A mere three points separated third-placed Chelsea from fifth-placed Liverpool before the two kicked-off at Anfield on Saturday. And after 90 minutes of gripping football, the pair made no changes to the Premier League table by finishing in a 1-1 draw.
Still, the game did live up to the marquee billing. More so, because of the skill and form of Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah and Chelsea’s Eden Hazard.
The hosts started the game brightly, earning most of the possession in the first 20 minutes of play while Chelsea seemed satisfied with holding back, denying Salah room and at the same time looking for an opportunity for Hazard to unleash a telling counter-attack. The Egyptian however, came close to scoring in the first half after cleverly turning centre-back Gary Cahill to curl an effort just wide of Thibaut Courtois’ goal.
At the other end, Hazard controlled a high ball from Danny Drinkwater before making space for himself and forcing a fine save from Simon Mignolet in the Liverpool goal.
In the second half though, Jürgen Klopp made the tactical decision of switching Salah onto the left flank and bringing Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain onto the right. The break also gave the Liverpool manager a chance to inspire an otherwise quiet Philippe Coutinho to life. The Brazilian responded well in the second half, and in the 65th minute played a hand in the build-up to Salah’s strike.
Coutinho marched into the Chelsea half and attempted to slot a pass through to his front line. Chelsea midfielder Tiemoue Bakayoko was in position to make the interception, but the Frenchman failed to control the ball. Oxlade-Chamberlain spotted the chance, pounced on Bakayoko’s error and nudged the ball forward to Salah. The 25-year-old controlled perfectly before finishing past the on-rushing Courtois.
The goal gave Salah – a former Chelsea player – his 10th goal of the season, making him the first to hit double figures this Premier League term.
The Reds looked in control of the game despite Hazard’s constant threats, as Chelsea failed to capitalize on the Belgian’s counter-attacks. Marcos Alonso could not find the net either after Davide Zappacosta’s cross sat well for the Spaniard to volley at goal.
The equalizer did come however, in the 85th minute. Two minutes earlier, Antonio Conte replaced Zappacosta for playmaker Willian. The Brazilian drifted wide and was spotted by Hazard. With options ahead of him, Willian’s mis-hit cross found Mignolet off his line and sailed into the goal. It was enough to salvage a point for the defending champions.