A point against Chelsea should never be considered a bad result. The manner in which Liverpool had two points taken away from them so late on, however, makes it feel much more like a defeat. Bolt that on to the capitulation against Sevilla in midweek and Liverpool have picked up two ostensibly decent draws against two strong sides, yet the overwhelming sense is one of a huge missed opportunity.
It’s always incredibly frustrating to concede a late equaliser, especially when so close to securing what would have been a hugely significant three points against a top four rival, but some perspective is needed here. This was an extremely close game of football between two fairly evenly matched sides and the degree of malcontent about Liverpool’s performance should not be exagerrated.
Of course, Liverpool’s apparent inability to see games out from winning positions is a real concern. Dropping deep and inviting Chelsea on was always a risky strategy as it allowed the visitors to pile on the pressure and camp deep inside Liverpool’s half. That said, Liverpool were undone not by a defensive mistake, but a flukey, mishit cross by Willian which happened to loop perfectly in to the top corner beyond Simon Mignolet’s reach. Some have suggested Mignolet ought to have done better, but it would be pretty harsh to attach too much blame to the Belgian here given the awkward trajectory of the ball and the fact it was so unexpected (and most probably unintended). It’s one of those unfortunate things which happens in football from time to time.
On the balance of play, Liverpool could feel slightly hard done by in not taking all three points having dominated large periods, while Mohamed Salah so very nearly snatched a late winner with a snapshot saved by Thibaut Courtois right at the death. Chelsea, meanwhile, will feel much better about the result having spent much of the game defending, although they were able to cause problems when they did venture forward- particularly through the superb Eden Hazard- the best player on the pitch alongside Salah.
Jürgen Klopp’s decision to rest both Sadio Mané and Roberto Firmino and hand starts to Daniel Sturridge and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was a real curveball and one which had mixed results. Sturridge struggled to truly imprint himself on the game, despite having a good chance blocked by Cesar Azpilicueta in the second-half and some smart hold up play at times. Oxlade-Chamberlain, on the other hand, did himself no harm at all with another positive and direct performance, poking the ball through cleverly to assist Salah’s opener.
The logic behind resting Firmino and Mané in such an important game wasn’t clear, but presumably Klopp will have done so with Wednesday night’s trip to Stoke in mind. Firmino looked visibly exhausted in the second-half against Sevilla, while Mané’s hamstring issue needs to be carefully managed. It was a strange choice to rest them here, rather than against Sevilla, nonetheless.
Alberto Moreno, meanwhile, gave the perfect response to his first real poor performance of the season against Sevilla which earned him swathes of criticism for his mistakes leading to two goals. The Spaniard was back to the level he’s been at for the vast majority of the season, aggressive but controlle in the tackle on numerous occasions.
Throughout the first half, Liverpool dominated possession without ever looking all that likely to score, while the threat of Hazard and Alvaro Morata proved problematic at times when the ball was turned over quickly, enabling Chelsea to break and exploit the spaces left behind the Liverpool midfield as Jordan Henderson and James Milner struggled to strike up an effective partnership between them.
Henderson is enduring a particularly rough patch at the moment following his struggles against Sevilla and it’s difficult not to feel as though the number six position doesn’t get the best out of his attributes, while Milner looks far from suitable in central midfield against this calibre of opposition. His positioning and touch left much to be desired, while Philippe Coutinho endured an unusually quiet game stationed in an advanced midfield role- providing very little in the way of defensive cover and tracking back.
Salah, with much of the limelight on him against his former club and given his phenomenal start to life at Liverpool, looked the likeliest route to goal for Klopp’s side and nearly curled in the opener in the first-half, firing narrowly wide after spinning away from his marker with ease. While the Egyptian’s pace, movement and goal-scoring have received much deserved adulation, his hold-up play and ability to stand his ground against physically imposing defenders is an underappreciated aspect of his skillset and was clearly to see on this occasion.
Indeed, with the first-half ending goalless and the second-half very tight and difficult to call, it was the former Chelsea man who eventually opened the scoring with a cool right-footed finish to slot past Courtois after latching on to Oxlade-Chamberlain’s pass. While his celebrations were decidely muted, this was a significant moment for a player who is rapidly establishing himself as one of the finest in the Premier League- if not in Europe, hitting his 15th goal of the season to stay top of the leaderboard.
He was never fully given the chance to show his worth at Chelsea, but this was just the latest indication that Roma’s loss is Liverpool’s significant gain, with £36.9 million looking increasingly incredible value as the weeks go by and the goals fly in.
It should have been the goal to secure a momentous victory for Liverpool to firmly establish themselves in the top four and take advantage of Spurs’ dropped points against West Brom. Yet when Liverpool needed an out-ball to hit on the counter-attack late on, the option wasn’t there and the ball just kept on coming back at them.
Rather than being proactive and maintaining the intensity, Klopp waited until after Willian’s goal to finally bring on Adam Lallana and Mané to chase a late winner, but in truth the changes ought to have been made much earlier as the signs were there that Chelsea were turning up the heat while Liverpool’s energy levels dropped off.
While the manner of the equaliser was difficult to accept and not the direct result of a defensive error, Henderson was guilty of getting dispossessed inside his own final third- and the warning signs had been there before. The spaces in Liverpool’s midfield were far too easy for Chelsea to exploit once possession had been turned over, while Liverpool ought to have done much better in terms of keeping the ball and taking the sting out of the game. Game management is something this side must still improve on quite considerably.
Overall, however, there were positives to be taken in the way Liverpool asserted themselves against the reigning champions and played with tenacity and confidence without several key individuals from the start. Oxlade-Chamberlain took his opportunity to impress, Moreno bounced back impressively, while Salah continues to go from strength to strength. Had a couple of credible penalty claims for handball against Gary Cahill gone Liverpool’s way, it could so easily have been a very different story.
Klopp will be disappointed not to have secured all three points, but given the heavy defeats against Man City and Spurs, it was important for Liverpool not to lose against another top side here. While the result feels like a bitter blow in the immediate aftermath, after four wins and two draws Liverpool find themselves in a solid run of form and now have a platform to build on heading into a densely packed festive fixture schedule in which plenty of points are there to be won.