More Fixture Blues
Saturday 25 November, Anfield – Great wins and clean sheets against Southampton and West Bromwich Albion respectively. Big Champions League away games midweek. And now fifth vs third – Liverpool vs Chelsea at Anfield, in the biggest EPL fixture of the weekend.
The clubs enjoyed differing fortunes in their midweek European games – Chelsea strolled to a 4 – 0 win in Baku vs FK Qarabag, returning to the top of their group and ensuring qualification for the knockout stage.
Liverpool surrendered a three-goal lead and wound up sharing points with Sevilla. Chelsea though had a longer trip back home, and less recovery time than today’s hosts. They would have to dig deep and find the energy reserves to make an impact away from home, against this quality of opponent.
Chelsea were set out in their now familiar 3-5-2 shape, with Gary Cahill, Andreas Christensen and Cesar Azpilicueta in center back. Danny Drinkwater replaced Cesc Fabregas in midfield, with N’golo Kante and Tiemoue Bakayoko alongside him. Victor Moses returned from injury, but Davide Zappacosta continued in right wing back for this fixture.
Joel Matip also returned from injury for Liverpool, but he was in the starting lineup at the heart of their four-man back line. Jurgen Klopp rested Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino after their goalscoring feats in Seville, but ex-Chelsea players Mohamed Salah and Daniel Sturridge started up front with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Adam Lallana was also available for selection after an extended layoff, but like Moses, he was on the bench for this game.
Line-Ups & Ratings
Mignolet 7, Moreno 7, Klavan 6.5, Matip 7, Gomez 7, Coutinho 6.5 (Lallana NR), Henderson 5.5, Milner 6, Oxlade-Chamberlain 6.5 (Mane NR), Salah 8, Sturridge 6.5 (Wijnaldum 6.5)
Subs Karius, Robertson, Alexander-Arnold, Wijnaldum, Lallana, Mane, Firmino
Courtois 7, Zappacosta 6 (Willian 7.5), Azpilicueta 7.5, Christensen 7.5, Cahill 7, Alonso 6.5, Kante 7.5, Drinkwater 7 (Fabregas 6.5), Bakayoko 5.5 (Pedro 6), Hazard 7, Morata 6.5
Subs Caballero, Luiz, Rudiger, Moses, Fabregas, Willian, Pedro
Battening Down The Hatches
Chelsea started as expected – knowing Liverpool were at home and more rested, and also that they had players that could hurt any team on the counter, Chelsea packed their own third and settled back to weather the home side’s attacks.
As expected Liverpool pressed relentlessly, forcing the Chelsea players into several errors in possession in the first half. With two of their normal front three on the bench though, they could not find the final ball to work the visiting goalkeeper. Mohamed Salah did escape Gary Cahill to make a couple of good first half chances for himself, but neither of his shots was on target.
As the first half wore on, Chelsea begin to create opportunities on the counter. First Kante made an incisive pass from the halfway line to find Drinkwater unmarked just outside the box, but before he could get his feet sorted Moreno intervened to cut out the danger. Then Drinkwater made a long pass from midfield to Hazard on the left. Hazard dribbled inside and struck a shot at Mignolet, but his international teammate got down quickly to save.
A couple of minutes later, Hazard dribbled past Jordan Henderson in midfield, then threaded a beautiful through pass into the box for Drinkwater. Again though the midfielder could not find the right touch to round Mignolet, and his save rebounded the ball back off Drinkwater for a goal kick.
Kante retrieved possession after the goal kick though, and a few seconds later Hazard was threading a pass through again, this time to the right. Zappacosta ran onto the ball and chose to shoot rather than cross, but again Mignolet made a good diving save and the scores stayed even. Hazard took the resulting corner, and Drinkwater lashed in a shot but it was blocked, and for a little while the ball pinballed around the Liverpool box until Moreno cleared.
Chelsea will have been the happier side at halftime. Liverpool had almost camped in their half dominating possession, but Mignolet wound up with way more saves to make than Courtois.
Mo Salah, Salah, Whatever Will Be, Will Be
The second half started similarly to the first – Liverpool controlled possession, but then Chelsea started to create chances on the counter. Then on 62 minutes Salah set up Sturridge for what should have been Liverpool’s first goal, but Azpilicueta somehow made a last-second tackle to block his shot.
And then a couple of minutes later they did score. Coutinho intercepted a pass from Zappacosta and took the ball forward. He exchanged passes with Salah, before tapping it up to Oxlade-Chamberlain, who then toe-poked a through pass again to Salah. The Egyptian striker kept his composure and passed the ball into the net, just ahead of Azpilicueta’s covering slide tackle.
The ones that get away… they always come back to haunt you don’t they? First Kevin de Bruyne with Manchester City, now Mohamed Salah with Liverpool. Maybe it’s Romelu Lukaku at OT next.
And as well as Alvaro Morata, Chelsea’s record signing has played this season, as many goals as he has scored, de Bruyne has played better and more consistently for City, and Salah has scored far more goals for Liverpool even though he’s not even a striker. Chelsea signed them for relatively little but never really gave them a chance, even when there were signs of the player they might become. Hopefully the club have learned their lesson now.
Willian In Form
Liverpool were a goal up with only twenty-five minutes left to play – new tactics were required, for both teams. Klopp subbed on Wijnaldum for Sturridge, and shortly afterwards Antonio Conte replaced Drinkwater with Fabregas, and then Bakayoko with Pedro. Liverpool were sitting back more now but a number of Chelsea players were visibly tired – they still could not find a breakthrough.
So on 83 minutes Conte made his final sub, Willian for Zappacosta. Willian had scored two goals and assisted two others against Qarabag midweek. And he was the beneficiary of another miracle today.
Hazard jumped to head back a lob from Henderson, and then received the ball back from Morata before squaring to Willian on his right. Willian ran diagonally up into the box under pressure from Ragnar Klavan, then hooked a lob towards goal at a right angle to his run. Maybe he planned to cross to Morata, but that’s not where the ball ended up. It looped lazily, almost gently over Mignolet at the near post, and into the far corner. It was a fantastic equalizer for Willian to score, but it must have felt really deflating for the home side. Jurgen Klopp brought on Mane and Lallana in the last few minutes but it wasn’t enough to affect the score.
As You Were
And so it was “as you were” for both teams. Having picked up a creditable draw in challenging circumstances, Chelsea stayed third on the league table with 23 points, three behind Manchester United and eight behind City. Liverpool remained in fifth place, one point behind Tottenham and three behind Chelsea.
Final Score Liverpool 1 – 1 Chelsea
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