While Manchester City sit pretty at the top of the table, the English Premier League’s second and third-placed sides served up a classic to show just how much the EPL crown means to all involved.
Chelsea hosted Liverpool with the London side 11 points behind Pep Guardiola’s defending champions following their hard-fought victory over Arsenal on Saturday. Jurgen Klopp’s Reds were a further point behind.
At Stamford Bridge, neither side could afford to slip further behind in the race and it looked like the visitors had the hunger for the fight in the opening encounters.
We could have been looking at a very different script had Liverpool’s Sadio Mane seen red in — incredibly — the opening five seconds for a blatant elbow on Chelsea’s Cesar Azpilicueta on the touchline. He escaped with a yellow — I imagine only because it was so early in the match — and went on to open the scoring as Liverpool blew their hosts away in the opening 20 minutes.
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Mane found space and Diego Jota fed the Senegal star before he heads to the Africa Cup of Nations and he made no mistake, blasting bast Edouard Mendy in the Chelsea goal.
The Stamford Bridge terraces were witnessing a bit of history as safe standing areas were back in a Premier League game for the first time since 1994, but they were surely wanting a seat as Mo Salah made it 2-0.
Trent Alexander-Arnold found the Egyptian — who is also headed to AFCON after the match — and the Anfield hero slotted over Mendy from close range.
So far, so plain-sailing for the Reds. The stage was set for another steamrolling victory for Liverpool, but suddenly Chelsea woke up.
Mateo Kovacic decided to take matters into his own hands after Marcos Alonso saw his effort punched away by Caoimhin Kelleher, rifling in a volley to reduce the deficit in goal-of-the-season style.
Stamford Bridge erupted moments later as N’Golo Kante flummoxed Ibrahima Konate and Christian Pulisic levelled before the break.
With Klopp sidelined — so to speak — due to COVID, the dressing-room talks alone would have been fascinating at the break, but the second half began with the same breathless tempo.
It was end-to-end, with both keepers busy and the tackles flying in. Sometimes only the offside flag was offering respite as both teams knew what was at stake,
Mendy had to be at his best to deny Salah on 57 minutes as the Liverpool poster boy looked to sign off with a winner from distance. Seconds later Mendy was beating out an effort from Mane as Liverpool looked to reassert themselves.
The Stamford Bridge faithful were in full voice now, roaring their men in blue on and again only the offside flag held up their attacks as Liverpool looked fragile at the back.
Indeed, Kelleher made a great block from Pulisic on 63 minutes to deny the home side the lead for the first time, letting Liverpool’s regular No. 1 Allison Becker know that the Reds have a ready replacement.
Chelsea were on the front foot going into the last 15 minutes as Liverpool’s frustrations grew. Mendy and Kelleher had to be at their best at either end to keep the scores level.
Thomas Tuchel’s side knew that Liverpool were on the ropes and the passionate crowd was roaring them on in the dying minutes. Neither side could grab the winner however and in the end sharing the point helped neither side with City in the driving seat ahead of the clash against Chelsea on January 15.
Just how important a draw at Stamford Bridge will be in the 2021-22 EPL race remains to be seen, but this was an opportunity lost by both sides.