Previous Match Infographics: Swansea (h), Manchester United (a), Sunderland (a), Manchester City (a), Stoke (h), Everton (a), Middlesbrough (a), West Ham (h), Bournemouth (a), Sunderland (h), Southampton (a), Watford (h), Crystal Palace (a), West Brom (h), United (h), Swansea (a), Hull (h), Chelsea (a), Leicester (h), Tottenham (a), Burnley (a), Arsenal (a)
All match data from Stats Zone and Who Scored.
(Nota Bene: Here's the formation diagram usually included in match reviews.)
Another narrow match, just as in the last meeting. The away side scored first. The home side came back in the second half. Where Liverpool scored twice at Chelsea, from a set play and unlikely long-range blast, Chelsea scored once, a set play unlikely long-range blast.
Either side could have won. This time, neither did.
Despite all the evil this month, Liverpool came back. Liverpool got at least a point despite conceding the opener, something they were unable to do against either Swansea or Wolves. Liverpool limited Chelsea to a goal that goes in maybe once in 50 attempts, a strike Luiz usually fails to put on-target, and annoyingly helped by the fact Mignolet wasn't paying attention (although he's unlikely to save it anyway) and because the wall didn't jump quick enough.
Both sides will feel like they could have gotten more from this. Each side's gonna be mad about the goal they conceded, each side's gonna be mad about the goals they didn't score.
Chelsea hit the post in the second half through Moses' counter-attack, were denied Pedro in on goal by a wonderful last-man tackle from Henderson, and finished the match the far stronger side in the final 15 minutes, almost certainly symptomatic of how draining this month has been for Liverpool.
Liverpool had three clear-cut chances in the second half but scored just one. Firmino missed one, eight minutes before Wijnaldum scored, and sent one straight at Courtois in the 90th minute. How different it could have been had Liverpool been more ruthless, had Liverpool been just marginally more potent in attack. How many times I've written that this month. Liverpool also should have gotten a penalty when Moses barged Milner just inside the box in the 65th minute.
And Chelsea did get a penalty, ten minutes after Milner's claim. But Mignolet saved Diego Costa's 76th-minute spot kick, given when Costa dived in front of Matip. It was the 14th Premier League penalty that Mignolet's faced for Liverpool; he's now saved six of them, a surprisingly impressive record.
Honors even probably deserved. But Liverpool needed this match a lot more than Chelsea did. Chelsea just wanted to not lose, evident in just how defensive they were, all but copying the strategy that's frustrated Liverpool all month long but with more talented players. They focused on keeping in tight, staying deep, and congesting their own half. Kante was everywhere without the ball, even if he couldn't do anything with it.
That's all Chelsea needed because they were ten points ahead of Liverpool, nine ahead of Tottenham, and eight ahead of Arsenal going into this match. With Arsenal losing and Tottenham drawing, they remain far in the distance in first.
I am again tempted to blame Liverpool's attack, because that's what I do even when it's not entirely fair, with the front three again nowhere near their peak and struggling against a packed defense. Just seven shots in total, at home, albeit against the stingiest side in the league. It's the second-lowest total of the season, behind the home game against City, a match where Liverpool protected a lead for nearly the whole match rather than needing to chase a deficit. Despite 66% possession, Liverpool only took one shot in the first half – Wijnaldum from outside the box – which is a new low for the season. Just three shots on-target: that Wijnaldum effort from distance, Wijnaldum's goal, and Firmino's late, too-easily-saved clear-cut chance.
But, again, at least there were signs of improvement. In getting at least something of a result against Chelsea after failing to do so against far worse teams earlier this month. In setting the fierce pressing tone from the opening whistle. In taking the game to Chelsea, especially the first 30 minutes after halftime. In getting the equalizer. In getting three second-half clear-cut chances; only one side has equaled that total against Chelsea this season – Manchester City at the beginning of December. A match that City lost after dominating for an hour, a match where City failed to score any of those three clear-cut chances, with Chelsea's revival coming immediately after de Bruyne hit the woodwork with City's final big chance.
All told, it's probably a point gained rather than two lost, even if it's hard to look at it that way after the last month. And with a point gained, Liverpool will at least finish this slate of matches in fourth, if only on goal difference if City win at West Ham later today. Liverpool will be just a point off second despite this horrific month. It's likely that three points will separate second from sixth going into the weekend.
I hope we're able to look back on this – finally, the end of January – and say that Liverpool stopped the rot. After facing Hull on Saturday, Liverpool are done with two-matches-in-a-week until April, and we know how much better this side is with time on the training pitch and a week between games. Mané's back. Almost everyone's available, if not fully fit. Liverpool remain unbeaten against the rest of the top six this season.
It's a point gained against the runaway league leaders, a point earned by the second half performance and a necessary unwillingness to give in. There are 15 games still to play, with Liverpool's next two home matches against second and third.
Now, Liverpool need to push on from here. This needs to be a turning point rather than a false dawn.