Chelsea and Liverpool treated American fans to a showdown between two of the heavyweights of European soccer in the International Champions Cup on Wednesday. However, the meeting in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, was more of a defensive clash than a display of offensive beauty.
Chelsea beat Liverpool 1-0 courtesy of a Gary Cahill header in the first half in what was the opening 2016 ICC game for each side. Blues goalkeeper Asmir Begovic and his defense proved to be the story of the game, though, and the Reds never found a way to break through after conceding the early goal.
It may have just been a preseason contest that won't affect the Premier League table in the upcoming season, but the teams' defenses kept the offenses in check with a dose of physical play. In all, there were six yellow cards and even a red, which underscored the fact it wasn't exactly a "friendly" contest.
Despite the loss, Liverpool finished with 65 percent of the possession and often dictated the tempo, per ESPN FC, but it wasn't enough to beat the Londoners' back line.
It didn't take long for Chelsea to seize the early momentum. The Blues converted in the 10th minute, when Cahill buried a beautiful header into the bottom-right corner of the net from Cesc Fabregas' ideally placed corner kick. The Rose Bowl Stadium captured the game's only goal:
Melissa Reddy of Goal noted it was a rare preseason defensive breakdown from Liverpool:
Liverpool nearly equalized when Philippe Coutinho ripped a long-range set piece, but Begovic turned it away with a full-length dive. Chelsea's official Twitter feed called it "a stunning save" from the goalkeeper.
The Merseysiders did find the back of the net in the 35th minute, when Roberto Firmino beat Begovic, but it was ruled out for offside after an impressive push forward.
The half ended with the lone Chelsea goal even though Liverpool controlled 66 percent of the possession in the opening 45 minutes, per ESPN FC.
The early moments of the second half saw more defensive composure before Liverpool emptied the bench with five substitutions in the 63rd minute. Chelsea responded with three subs in the 67th minute.
While the contest took on more of a friendly feel, with numerous players seeing the field, the physicality did not dissipate. Fabregas was sent off after a dangerous challenge in the 70th minute, leaving the Blues a man down for the closing stretch of the match.
Both defenses continued to turn back every offensive push in the second half. The pressure was on Chelsea in particular after Fabregas' ejection, but Begovic and his defenders had the answer every time, as the team pointed out on Twitter:
With the defense holding firm, Chelsea recorded a 1-0 victory in California.
While there is usually little to take away from a game that has no bearing on the standings and featured a raft of substitutions, Chelsea can draw encouragement from the fact their back line was so strong throughout the game Wednesday.
If the Blues can carry that type of play into meaningful games, they will mount a strong challenge in the 2016-17 Premier League season.
New Chelsea head coach Antonio Conte hailed the effort of his new side after the match, particularly following Fabregas' dismissal, per Chelsea:
Meanwhile, Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp revealed Fabregas visited the Reds' dressing room to apologise for the dangerous tackle on centre-back Ragnar Klavan that saw him dismissed, per the Liverpool Echo's James Pearce:
Per Pearce, it was also revealed post-match that Marko Grujic went to hospital to have a scan "after suffering [a] suspected concussion."