Previous Matches against Chelsea:
2014-15: 1-2 Chelsea (h)
2013-14: 0-2 Chelsea (h), 1-2 Chelsea (a)
2012-13: 2-2 Chelsea (h), 1-1 Chelsea (a)
All Statistics via WhoScored.
Nota Bene: Here's the formation diagram usually included in match reviews.
I decided to do a slightly abbreviated version of the usual match infographic rather than a day-late match review for two reasons. First, WhoScored actually has full League Cup statistics now, which is a wonderful boon. Second, there was a surprising statistical disparity, even considering Liverpool were facing a Mourinho side at home in the first leg of knockout competition.
It wasn't quite the 0-2 match at Anfield last April, but it was a lot closer to that than I expected. Except, thankfully, in the final score.
I have never seen a side fail to create a single chance since I started doing these infographics in 2012-13. I have never seen a side take just two shots; the previous low for a Liverpool opponent was Swansea's three in Liverpool's 5-0 win in 2013.
Sure, a good deal of that had to do with game state. Chelsea didn't have to attack thanks to Hazard's 18th minute penalty. But Chelsea also couldn't attack after the penalty, and that had a lot to do with how good Liverpool were going forward and how well the back three and Liverpool's midfield set up and defended.
Penalty notwithstanding, it was the best defensive performance of the season considering the opposition. I reiterate: Chelsea took just two shots, and one was a penalty. Game state be damned; Chelsea are an outstanding counter-attacking team, and Liverpool gave them next to no opportunity to do so. Skrtel and Sakho kept Costa quiet all match. Can and Markovic – again, aside from the penalty – did reasonably decent again one of the most dangerous and versatile attackers in the league, especially considering that 50% of Chelsea's attacks came down Liverpool's right. Can and Markovic are both playing out of position and are 21 and 20 years old respectively.
What was most impressive doesn't show up in the stats: when Can was caught up field, Skrtel slid over, with one of the midfielders dropping into coverage. Similar happened with Sakho, to a lesser extent, on the the opposite flank. Similar happened with Liverpool's two deeper midfielders. There seemed a vastly better understanding of what a teammate was going to do, and what the Liverpool player had to do to compensate.
Also, mention need be made of Sterling's performance, by far the most comprehensive he's delivered as an out-and-out striker. Leading the side in both shots and key passes, drifting into space between the lines and into the channels. He terrified both Cahill and Terry all match long. And his goal was a thing of beauty for both his road runner pace and his intelligence; seeing that Matic was marking Gerrard, Mikel was marking Coutinho, and neither center-back wanted to come that deep to man-mark him, he drifted into space just past the center circle, deftly turned away from the too-late-to-recover Matic, and blazed past Cahill and Terry, finishing with his quote-unquote weaker left foot. Even last season's Luis Suarez would be proud of that goal, and that's the highest praise I can conjure.
It was, on the whole and considering the opposition, an outstanding team-wide performance. But an outstanding team-wide performance that ended in a draw rather than a win because of a moment of brilliance from Fabregas and Hazard combined with a moment of weakness from Can (and, to a much lesser extent, Markovic).
It's the third consecutive match against Chelsea – although all were at Anfield – that Liverpool out-passed and out-possessed Mourinho's Chelsea, also out-shooting Chelsea in two of those three. And it's the first of those three that Liverpool didn't lose.
If not for Courtois, Liverpool could have won. Had Atkinson given a fairly clear penalty for Costa's handball in first half injury time or sent off Filipe Luis for doing the same thing that got Markovic sent off against Basel, Liverpool could have won. Had Gerrard's 67th minute shot been a foot to the right. Etc, etc. Regrets piled upon regrets.
It's hard to fault Can for the penalty considering how well he played for the rest of the match, especially the second half. It's hard to be angry at an impressive draw when it's a draw against the best team in England and one of the best teams in Europe. Chelsea had scored at least two goals in their last four matches (it was just the second time Chelsea were held to a single goal since the start of December) and had kept a clean sheet in their last three matches.
But it's hard to swallow that Liverpool could play so well and only get a draw. And while it's not the worst position in the world (honestly, I expected worse), it makes next week's match at Stamford Bridge that much more difficult.
Matches against Chelsea have been eminently frustrating for the last three seasons – no matter how well Liverpool play, no matter Liverpool's form going into the fixture – and it shows little sign of abating. And that's what's so skin-crawlingly irritating about yesterday's result, no matter the plethora of positives.