LIVERPOOL — Liverpool and Chelsea each grabbed a point in an encapsulating clash which did little for their title hopes but proved just how evenly matched the two clubs are.
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Former Chelsea player Mohamed Salah put Liverpool 1-0 up but substitute Willian rescued Chelsea a point late on as his cross drifted over Simon Mignolet and in.
Here’s what we learned from an intriguing clash between two title hopefuls.
LIVERPOOL’S LOW BLOCK HALTS CHELSEA
Alvaro Morata and Eden Hazard had been ripping teams apart with their new partnership up front for Chelsea, so Jurgen Klopp put a roadblock in midfield to stop them linking up.
It worked a treat. Yes, Hazard was sublime (more on that later) but his flashes of individual brilliance didn’t lead to direct chances for himself or Morata.
Klopp sat Jordan Henderson and James Milner in central midfield in a more defensive lineup with Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino on the bench. Some will call it a lack of ambition from Klopp but after the defensive collapse at Sevilla in midweek they needed to stay solid and not open themselves up to rapid Chelsea counters.
It worked and Klopp should be applauded for changing his tactics and showing he can grind out results against a fellow top four contender. A draw was probably a fair result but if Willian’s cross wouldn’t have looped in late on, not many would have argued with a win for Liverpool.
RED-HOT SALAH PROVES CHELSEA WRONG
Mohamed Salah left Chelsea after two seasons with two goals in 13 Premier League appearances. In his first 13 PL appearances for Liverpool the Egyptian winger has scored 10 goals and is the main man at Anfield.
At $37 million he is the best signing of the summer transfer window and he is proving Chelsea wrong for offloading him in 2014-15. Salah, 25, has developed his game and physicality during three years away at Fiorentina and AS Roma in Italy and now he is the real deal.
When he scored Liverpool’s goal to give them the lead he refused to celebrate. Salah obviously still respects all that Chelsea have done for him in his career, even though he had to leave west London to reach his now lofty heights. He was denied a game-winner by Thibaut Courtois late on as he always looked Liverpool’s most dangerous player with his mix of pace, trickery and directness deadly.
During his Chelsea days he had Hazard, Oscar, Willian and Andre Schurrle ahead of him in the pecking order and this week Hazard said his former teammate was unlucky to not get a decent run of games at Stamford Bridge.
Jose Mourinho didn’t give him a chance to shine in the Premier League and like Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku offloaded him in 2014-15.
Chelsea don’t wait for players to develop. They want the finished article right away so they won’t lose much sleep over allowing Salah to leave. That said, Roman Abramovich may be wondering “what if” as Salah, De Bruyne and Lukaku are all the main men for Chelsea’s main title rivals this season.
HAZARD ON ANOTHER PLANET
Hazard deserved to be on the winning team on Saturday.
In the first half the Belgian ran ring around Liverpool, flicking through passes, jinxing by defenders and playing in Danny Drinkwater for a glorious chance.
Hazard, 26, is at the peak of his powers and with three goals in his last two games heading into this clash his link up play with Morata was the main concern for Liverpool. They managed to disrupt that pair but Hazard still shone.
In a central role he can set the tempo for the Blues and after recovering from a broken ankle over the summer he is ready to push Chelsea on.
Hazard’s fine form will be the main positive from this draw for Antonio Conte and the main source of hope if they’re going to claw back the growing gap to Manchester City atop the Premier League table.