Liverpool 1 Benteke 90+2'
Chelsea 1 Hazard 31'
The Reds preceded their Anfield end of season lap of honour with a chaotic 1-1 draw against Chelsea on Wednesday night, as an injury time header from Christian Benteke was enough to cancel out Eden Hazard's first half solo goal.
Jürgen Klopp fielded his presumed strongest XI and what is likely to be the starting lineup for next week's Europa League final, with Daniel Sturridge spearheading the attack ahead of Adam Lallana, Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho. A double pivot consisting of Emre Can and James Milner were assigned with protecting the back four of Nathaniel Clyne, Dejan Lovren, Kolo Touré and Alberto Moreno from Chelsea's talented but underperforming attackers.
Sturridge set the standard for his performance in the first minute of the match, as he used pace and trickery to force makeshift centre-back Jon Obi Mikel into a blatant foul, then lifting the subsequent free kick 30 yards over the bar from an angle better suited for a cross. As Chelsea fans, currently 9th in the league, busied themselves singing about that one time somebody fell down and they finished in 3rd place, Firmino and Moreno were combining down Liverpool's left and setting up Coutinho from 12 yards. Baba Rahman blocked the Brazilian's volley, but the play was promising.
The home side were aggressive in their pressing and willing in their attacking runs in the opening minutes, and after Can had tested Gary Cahill's abdominals with a long-range effort, Lallana and Coutinho had consecutive efforts saved by Asmir Begovic.
It didn't last, though, and Chelsea soon found a foothold in the game, spreading their team out and bypassing the Reds' counter press with pinpoint passing and movement time and again. The visitors weren't creating big chances, but they were denying Liverpool time and space to maintain possession, slowly but surely taking over the match.
A Sturridge through ball sent Firmino racing towards Begovic, but the Brazilian's final touch took him away from the goal and his left-footed effort bobbled wide. A long-range shot from Sturridge was easily gathered by Begovic, before Hazard took the game over. The Belgian first stung Simon Mignolet's gloves with an effort from range, before going on a mazy run around the half-hour mark, skinning three Liverpool defenders and nestling a curling effort into his compatriot's far corner.
After yet another poor Sturridge strike from range, the half petered out, with a comical bit of red light green light from Mignolet providing Bertrand Traoré with an opportunity in the box, but the Burkinabé striker put his shot high and wide.
Despite coming out late from the dressing room, the home side did not appear to be noticeably inspired by their half-time team talk, and the first fifteen minutes of the second half passed without much incident, another Hazard shot saved by Mignolet the only significant exception. Around the hour mark, they came to life, as a gorgeous through ball from Lallana put Sturridge clean through, but his first-time finish was saved for a corner by Begovic. Sturridge found an unmarked Touré at the far post on the ensuing corner, but the Ivorian seemed surprised the ball came to him and could only muster a soft header that Begovic easily claimed.
Five minutes later, a poor clearance from Begovic following a corner presented Lallana with an opportunity, but the former Southampton man put his volley wide of the target. Lallana was again involved soon afer, as the best cross of Moreno's career found him at the back post, but again he failed to convert.
Another period of fruitless possession and dangerous-looking Chelsea counter-attacks followed, as substitutions disrupted the flow of the game. Benteke, Joe Allen and Sheyi Ojo came on in place of Milner, Lallana and Touré, Klopp refusing to finish the home season without a goal. Ojo nearly made the difference immediately, as he side-footed a deep Allen cross wide from a difficult angle. Pedro had a massive opportunity at the other end minutes later, but Mignolet was equal to the Spaniard's finish.
In injury time, Coutinho fed Ojo down the wing, and the young attacker's whipped cross was touched onto Benteke's forehead by a flapping Begovic, providing the Belgian striker with a simple finish from five yards, and the Reds with a point in their season finisher at Anfield.
The line-up clearly had an eye towards the Europa League final, and at times, it seemed the players did as well. Opening and closing fifteen minutes aside, Chelsea seemed the hungrier side, closing down faster and marking tighter than their opposition. Nonetheless, coming back from a goal down in injury time once more indicates that the fighting spirit of the team is where it needs to be, despite the league season winding down with little left to play for.
Christian Benteke became the 5th player to score double digits in this weird season, proving that he might definitely possibly perhaps have a future at the club despite not being favoured by the manager. Sturridge had a bad night, dropping too deep, allowing the Chelsea backline to push up, and making terrible decisions to shoot from range when a pass would've been a better option. Firmino and Lallana combined for ten tackles and were relentless on defense, but lacked incision and accuracy when attacking. Can and Milner were often bypassed in midfield by the slick pass and move configurations Hazard & co put together, but their centre-backs held strong regardless.
Next season's home kit made its debut, lots of cute children were paraded around the pitch - despite this not being a cup game - and Klopp signed roughly 45.000 autographs. This felt very much like the final game of the season, despite a visit to The Hawthorns a the weekend, and the elephantine shadow of the Europa League final next week. One wouldn't be surprised to see most of tonight's performers rested for the latter as the squad travels to West Bromwich, and fingers will be crossed that pays off in Switzerland a week from now.