Chelsea 1 Liverpool 1
You don’t see many managers beaming with happiness at the full time whistle after witnessing their team concede a late goal versus a rival yet that was essentially the scene at Stamford Bridge on Saturday night. Despite his side being ahead in the game for over an hour, Maurizio Sarri’s pleasure at their display versus an evidently strong Liverpool side was on show for all to see. He and a relieved Jurgen Klopp embraced like old pals at a high school reunion at the final whistle, both delighted from what they had seen from their teams. This air of mutual respect was carried into the post match interviews, where Sarri asserted that a draw was the ‘right’ result while Klopp commented that a draw away at Chelsea is always a good outcome. Both points are hard to disagree with when assessing what turned out to be a great game of football in West London.
As always seems to be the case, Liverpool started the game the faster of the two sides and could have easily been ahead by the time Eden Hazard had capped off a lovely Chelsea move with an angled finish past Allison after twenty five minutes. Mohammed Salah, versus his old club, failed to take advantage of two good opportunities before Hazard continued his extremely fruitful week by firing Chelsea into the lead. This didn’t deter Liverpool by any stretch however and they were nearly level when Salah rounded Chelsea keeper (Kepa) Arrizabalaga only to see his side footed finish be cleared off the line by fan favourite Antonio Rudiger. And there was still time for last seasons’ PFA Player of the Year to spurn another decent chance before the half was out, with the Egyptian international, perhaps gun-shy from earlier misses, trying to play in Roberto Firmino with Klopp clearly feeling that he should have shot himself. Thus, despite the quality of their goal and overall application to a game such as this, Chelsea were a tad fortunate to take a one-nil lead into half time.
Again though this didn’t seem to phase an ever dynamic Liverpool side and Chelsea’s world record signing goalkeeper had to be at his best to keep out a hard and low Sadio Mane near post effort. Despite Liverpool’s increasing shot tally, it was Chelsea’ man of the moment Hazard who had the chance to put the game effectively out of reach just after the hour mark. Taking advantage of quick free kick in midfield that Liverpool’s back line were slow to react to, the lightning quick Belgian found himself one on one with Allison and not many would have bet against him putting Chelsea two up however the Brazilian keeper saved the Chelsea man’s effort well with his legs.
With three quarters of a highly competitive game now gone, both managers made changes, with one standing out more than others as a frustrated Mo Salah was taken off for Xherdan Shaqiri on sixty six minutes. Much has been made since of Klopp’s decision to take him off as well as Salah’s form so far this season. Yet it was perhaps always inevitable that Salah wouldn’t consistently reach the heights of his dream debut season and with three goals and two assists in seven games to the start this season he is surely currently just a victim of the ridiculously high standards he has set himself in the past year or so. As Chelsea began to try to and hold their lead, Salah’s replacement Shaqiri really should have converted Andy Robertson’s cross with the goal gaping and with David Luiz clearing off his line soon after, Liverpool might have sensed that they were destined to leave London with nothing, bemused with how they had done so.
Yet Klopp’s final roll of the dice, bringing on another former blue Daniel Sturridge for James Milner, proved to be as fruitful as the German manager could have ever hoped for. As Sturridge, who crucially has now been able to keep himself fit for a period of more than a handful of games, received the ball a long way out, looked up and curled in outrageously sublime strike across goal into the top corner to send the away end into raptures. Klopp and his players, evidently relieved that they had managed to get the goal that their performance fully deserved, also showed real emotion and passion as Sturridge stood stoic, triumphantly soaking in his moment of magic against a club he was never really given a proper chance at. The England international is now a long way from being adrift on loan at West Brom last year and if he keeps himself fit, could be a crucial asset for both club and country in the coming months.
Even after the jubilant scenes from those in red, there was still time for a Marcos Alonso header to flash over yet seconds later the final whistle blew sparking a warm reception from both sets of supporters, acknowledging the quality of the game they had just witnessed. Liverpool, with the amount of chances they spurned, might feel that one point was the least they that deserved but an extremely well organised and at times fluent Chelsea side would have been hard by themselves to leave their home empty handed on Saturday.
In a macro sense, the game displayed both teams current abilities and possible future aspirations. Liverpool once again put in a very good performance versus a top six rival that only strengthens gathering opinion that they are the sole force that can stop Manchester City from winning the league again this year. And with an in-form Sturridge alonsgide Shaqiri and Keita coming off the bench on Saturday, strength in depth doesn’t seem to be as big an issue as it has recently been reported to be. For Sarri’s Chelsea, Saturday’s game showcased how they can already readily compete with the league’s best despite still being in the early stages what of could be a tactical revolution for the club. Though, as we know all too well, managers under Abravomich’s reign are not usually given enough time to recover from significant bumps in the round on a such a journey. That being said, you feel that if Sarri is allowed sufficient time to get his grip on a league that he is already doing rather well in, you sense he could do something special at the club during his tenure.