In what was mostly a cautious affair at Anfield on Saturday, Liverpool and Chelsea shared the spoils in a goalless draw, each unable to find that combination of spark and just a bit of luck to net what would likely have been a crucial goal. There were, however, a few aspects of the game worth taking note of, and while neither will have been too happy with the outcome, there were things for both managers to take away from the game.
Liverpool and defending set-pieces
Much has been said about the notable lack of fresh legs in the middle of the park for Liverpool, and it has been mostly pointed out as the main reason for their underwhelming results and disappointing standings this season. However, the way they defend set-pieces, particularly since Virgil van Dijk has been out of action, is certainly something Jurgen Klopp and his staff will want to analyze and improve as soon as possible, lest it remains a great burden around their necks pulling them down as the season progresses.
This time they got away with it, got away being the operative expression here.
Minute three was running when, following a corner where newcomer Benoit Badiashile won the ball, Kai Havertz took advantage of a complete lack of decisiveness inside Liverpool’s six-yard box to pound home a rebound after Thiago Silva hit the post from close range. It was a double feature of luck for the Reds; firstly, that Silva didn’t score from there, and secondly, that Havertz was narrowly offside when the Brazilian centre-back fired his shot at the post. The linesman didn’t react, but the VAR did and the joy of the away supporters was short-lived.
In the 32nd minute, Hakim Ziyech whipped in a free-kick from the left and Badiashile was again the most alert one in Liverpool’s box, with the ball bouncing off the ground and successfully avoiding intervention attempts from Thiago Alcantara, Joe Gomez and Ibrahima Konate to find him on the far post. This time it was Alisson Becker whose good positioning and excellent reflexes saved the home side from going down, stopping the former AS Monaco defender from netting his first Premier League goal.
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Less than a minute later, Ziyech delivered another free-kick cross, this time from the right, and Havertz was allowed to rise in the air unchallenged, with Gomez nowhere near enough to the Chelsea attacker. Liverpool’s luck was there again, though, as Havertz failed to direct his header on target, having made contact with the ball with the back of his head.
These moments will have been a big talking point for both managers in the dressing room, and as much as Jurgen Klopp will have been angry with the way his players defended them, Graham Potter will have been disappointed that the Blues couldn’t make any of them count.
But for Liverpool, this has been going on game after game. It was most obvious in the 3-1 defeat away to Brenford, but this wasn’t too far from that apart from the luck being on their side this time. They simply MUST find solutions to these problems if their overall performances and results are to improve between now and the end of the season.
Despite the reputation and the vast quality of these teams, this was simply not a great game of football. Apart from Liverpool’s continuous set-piece worries in the first half, they also displayed signs of concentration missing at the other end.
Chelsea mostly held at the same level from start to finish – not great, with many misplaced passes and an occasional lack of communication between the players causing them to lose the ball in potentially dangerous areas. Arguably the greatest danger that came their way happened towards the end of the first half, when Andy Robertson intercepted Mason Mount’s pass towards Ziyech and charged forward, engaging Harvey Elliott on the left. Elliott’s cross was aimed at Cody Gakpo in Chelsea’s box, and Kepa Arrizabalaga and Thiago Silva both went for it, with the defender getting to it just in front of his goalkeeper and lifting it over him, out for a corner. Had Silva got his header wrong just for a fraction of the angle on the ball, it could easily have been an own-goal, but luck, combined with Silva’s confidence and skill, was on Chelsea’s side this time.
There was a number of moments of loose passing from Chelsea in the middle of the park in that game, when they cheaply gave the ball away, and only the fact that Liverpool are nowhere near as good as they used to be in punishing such mistakes spared them from paying the price.
Chelsea mostly held their level from start to finish, and the overall impression after the final whistle was that most of what went on in the game was down to Liverpool and their notable ups and downs throughout. The visitors dominated the first half by showing very little, and the Reds started hitting back in the final minutes of the first half, carrying that initiative into the second period as well.
Apart from that moment between Silva and Kepa, Mohamed Salah could also have turned provider for Robertson who appeared out of nowhere in the centre-forward position, but Badiashile’s mild touch on the final pass just took it out of the path of the Scottish left-back and into Kepa’s arms. Salah also had a fine chance to score himself just before the break, but as he displayed superb control to tame a clever pass from Naby Keita inside the box, his shot went well over the bar.
