It was messy, it was wild, it was frustrating, it was pure Barclays Premier League. In their first game of the new year, both teams were missing several key players, with Liverpool also missing their talismanic manager. Still, each team managed to put out a strong side as they tried to keep pace with Manchester City.
Liverpool pounced on a mistake early for a Sadio Mané goal, and then saw yet another fantastic goal from Mohamed to take a 2-0 lead mid way through the first half, and it looked like Liverpool would cruise from there on. A wundergoal by Mateo Kovacic gave Chelsea hope near the end of the first half, and they quickly scored a second with the game stretched end to end to tie it at 2-2 to finish the half. Both sides had opportunities in the second half, but some stellar goalkeeping kept the game knotted.
Let’s take a look at some of the winners, losers, and other narratives around the game.
Much has been written about the barren stretch that Mané has had after a hot start to the season, failing to score in nine straight games. The Senegalese forward has done a lot of the dirty work that usually falls to Roberto Firmino recently, which has not been recognized by many who have complained about his play. Still, Mané has had some golden opportunities that he has missed in recent weeks. Today, he didn’t miss, opening the scoring after a Chelsea mistake in the back. He almost scored a second, but was denied by a spectacular save. Mané also did a lot of the hard work, progressing the ball and putting Chelsea on the back foot with his runs while also getting back to defend.
The Egyptian King broke his own dry spell after going two whole games without a goal or an assist. Salah made a great run to get in behind the Chelsea defense, displayed his wonderful touch to control the ball, and then absolutely roasted Marcos Alonso before dinking the ball over Mendy. We’re at the point now where the spectacular has become commonplace for Salah, and all we can do is shrug our shoulders at his continued brilliance.
Like Mané, Salah was also denied a second by a spectacular save. He also had two key passes, and led the team with three shots on goal.
It’s not easy to step in and start in place of one of the best goalkeepers in the game this year. Kelleher got the start with Alisson out due to a positive covid test, and did a stellar job. While his team gave up two goals, there was very little the Irish keeper could have done to keep either out of the back of the net. He did come up big several times, taking the ball off of the foot of Christian Pulisic in a 1v1 situation, and then making a great reaction save from close range on the American in the second half. Kelleher also provided an outlet with his feet, and showed plenty of calmness when Chelsea tried to press high. He’s not Alisson, but he is a very strong back up.
Liverpool and Chelsea both needed a win to try and keep within touching distance of Manchester City. The draw leaves Chelsea 10pts adrift, with Liverpool sitting 11pts behind, albeit with a game in hand. Manchester City will certainly drop points along the way, but it would take a large collapse for anyone to catch them now.
A Title Race
Title races are fun, and bring a lot of excitement. In the past, teams like Liverpool and Chelsea would be in the thick of it with their current records, with an expectation of two or three teams being involved in the title race late into the season.
Now, the expectation has changed as Manchester City has spent massively over the past decade to build a juggernaut that no other team can keep up with year after year. Teams can no longer be great, they have to be practically perfect.
This is no criticism, just an observation of how football has changed so dramatically. In the not so distant past, teams on 42 & 41 points on Jan 2, with 2 defeats in 19 games, would be lauded as champions in waiting. Now it’s being seen as below par. Madness ⚽️— Dominic King (@DominicKing_DM) January 2, 2022
Jordan Henderson, Fabinho, and James Milner is not what one would call a particularly exciting midfield, but it is a midfield you would expect to be smart and efficient. Instead, all three midfielders saw way too many loose passes become turnovers, or at least cause an attack to stall out. They also struggled to cover the field at times as the game got stretched, which led to some poor angles and last-ditch tackles.
From The Manager
“I have to say in the situation we are in it is a big compliment to the boys. I am not here to make excuses but it was big heart from all the boys.”
What Happens Next
Liverpool will take a break from Premier League play for a couple of weeks as they jump into some cup competition. The Reds will travel back to London on Thursday in the first leg of the EFL Cup semifinal with Arsenal.