Liverpool 1 Wijnaldum 57'
Chelsea 1 Luiz 24'
More chaos than quality at Anfield as Mignolet redeems his first-half blunder with a second-half penalty save.
Nathaniel Clyne passed a late fitness test to make his return to the right-back spot, and lined up alongside Joël Matip, Dejan Lovren and James Milner in defence. Jordan Henderson took up the familiar single pivot, with Georginio Wijnaldum and Emre Can shuttling, while Adam Lallana and Philippe Coutinho supported Roberto Firmino up front. Sadio Mané — fresh off a private jet journey from Gabon and the AfCoN — made the bench for the first time since January 2nd.
The first half began as could be expected, with Chelsea — leading the league by eight points at the outset of the match — sitting back, perfectly content to play for a draw and snatch the win if granted the opportunity. Thus, the hosts had the ball almost constantly in the opening fifteen minutes, without quite looking like they'd pry the league leaders open. Their best looks came when the ball was recycled to the centre-backs or goalkeeper and Chelsea pushed their backline up, opening up the space behind. A precise lob from Matip in one such situation found Coutinho running at defenders, who, seemingly having finagled space beyond the last man, got the ball stuck in his feet. The Brazilian played it back to Wijnaldum, who struck a venomous shot at goal, but Courtouis was equal to the finish from 20 yards.
As the half wore on, the visitors increasingly began looking for the counter, and on one such occasion, Eden Hazard went down easily under an Adam Lallana challenge. Quick thinking from manager Antonio Conte and David Luiz saw the Blues take advantage of an unfocused Simon Mignolet, who was busy directing his defenders when the Brazilian defender thumped a strike in off the near post with the Belgian nowhere near. Mignolet complained to Clattenburg, but the whistle had gone and Luiz had every right to take the shot.
Five minutes later, Mignolet patiently stood and waited for Hazard's inswinging cross and punched it away before it could sneak in at his far post. A few uncharacteristically sloppy giveaways from Matip aside, not much happened in the remainder of the half, as Conte's men did a solid job in shutting down any danger from their opposition. The first 45 ended with a total of four shots between the two sides.
Three minutes into the second half the Reds had their best opportunity of the match, as a wonderfully worked counter attack saw the ball fall to Firmino 15 yards out, but instead of taking an extra touch, the Brazilian hit the bobbling ball on the half-volley and skied it. On the other end, Milner exemplified a team-wide trend on the night — mucking about near their own area when under pressure. The utility man's outside of the boot touch let the ball fall to Victor Moses in the Reds box, but the former Liverpool loanee's finish hit the side netting.
Ten minutes into the half, the Reds were level. The tactic of cutting the ball back and bending a cross towards the far post — one that was so effective against Chelsea when employed by Tottenham a few weeks ago — succeeded, as Henderson found Milner, whose header back across the box bounced up for Wijnaldum to head home. Milner was lucky not to get sent off immediately following the restart, as he slid in hard and late on Moses, but Clattenburg settled for a caution.
The match entered a chaotic period that would last until the final whistle, with possession cheaply squandered and duels abounding, and N'Golo Kanté was in his element, producing a preposterous 14 tackles on the night. Fifteen minutes from time, Mané came on for Coutinho, to rapturous applause from the stands. A minute later, Evil Dejan Lovren appeared from the mist, rushing out from his line, losing the duel and leaving his partner one on one with the naturalised Spaniard. Matip brought the Chelsea striker down in the box, and Costa stepped up to take the penalty. Seeking redemption for his first-half blunder, Mignolet dove to his right and cleared the ball out over the touchline.
The Reds would muck about enough at the back to present Chelsea with a few more opportunities before full-time, with Lovren, Milner and Wijnaldum all guilty of losing possession in dangerous areas, leading to chances, but substitute Pedro was unable to capitalise. The last chance would fall to the hosts however, as the previously successful tactic was applied again, this time through Mané and Firmino, but the latter's header was too soft and too central and was easily saved by Courtouis.
Again a side comes to Anfield happy to defend, and again the Reds need to concede one before waking up in the second half. That the opposing side was champions elect Chelsea takes some of the sting out of it, as does the fact that Liverpool didn't go home empty-handed. The insistence on playing out from the back despite being under pressure, leading to cheap giveaways in their own half was frustrating, but all in all one can't be too mad about a draw with the best team in the country.
Mignolet will take the headlines with his howler and his heroics, letting his defenders off the hook, as they all looked rusty at times throughout. Henderson and Can were both good, while Wijnaldum again came up with a crucial strike in a big match, but the midfield struggled to deal with the double pivot of Nemanja Matic and Kanté. Firmino was excellent as the offensive hub, but should've scored at least one.
Still just the one win in 2017, but having crashed out of both cups, Liverpool now have a light fixture list, scheduled to play only six matches in the next two months, while top four rivals Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester City all have European commitments coming up. Jürgen Klopp will hope that his side can take advantage of the time between games to get back to their winning ways, starting with their visit to Hull City on the weekend.