Liverpool vs Chelsea – an evening kick-off, a cold November evening, under the lights at a stadium such as Anfield – has the potential for a mouth-watering clash and it would certainly live up to the hype. For Chelsea, this would be their third away game in a row but had reason to be confident after two 4-0 victories away at West Bromwich Albion and in Qarabag, Azerbaijan, in the Champions League. Liverpool, comprehensively defeated Southampton 3-0 at Anfield last Saturday but somehow dropped two points away in Seville after being 3-0 up at half-time.
There was an old-school aura to the way the game started with it being particularly robust in the midfield. From the away contingent setting off a blue flare as the teams emerged into the cauldron of fire to the robust tackles of Chelsea’s midfield trio of last years star N’Golo Kante along with new signings Danny Drinkwater and Tiemoue Bakayoko. The first half was largely remembered with referee, Michael Oliver slipping in Steven Gerrard style which brought amusement to the Chelsea and Liverpool fans: cue the rendition of the Steve Gerrard slip chant. The first half was particularly scrappy and tentative, with not much excitement. Ex Chelsea player, Mohamed Salah tried to test Thibaut Courtois but was often prohibited by the staunch defending by Chelsea bodies in what seemed to be a defensive approach or the Egyptian blazed opportunities over the crossbar. From a Chelsea perspective, there wasn’t too much to write home about either: Hazard weaved away from Liverpool bodies and managed to get a shot off, parried by goalkeeper Simon Mignolet and Danny Drinkwater was denied by the Liverpool goalkeeper, after being put clean through.
The second half started in a similar pattern: neither side doing enough to create chances. Chelsea, attacking their contingent of away fans, sited in the Anfield Road end. Chelsea, simply buoyed on by their loyal travelling support, had the early chances of the second half but in reality, they came to nothing. A couple of corners, here and there – nothing really to trouble Simon Mignolet. Liverpool came closest to scoring, early on in the second half where uncharacteristically, Thibaut Courtois, flapped at a Daniel Sturridge drive towards goal, flashing just past the post in whatwould have been an extremely soft goal. The first goal did arrive though with 65 minutes on the clock. Tiemoue Bakayoko, who was arguably Chelsea’s most disappointing player was dispossessed on the edge of the box by Philippe Coutinho, who fed in Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Chamberlain then fed in Salah who calmly slotted past the despairing Courtois. 1-0 Liverpool and to be fair was against the run of play since Chelsea was dictating the early stages of the second half but lacking that cutting edge.
Liverpool’s goal brought changes for both sides – notably Gini Wijnaldum coming on to replace Daniel Sturridge. It seemed that Jurgen Klopp would be content with a 1-0 victory, especially after the criticism Liverpool receive for their expansive football. You only have to look to their 5-0 drubbing away at Manchester City. Fabregas replaced Danny Drinkwater, who played reasonably well considering it was his first start for Chelsea in the Premier League; Pedro replaced Bakayoko, who considerably underperformed, and Willian replaced Davide Zappacosta. Chelsea changed formation to a 3-4-3 with Pedro slotting in at RWB with Willian joining the duo of Hazard and Morata. Liverpool’s goal spurred Chelsea on and the Champions were probing. Marcos Alonso fired one over into the fans after some patient build-up play. Liverpool was always a threat though on the counter despite Chelsea pressure with Mohamed Salah almost wheeling away on a couple occasions but to be denied by Andreas Christensen and Cesar Azpilicueta. The latter was making his 74th consecutive appearance for Antonio Conte.
Chelsea’s (deserved) goal did come eventually – fans had to wait until the 85th minute in the cold and miserable conditions at Anfield. After some head tennis and Liverpool defenders hoofing up back to the isolated Courtois, Morata passed to Hazard who sprayed the ball onto the right side towards Willian. Willian tried a step-over and seemed to be running away from goal; however to the amazement of myself and 3000 other Chelsea fans, dinked the ball into the top left hand corner beyond the reach of Mignolet. 1-1 in the most unexpected way ever. The goal was described as a cross-cum-shot but for me, it was definitely a cross. There was no way in hell, Willian meant that – especially with the frustration he has caused many Chelsea fans this season. Willian tends to have one good game in about 10 which is highly frustrating, especially when there is talent there.
Chelsea had one little scare to deal with – Mohamed Salah who showed why Chelsea made a mistake to sell him – tested Courtois late in added time but it was a routine save. There was an attempt to break away which was denied by the offside flag, much to the annoyance of the travelling Chelsea contingent.
1-1 at the final whistle. A deserved point but I must admit, I’m a little disappointed with a point. Yes, it is Anfield – Liverpool are a decent side – but I thought they were there for the taking on Saturday. Players such as Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino were on the bench and Chelsea missed a trick. I can understand why Chelsea went with three central midfielders since if you go gung-ho against Liverpool, the pace of Oxlade-Chamberlain and Salah will cause damage and I guess you don’t want it ending up a cricket score. However, Klavan and Matip are hardly Liverpool’s best defensive duo and we made them out to look like peak Nesta and Maldini. Chelsea simply didn’t test them enough, which was highly unfortunate, especially since it was must win and we want to make City’s apparent procession to the title, a little interesting for the neutral.