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Chelsea 2-2 Liverpool
by Layth Yousif at Stamford Bridge
Chelsea staged a thrilling comeback to draw 2-2 with Liverpool at Stamford Bridge on the day officially sanctioned supporter standing returned to the English Premier League.
The Blues comeback seemed unlikely when the visitors raced into a two-goal lead through Sadio Mane – his first in nine games – and Mo Salah. Thomas Tuchel’s side pulled a goal back to make it 2-1 four minutes before the interval through Mateo Kovacic, prior to Christian Pulisic levelling on the stroke of half time.
Yet it was Manchester City who would be the biggest beneficiaries after the game of the season, which saw Pep Guardiola’s side solidify their hold on the title race.
It was appropriate such an entertaining match marked the day supporters were once again allowed to stand at an English top-flight football stadium, after a landmark trial of safe standing was launched – even if the man many Blues had hoped to see was absent.
Romelu Lukaku was noticeably missing from the squad after his controversial interview with Sky Italia was aired in which he disclosed he wasn’t happy at the club. Chelsea boss Tuchel acted quickly to axe the record £97.5m striker as he made five changes from the 1-1 draw against Brighton, as second played third on Sunday afternoon.
Jorginho and Callum Hudson-Odoi were named on bench with Reece James rested. Liverpool were without boss Jurgen Klopp as well as keeper Alisson, Roberto Firmino and Joel Matip – all absent after having tested positive with Covid.
The atmosphere was suitably loud, boosted by the Chelsea and Liverpool fans allowed to stand in the Shed upper and lower tiers, and Blues in the Matthew Harding lower tier. You could certainly hear them. Not least when the 3,000 visitors started singing: “F*** the Tories”.
It was fair to say the travelling masses from Merseyside were in good voice throughout the early stages, given their dominance, as they went through plenty of their songbook repertoire, including “conquering all of Europe” in homage to their six Champions League titles.
They had every reason to after Mane scored after only nine minutes, when he pounced on Trevoh Chalobah’s mistake to put Liverpool in front after nine minutes. That came after Pulisic was denied by Reds stand-in keeper Caoimhin Kelleher on six minutes.
Prior to that, Mane was lucky to be on the pitch after leading with his elbow in a clash with Cesar Azpilicueta after only six seconds, with the Chelsea captain and Tuchel in agreement afterwards that the 29-year-old former Southampton attacking midfielder should have been sent off.
Yet it was hard to believe Tuchel’s side were the reigning champions of the continent — certainly not on their showing in the opening 41 minutes, which at times had Tuchel bordering between enraged and splenetic.
The ever-impressive Salah — whose form underlined just how much his club will miss his presence when he heads off to the African Cup of Nations with Egypt — conned Marcos Alonso with a wonderful feint to fool the Chelsea defender for a perfect near-post finish, to put the Reds 2-0 up and in total command on 26 minutes. The former Blue finally scoring at the Bridge for the first time as a Liverpool player to take his tally of goals to 150.
However, just as obituaries were being written on Chelsea’s title bid, given Manchester City’s hard-fought victory over Arsenal at the Emirates 24 hours earlier, the Blues staged their comeback as a hectic first half drew to a close.
Kovacic grabbed a goal to make it 2-1 as Chelsea showed grit to go with their undoubted quality. What a goal it was too, his volleyed strike from the edge of the box, a contender for goal of the season, such was the technical ability displayed in timing the ball so sweetly after Kelleher punched away an Alonso free-kick from near the corner flag.
No sooner had the decibel levels dropped slightly, to mere deafening, Chelsea scored again as the home support erupted in joy at the sight of Pulisic lifting the ball over the Liverpool keeper, to level for Tuchel’s side moments before the interval. Kai Havertz nearly put the Blues ahead with the next move but the ball travelled the wrong side of the post.
And, as the crowd roared its approval at what they had just seen, referee Anthony Taylor blew to end the most entertaining opening 45 minutes of football you will see this season, you felt cheated at such a pause in proceedings, not least because you wanted the incredible drama to carry on indefinitely.
Speaking afterwards, Tuchel said: “We were punished for two or three big mistakes at the beginning. Going 2-0 down, it would be easy to say things would be hard and perhaps it would not be our day but the guys stuck in and showed a fantastic attitude to get back into the game.
‘It [being 2-0 behind] makes things against Liverpool super tough. It’s a big match against a big opponent full of individual quality and energy, so given the circumstances and where we had come from, how we played was exceptional with high ball recoveries, chances and transition.
“We could even be a bit more clinical to maybe create even more, but coming back from 2-0 was immense, and there are no worries except for the result.”
The breathlessly gripping show continued after the break with Alonso firing over after a sweeping move on 50 minutes, followed by Salah drawing a stunning save from Mendy.
The Chelsea keeper – who will also be off to Cameroon for AFCON 2021 with Senegal — underlined his athleticism when also saving spectacularly from Mane after neat interplay with Salah moments later. Not to be outdone, Liverpool netminder Kelleher saved from a close range Pulisic half-volley, as everyone watching marvelled at such intensity shown by both teams.
Pulisic fired over on 71 minutes, while Mason Mount tested Kelleher from long range on 81 minutes, Alonso from a free-kick 120 seconds later and Antonio Rudiger with a header five minutes later, as the match reached a crescendo.
But, as the clock ticked down on a frenetic climax, neither side could find a breakthrough.
Perhaps it was for the best, because a goal for either side would have been unfair after such a thrilling match – the conclusion of which leaves Chelsea, in second, 10 points behind City while Liverpool, in third, 11 adrift of the leaders, albeit with a game in hand.
Assessing the game afterwards assistant boss Pep Lijnders said: “We should have controlled the game better. We had moments already before the 2-0, we were lethal in our counter-attacks.”
Lijnders also tried to be positive when faced with Salah and Mane’s imminent departures, saying: “You can try to plan it but you can never prepare it. It is not a worry because we have faith in the boys,” adding: “We are happy, we take this point because it’s a positive point in a very difficult situation.”
As it is, both sides must now gear up for League Cup semi-finals this week.
Chelsea host Spurs on Wednesday, with Liverpool making another trip to the capital, this time to North London and a clash against resurgent Arsenal.
On this showing football lovers would be daft to miss either tie. No wonder Tuchel admitted afterwards “It was a brilliant match of football.”
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