Situated on the broadcasting gantry within Anfield’s main stand, Oliver Miller offers his view on Liverpool’s Premier League match against Chelsea.
A late equaliser denies Liverpool victory for the second time in a week.
There were raised eyebrows aplenty as the fans made their way into Anfield on a cold and blustery autumn evening; the winds of change had certainly blown through the team line-ups. The call-up of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, James Milner, and Daniel Sturridge into the starting line-up represented a marked change from the Liverpool attack and midfield that did not pull their weight in the second-half in Sevilla last week. The dominance, strength, and composure that Liverpool’s forward lines demonstrated in the first-half against Sevilla evaporated in the second; a fault that Jurgen Klopp did not want to see resurface against Chelsea. Arguably the most surprising piece of team news was that Alberto Moreno – who was, rightly or wrongly, portioned most of the blame for Liverpool’s capitulation in midweek – started. Klopp, once again, showing that he is willing to take difficult decisions and was rewarded with a decent performance from his left-back.
The much-changed Liverpool side came out of the blocks at pace but it was the ever-present Mohammed Salah who was at the centre of the quick start. With just three minutes on the clock, Salah turned Gary Cahill before Andreas Christensen got across to block the shot. But soon enough Chelsea – who had made five changes of their own from midweek – found their feet and started to press. Eden Hazard – Chelsea’s standout talent – started to get into good positions but the much-maligned Moreno stood up well against him.
Liverpool controlled much of the ball for the first-half but despite Chelsea’s more defensive approach, the visitors did have the better of the chances. Hazard controlled a long ball, cut inside and looked to beat Mignolet with a low shot at the near post but the goalkeeper got down to save well. Hearts were in mouths midway through the first-half when a Chelsea corner brought about a scramble in the Liverpool penalty area; miss-hits, dodgy tackling, and handball claims all featured in the bedlam but a goal didn’t.
Both Salah and Hazard were impressing and providing the Saturday night entertainment – referee Michael Oliver also played his part by slipping over, to which the Chelsea fans response was “Are you Gerrard in disguise?” In the last five minutes before the break, Salah curled a left-foot shot just outside of Thibaut Courtois’s right-hand post – Liverpool’s best chance of the first-half. Out of possession, Antonio Conte’s formation switched to a five-man defence and Liverpool found it hard to break down Chelsea.
At the start of the second-half, Hazard went over on the edge of the Liverpool penalty area – his ankle connecting with James Milner’s foot. This was one of many penalty claims that featured throughout the match, but consistently referee Oliver correctly waved play on. A shot from Sturridge almost embarrassed Courtois; the Belgian goalkeeper let the ball squirm under his body only for it to go just wide of the far post. But it was Salah who continued to get the home fans out of their seats and it felt that his name was destined to be written into the story of the match. Just after the hour mark, it proved so. The Egyptian showed great instinct to anticipate Oxlade-Chamberlain’s poked pass and when presented with a clear sight of goal there was little doubt over the outcome – a delicate placing of the ball to the left of Courtois was enough to give Liverpool the lead that many fans believed just. Salah did not join the Liverpool crowd in celebrating the strike – troubling events in his home country during the week and the fact that Chelsea once employed him were the reasons.
Klopp replaced Sturridge with Georginio Wijnaldum and moved Salah to a central position in an attempt to protect Liverpool’s advantage. The tactic was succeeding until Willian fortuitously intervened. Chelsea, despite Conte’s claims to the contrary, were largely contained in the second-half but their performance improved with each of the manager’s substitutions – Cesc Fabregas, Pedro and finally Willian. The Brazilian had few options when he collected Hazard’s pass and drifted beyond Ragnar Klavan to the corner of the penalty area with five minutes remaining. He aimed a cross towards the far post but instead, it sailed over Mignolet – who was in a good position a few yards off his line but unable to save with his fingertips – and the ball dropped into the net.
Klopp was not happy; not with his goalkeeper, nor his defence, but with the referee, “I was angry because we wanted to change the system and the referee didn’t give us the opportunity. He said it took too long, I don’t understand it. I wanted to go to five at the back and where Willian scored from I felt it could have helped.” However, the Liverpool manager was on the whole positive with the way his side performed even if the way they conceded the equaliser was frustrating.
Antonio Conte reciprocated Klopp’s view of his players, “A great desire, a great will to fight, a great desire to not accept the result against Liverpool.” All the more impressive given the long trip to Azerbaijan in midweek according to the Chelsea manager.
On the balance of play neither side did enough to win the match – obviously, given the nature of the equaliser, the Liverpool supporters left Anfield the more disgruntled – but both teams contributed to an absorbing and intriguing game; both showed qualities of why they should be in the top four come the end of the season. Liverpool’s collective effort impressed, particularly when covering for each other defensively and regaining possession quickly. But it was the stardust that Salah and Hazard sprinkled onto the proceedings that made this an enjoyable Saturday evening of entertainment.