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Konate came very close to scoring accidentally for Liverpool straight after the restart, as he got through Havertz’s press and went to bend one into the box from distance. His attempted pass had too much velocity on it and had it not gone about two yards away from the goal, Kepa, who was well off his line, would’ve been beaten.
Liverpool put Chelsea under strong pressure at that point, with Thiago Silva blocking Keita’s volley from inside the box, and Stefan Bajcetic heading Robertson’s cross back across the goal to find Gakpo whose header went over the bar.
Chelsea started breaking through the siege after 10 minutes or so, and that’s when Potter made an interesting change. Young Lewis Hall made way for the club’s new star signing.
Chelsea paid €100 million to thump Arsenal in the race for Mudryk’s services, and Potter obviously felt that the Ukrainian winger might have a role to play practically 24 hours after joining their ranks. The 21-year-old entered the fray in the 55th minute, and everything Klopp said about him in his pre-match press conference, about pace, control and goal threat, was clear for everyone to see straight away. Nine minutes later, he wreaked havoc inside Liverpool’s box coming in off the left and picking the ball up from Conor Gallagher. In a very tight space inside the box, he went around Milner and Gomez, before hitting the outside of the net from a tight angle at just a few yards.
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The moment clearly took a lot of confidence out of Liverpool and put some fear there instead, and several mistakes in their own half followed. In the 72nd minute, Mudryk escaped Milner’s attention for a second and Ziyech found his new teammate inside the six yards with a fine pass, which Mudryk just failed to control to the relief of the home crowd.
Klopp had named 37-year-old Milner to start on the right defensive flank and the veteran had a fine game up to that moment, but he simply wasn’t up to dealing with Mudryk’s pace. After he picked up a deserved yellow card for bringing the newcomer down, Klopp had no choice but to take Milner off and send on Trent Alexander-Arnold.
In the 75th minute, Mudryk was involved again after Havertz picked Bajcetic’s pocket in the middle of park. Mudryk then cleverly dropped off, taking Konate out of position and threading a pass into the hole he created for Mount to latch onto, but as Mount found Ziyech coming into the box from the right, Gomez made a vital block.
In the very next attack, Mudryk got the away fans ecstatic with an back-heeled no-look pass for Marc Cucurella which took Elliott and Gakpo out, but Cucurella then involved Jorginho whose mind was read by Bajcetic.
All in all, Liverpool will have been glad to get away from this game without Mudryk doing any real damage. It was a notable Chelsea and Premier League debut from the 21-year-old, and the Blues will be looking forward to seeing more in the coming games.
A fair result
In the end, the draw was probably what both teams deserved in this match. Mudryk’s cameo was a lively one and certainly caused Liverpool problems, but the home side still had chances of their own in their period. Gakpo came close as he turned and fired on target from around 12 yards, enabling Kepa to show good anticipation and positioning, and that ball Jorginho lost to Bajcetic led to a counterattack which eventually had substitute Darwin Nunez trying to race past Thiago Silva, but the veteran defender employed his vast experience to drive the Uruguayan striker wide to the left. And while Salah and Gakpo were arriving to provide support inside the box, Nunez fired a left-footed shot straight at Kepa.
Both teams had their chances and failed to take them, shooting eight times each in total. Chelsea had slightly more possession (52%), but describing the contest as anything but a balanced one wouldn’t be accurate.
Liverpool are now in eighth place, Chelsea in 10th, both on 29 points along with Brentford squeezed in between and with the Sunday matches still to be played. The Bees play away to Leeds United, and their triumph would obviously push Liverpool back to ninth.
Former Chelsea striker Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink said after the game that Liverpool had more chance of catching up with the top four between now and the end of the season, but frankly, unless they make drastic improvements in their game, neither of these teams will stand much chance of qualifying for the Champions League next season.
And while the fans and the pundits busy themselves with such calculations, the managers and the players will only be thinking about the games ahead. For Liverpool, it’s a trip to the Amex next, the stadium where they were recently hammered 3-0 by Brighton and Hove Albion, and it’s surely an opportunity to hit the Seagulls back, even if it is an FA Cup clash. After that, they go to Molineux, where they just beat Wolverhampton Wanderers in the Cup.
Meanwhile, Chelsea play host to high-flying Fulham next, before going across London to face West Ham away.