Chelsea had precious little time to rest and prepare after Wednesday’s game in Azerbaijan, but had every intention of not letting Liverpool get all three points today at Anfield. And while the Blues’ plans were almost undone by former Chelsea “flop” Mohamed Salah, midweek hero Willian came to the rescue once again, scoring barely two minutes into his substitute appearance to turn unfortunate defeat into a well-earned 1-1 draw.
As usual in big games this season, Conte opted for the 3-5-2 formation, making just one change from the wins over West Brom and Manchester United. Danny Drinkwater was handed his first Premier League start for Chelsea, with Fàbregas taking a rare seat on the bench next to David Luiz who remains firmly behind Andreas Christensen in the pecking order.
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp surprised a few as well by keeping faith in Alberto Moreno after his starring role in Tuesday’s disastrous 3-3 draw at Sevilla, and giving starts to Oxlade-Chamberlain, Danny Sturridge, and James Milner over Sadio Mané, Roberto Firmino, and Gerginio Winjnaldum, respectively.
Mignolet | Moreno, Klavan, Matip, Gomez | Coutinho, Henderson, Milner | Oxlade-Chamberlain, Sturridge, Salah
Courtois | Cahill, Christensen, Azpilicueta | Alonso, Bakayoko, Kanté, Drinkwater, Zappacosta | Hazard, Morata
Antonio Conte's picks for the starting eleven showed that Chelsea were ready to err on the side of caution and probably be happy with a single point. Regardless, the first task was always going to be to try to get through the first 15-20 minutes of the game without conceding.
Liverpool, who quickly took hold of the game, were relying on two former Chelsea players in Mohamed Salah and Daniel Sturridge, as well as one who almost joined Chelsea in the summer, Oxlade-Chamberlain, to pose a goal-threat. Salah, especially was a danger all game, though Chelsea stood tall and strong with blocks and clearances to frustrate the hosts.
For the first 20 minutes of the game, Liverpool dominated possession and pushed their lines as high as they could and gave Chelsea loads of trouble in their attempts to play out from from the back. But they would not be able to sustain that amount of pressure for too long and Chelsea eventually started coming to life.
Chelsea's first proper advance on Liverpool's lines created a goal-scoring chance better than any of the host's efforts to that point: 22 minutes in, Drinkwater — designated as the "box-to-box" midfielder with N'Golo Kanté and Bakayoko restrained by the dangers of Salah and Coutinho — intercepted a pass intended for Coutinho to then launch Eden Hazard into the attacking third. The Belgian cut inside from the left flank and took aim with a low shot through a screen, which goalkeeper Simon Mignolet saw late and barely got down in time to block.
Less than a minute later, Hazard paid Drinkwater back by putting the midfielder through one-v-one against Mignolet. Unfortunately, Drinkwater’s touch lacked a goalscoring instinct.
Right wing-back Davide Zappacosta was next to try a clear shot at goal while the ensuing corner created an almighty scramble that Chelsea almost converted despite Cahill’s audacious rabona attempt. There was probably a foul on Morata among the mass of flailing bodies, but Chelsea surely used up our quota of penalty calls for the year against Qarabag.
eat your hearts out, Cahill haters pic.twitter.com/fTLiTNROHZ— amadinho gaúcho (@amadoit__) November 25, 2017
From that point on, after both sides had unleashed their opening salvos, the match settled into a high-tempo, end-to-end affair, with danger at either end for either team. For Chelsea, Eden Hazard was leading the show while for Liverpool, Salah showed why he is an early contender for Player of the Year by wreaking havoc, mostly on Chelsea’s left side, with almost every touch of the ball.
Although Liverpool ended the half with a slight edge in the quest for the opening goal, Chelsea had done quite well in keeping them out. The Reds had not lost a game at home all season and had been kept scoreless just once, after all.
The half-time interval did little to change things and both teams remained intent on finding the opening the goal, largely through their own danger-men Hazard and Salah. But Chelsea kept dealing well with the hosts’ high line and counter-press, with Liverpool’s best chance of the period a result of some slippery fingers by Courtois, who let Sturridge’s shot squirm under his body. The ball thankfully dribbled past the far post harmlessly.
At the other, Chelsea were looking increasingly dangerous through Zappacosta, who was getting into good positions but failed twice in quick succession to pick out runners in the area. It was started to add up to be a very wasteful evening for either side, and it were Chelsea who were made to pay first for our profligacy, just past the hour mark.
The Premier League’s leading goalscorer, Mohamed Salah was the unsurprising source of Liverpool’s lead, though his goal had almost as much to do with a wayward Bakayoko touch than his own cool and calm finishing.
A ball recovered by Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson in Chelsea’s half was played on by Coutinho, who found Salah for a one-two, before continuing to run at the Chelsea defence. Confronted by a line of blue shirts, he tried to poke a pass to Oxlade-Chamberlain, but Bakayoko was there to intercept ... except his touch only deflected the ball straight into the path of Salah, who had kept running as all good forwards should. He wasn’t going to miss from there for his 10th of the season.
Shortly after the goal, Klopp added strength to his midfield by bringing on Georginio Wijnaldum (who scored their equalizer in this fixture last season) in place of Sturridge, who had not done much throughout the game. The centre-forward position was taken by Salah, with Courtinho supporting behind as the second striker.
The goal also prompted Conte to change things around, introducing Fàbregas in place of Drinkwater and Pedro instead of Bakayoko. Willian followed not much later for Zappacosta as Chelsea pressed for an equalizer. The Brazilian was the hero in midweek with two goals and two assists and it took him less than two minutes to become the hero once again.
As Chelsea laid siege on the Liverpool penalty area, Willian was found by Eden just outside the box with space to attempt a cross towards Álvaro Morata at the far post. But Willian couldn’t quite wrap his foot around the ball and instead of finding Morata's head, found the back of the net by chipping the rather unfortunate and rather short Simon Mignolet.
There were a little over five minutes left in regulation and momentum was on the visitors’ side. Alas, a second goal was not in the card. Klopp tried late-game desperation with a double-switch in the 89th minute (and you thought Conte left his subs late!), but neither the returning from injury Lallana or the strangely overlooked Mané were able to make a difference. Chelsea held firm and earned the point.
Surely the preferred outcome of today's game was a win, but Tottenham's laughable draw against West Bromwich Albion at Wembley makes it a little less painful bring back only one point from Anfield. Chelsea’s schedule the rest of the 2017 calendar year looks quite winnable, so time to get some points and solidify our top four position.
xG map for Liverpool - Chelsea. Ultimately a fair draw, with Chelsea scoring that stupid goal instead of one of their possible good ones in the first half. pic.twitter.com/6HwiErEqtY— Caley Graphics (@Caley_graphics) November 25, 2017
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