged Gulacsi but any hopes of a comeback were dashed by two further Reds goals.
Hungarian playmaker Adorjan, who had enjoyed an impressive game, put the result beyond doubt with a sizzling strike low into the corner from the edge of the box to make it 3-1, and substitute Ngoo added gloss to affairs in stoppage time with a routine finish after finding time and space on the break.
As usual at this level, there are positives to take and lessons to learn in equal measure, and Chelsea were certainly impressive in spells, but this was to be Liverpool’s evening, as they showed a sharper touch in front of goal and a stouter resistance overall.
Blackman, Kane, Davey, Aké, Deen-Conteh (Christensen 77), Saville, Feruz, Loftus-Cheek (Boga 40), Bamford, Clifford, Marin (Coombes 45)
Subs not Used: Beeney, Swift
Booked: Saville, Aké