25 November 2017

Liverpool 1-1 Chelsea

Salah 65'
Willian 85'

Once again, we're stuck between context and isolation.

Let's do isolation first.

On balance, a draw's probably fair. Chelsea defended brilliantly throughout. Chelsea had the best spell of attacking pressure until the opening goal, with Mignolet required to make smart saves on Hazard and Zappacosta, as well as charge off his line to ensure Drinkwater didn't get to Hazard's through ball first, all in a five-minute span halfway through the first half.

Liverpool made five changes to the starting XI, including two in the front three, wanting fresh legs in order to press press press early on. Which Chelsea dealt with well for the opening 20 minutes until ratcheting up their attack for the rest of the first half.

Liverpool didn't have a single shot on-target in the first half for the first time since the trip to Stoke back in April, when Liverpool deployed a radically changed 3-5-1-1 line-up. Liverpool didn't have a shot from inside the box that wasn't blocked until the 65th minute, with six in-box shots blocked and six from outside the box either off-target or blocked.

But Jürgen Klopp made some good in-game changes. In the second half, Salah and Oxlade-Chamberlain switched flanks, ostensibly so Salah could make Zappacosta think twice before driving forward at Liverpool's defense. Coutinho played further forward with Milner deeper, looking much more a 4-2-3-1 with Liverpool in possession. For the first 20 minutes of the second half, Liverpool had six shots to Chelsea's one.

And in the 65th minute, Liverpool got the breakthrough. And they needed an absolutely brilliant piece of attacking play to do so: Henderson intercepts a lofted clearance on the halfway line, to Coutinho, to Salah, to Coutinho, around Kante and driving at the defense. Bakayoko can't block Coutinho's layoff to Oxlade-Chamberlain, who plays a perfect throughball to Salah, controlled outstandingly and then finished past Courtois with his weaker foot.

Coutinho, higher up, with the run and layoff to make the goal. Oxlade-Chamberlain from the right with the assist. And Salah, cutting inside from the left, controlling and finishing despite having to play it with his right foot.

That was fun.

No matter how good your attack is, you don't get many moves like that against Chelsea. You don't create many moves like that against Chelsea.

Of course, there would be a reply. There would be Fabregas and Pedro and Willian on for Drinkwater, Bakayoko, and Zappacosta. There wouldn't be many Liverpool substitutes – not with that attacking bench, not with Can and Lovren injured, not with Alexander-Arnold and Robertson as the only defenders and Wijnaldum and Lallana the only midfielders.

But Liverpool were holding out reasonably well, pushed too deep and unable to keep possession, but mostly denying chances. And then, Willian somehow Koncheskys a cross over Mignolet in the 85th minute. Two minutes after coming on. And a minute after Liverpool weren't allowed to make a substitute of their own because reasons.

It's a fluke, it's a gut punch, and it happens, and it's honors even between two good teams. It's the third consecutive match where we've seen this scoreline in this fixture. Salah and Oxlade-Chamberlain were outstanding, Gomez again belied his age with a very good defensive performance against difficult opposition, and Henderson and Moreno's performances – especially Moreno's – were polar opposites of the drama and disorder in Sevilla.

But then there's the context. I've written about the context way too often of late.

It's the 22nd time that Liverpool have drawn or lost despite having the lead. It's the third time in the league this season – and you don't want to look where Liverpool would be in the table with six more points from the matches against Watford, Newcastle, and Chelsea. It's the 10th time it's happened because of an opposition goal scored after the 80th minute. It's very much two vital points dropped rather than a point earned.

Liverpool have now played all five of their top six rivals. One win, smashing an abysmal Arsenal. Two frustrating draws, against United and Chelsea, both at Anfield. And two comprehensive losses, away at City and Tottenham.

And now, we're where we started. Liverpool could have gone above Tottenham into fourth after they drew against West Brom. Liverpool could have gone level on points with Chelsea in third. But the table remains the same for now, with Liverpool possibly falling a place in the standings if Arsenal or Burnley win when they play tomorrow.

The season is a third of the way over. And Liverpool cannot keep giving away points that they should be more than capable of holding onto. The rest of the league is far too good for that.

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