Liverpool 1 Chelsea 1: Thomas Tuchel’s men show Prem title credentials with 10 men for 60 mins after controversial red
THOMAS TUCHEL keeps playing down his team’s title chances but he is not kidding anyone.
Chelsea left Anfield with just a point but it felt like a win. And while they remain ahead of Liverpool in the table purely down to alphabetical order, Tuchel’s side delivered the type of courageous, bloody-minded performance which will see them threaten for the title.
In the battle of the former Dortmund managers, Tuchel delivered some masterful game management when everything threatened to fall to pieces.
While Chelsea did not deserve to be ahead due to Kai Havertz’s spectacular headed opener, they felt aggrieved after Reece James was sent off in first half injury-time for denying a goal-scoring opportunity while also conceding a penalty.
And while Mo Salah equalised from the penalty spot, an expected home win for Jurgen Klopp’s side did not materialise.
Chelsea fought like hell and overcame a torrid first 15 minutes of the second half. Edouard Mendy delivered some decent saves while Andreas Christensen delivered a brilliant performance at the back to lead his 10 men to a draw.
Romelu Lukaku, arguably the best striker in the world right now, did not enjoy much success against Virgil van Dijk, arguably the best defender in the world.
While all of Chelsea’s attackers will have better days, this was all about how the team coped with adversity.
Liverpool, who somehow finished the season in third place when they looked certain to miss out on a Champions League spot, had started this season where they left off last term.
But their failure to overcome their resilient opponents will give Klopp some cause for concern and it still seems surprising they have failed to freshen up their forward line while also not replacing Gini Wijnaldum in midfield.
This entertaining game felt like the old days. Not just a noisy, partisan crowd but heaps of controversy and a bit of good old argy bargy.
It was also a lively 32nd birthday for Cesar Azpilicueta who also played his part in helping the team keep their nerve in that impressive second half.
Ironically, Liverpool played better in the first half against 11 men.
Harvey Elliott, starting in Liverpool’s midfield at the ripe old age of 18, saw his shot flash wide just four minutes into the game as Klopp’s team started impressively.
An even better chance fell to Jordan Henderson following a sensational crossfield pass from Trent Alexander-Arnold but only the midfielder will know whether his terrible volley wide was actually a shot or an attempt to find Bobby Firmino.
Yet from James’ near-post corner, Chelsea took the lead in front of the Kop.
Havertz, who had not started the game well, ran into a gap between Elliott and Andy Robertson. On the corner of the six-yard box, he somehow steered the header over Alisson and into the far corner.
Mason Mount should have scored a second. But he delivered a poor shot wide after effortlessly getting past Alexander-Arnold while the chance was created by Lukaku who had too much strength for a floundering Joel Matip.
Firmino, chosen ahead of Diogo Jota, was substituted before half-time and was holding his leg before being replaced by the former Wolves forward.
Yet the match turned on its head in first half injury-time when, after consulting the pitchside VAR screen, Anthony Taylor sent off Reece James.
After Joel Matip heaped against the woodwork, Sadio Mane delivered a shot which was blocked on the line by James’ thigh but he then used an arm to nudge the ball to safety.
James would probably have expected a penalty but looked shocked when being shown a red car for preventing a goal-scoring chance.
Rudiger, having been shown a yellow card for scuffing the penallt spot, then led an angry protest with Taylor.
Mendy did his best to intimidate Salah and delay the kick but it was all for nothing as the Egyptian buried the penalty into the corner.
After being beaten, Mendy booted the ball at Henderson to spark a bust-up between both sets of players.
Tuchel – holding a pretend microphone to try and hide his comments – also gave the fourth official a real mouthful.
N’Golo Kante, who looked as though he was carrying an injury, was replaced by Mateo Kovacic and to keep a back three, Thiago Silva came on for Havertz.
Mendy pushed away shots by Van Dijk, Fabinho and Andy Robertson while Henderson had a decent effort at scoring a spectacular effort into the top corner
Yet Tuchel’s team dealt with the Liverpool storm, took the sting out of the attacks and then annoyed the side with some classix time-wasting
When Henderson was substituted for Thiago, he handed over the captain’s armband to defender Van Dijk who, in his first three Premier League appearances, does not look like a player who missed nine months with a career-threatening injury.
Liverpool pushed for a late winner but ultimately, they never really looked likely to steal something.
At the end, little wonder why Tuchel looked so pleased. Now, he needs to start being honest and admit his team have a proper chance of the title.