Chelsea came from two goals down to earn a draw with Liverpool in a Stamford Bridge classic – a result that only strengthens Manchester City’s stranglehold on the Premier League title race.
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp missed the game after a suspected positive test for Covid-19 while Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel dropped £97.5m record signing Romelu Lukaku from his squad after a controversial interview in which he expressed discontent with his current situation.
It looked like Klopp would be the happier of the two bosses when Sadio Mane, fortunate to escape with only a yellow card after flattening Cesar Azpilicueta with a high elbow in the opening seconds, pounced on Trevoh Chalobah’s mistake to put Liverpool in front after nine minutes.
Mohamed Salah’s moment of individual genius, a feint to fool Marcos Alonso then a perfect near-post finish, put Liverpool in command before Chelsea staged their comeback on the stroke of half-time.
Mateo Kovacic’s spectacular volley flew beyond Liverpool keeper Caoimhin Kelleher, in for Alisson who also had a suspected positive test for Covid, after 42 minutes before Christian Pulisic raced clear to equalize in first-half stoppage time.
In a hugely entertaining game, both sides had chances to win in the second half with Chelsea keeper Edouard Mendy saving superbly from Salah and Mane while Kelleher thwarted Pulisic.
A winner could not be found, which leaves Chelsea, in second, 10 points behind City while Liverpool, in third, are 11 adrift of the leaders with a game in hand.
Did Tuchel’s gamble pay off?
Tuchel’s decision to drop Lukaku from his squad for such a vital game was always going to be a high-risk strategy given the stakes.
Was Tuchel showing strong leadership and imposing discipline or was he using a sledgehammer to crack a nut, weakening Chelsea in his determination to lay down the law?
It looked for 42 minutes like Tuchel’s ploy would backfire as Liverpool’s lethal attack punished Chelsea and Stamford Bridge was in subdued mood with the home team struggling to make an impact.
Suddenly, spectacularly, the game turned around in those decisive moments before half-time and while Tuchel did not get the three points that would have answered all the questions about his decision, there was no doubting Chelsea’s spirit and determination because many sides would have gone under with Liverpool in such an imposing position.
Chelsea dragged their way back into the game, although three points was really the required result with Manchester City seemingly on such an unstoppable roll.
Tuchel will now, presumably, reintegrate Lukaku into his squad and try to get the best out of a striker who was supposed to be Chelsea’s missing link when he arrived back at the club from Inter Milan in the summer.
The title now looks a far-off prospect but there is still plenty to play for – and both Chelsea and Tuchel will hope Lukaku can play a major part in their pursuit of silverware.
Frustration for Liverpool as lead squandered
Liverpool, with Pep Lijnders in charge, were without three key players with Joel Matip and Roberto Firmino joining Alisson in returning suspected positive Covid tests.
Despite the absences, they looked on course for a vital victory when they raced into that 2-0 lead – and while a draw at Chelsea is hardly a huge setback, the bottom line is they will know they squandered a position of authority in this game.
Their measure of command was never total in such a frantic, high-quality match, but they will be furious at how they allowed Chelsea back into the game in those closing minutes of the first half.
Liverpool’s second-choice goalkeeper Kelleher, 23, can be rightly satisfied with his performance as deputy for Alisson, making two fine saves from Pulisic and exuding an air of calm command that marks him out as someone of huge promise.
Klopp and Lijnders will wonder whether it was wise for Liverpool to leave the game so wide open with that vital advantage and Chelsea chasing the game with an air of desperation. They will question their own game management.
Liverpool still carried real danger until the final whistle but they were unable to beat the excellent Mendy and will now look back on two away games at Leicester City and Chelsea in which they picked up only one point – something which may prove very costly in a title race which would appear to have little or no margin for error.