For the second time in the space of five days Liverpool dropped two points after having led in a match.
Both came about in very different circumstances but ultimately felt like defeats. The Champions League game against Sevilla was an utter capitulation from three goals up as the Reds were pegged back with a last minute equaliser at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium.
The evening kick off on Saturday against Chelsea at Anfield had a different feel to it almost from the outset. Jurgen Klopp surprised everyone by making five changes to the team that drew in Spain.
Mignolet took up his customary league position between the sticks, Matip returned from injury to partner Klavan in central defence and Wijnaldum dropped to the bench for Milner. Controversially, Firmino and Mané were rested with Sturridge and Oxlade-Chamberlain replacing them upfront. And with Stoke and Brighton as the next two fixtures, fans were perplexed as to why two of Liverpool’s most important players were rotated in such a huge game against top four rivals.
When asked about his reasons for the changes Klopp answered that he had “100% trust” in his players and that he “has to use the squad”. The positives were that Liverpool had a strong bench should it be called upon during the game with the added bonus of Adam Lallana returning from his lengthy injury lay off.
The game began well for Klopp as his side looked to play positive football but it was Conte’s side that came the closest first. In the twenty-third minute, Mignolet saved from Danny Drinkwater put through by Eden Hazard, who was Chelsea’s bright spark fro much of the game.
A minute later, Davide Zappacosta’s shot was saved again resulting in a corner that produced an almighty scramble in the Reds box. Cahill looked like he would score but got his feet tangled up as Sturridge did his best to block any subsequent attempt on goal. Man of the moment, Mohamed Salah, turned Cahill at the opposite end of the pitch but saw his shot roll agonisingly wide.
The second-half brought more of the same Liverpool attack which Chelsea defended excellently. It seemed for every attempt Liverpool made to play a ball into the final third, there was blue leg, foot, chest or other body part to intercept; stifling every Red move superbly.
A moment of magic or fortune was needed to break down this defence and the latter was what Liverpool got. On sixty-five minutes, Coutinho tried to lay the ball into Oxlade-Chamberlain’s path on the edge of Chelsea’s box but Temoue Bakayoko’s flailing leg rather than disrupting the attack ended up aiding it. Oxlade-Chamberlain prodded the ball forward for Salah who coolly slotted the ball past Courtois.
His subdued celebration a poignant show of respect to the 305 of his fallen countrymen, women and children in the devastating Sinai mosque attack just a day before.
Many people expected Klopp to make changes at around the sixty minute mark and the goal seemed the perfect opportunity to do that. Immediately, Sturridge was replaced by Wijnaldum but the substitutions stopped there. Coutinho moved further forward with Salah central.
Chelsea piled on the pressure and Liverpool looked uncomfortable and, as is often the case, the Reds looked like conceding. Not the team to be trusted to close out a 1-0 lead against such experienced opposition, eyes were constantly on the bench. And with no senior defenders on the bench (Lovren injured on Friday) to add an extra body in defence, Mané and Firmino seemed the only sensible option to win the game.
Unfortunately for Liverpool,lady luck deserted them and defected to the other side when Willian looked to chip a cross into the box only for a floundering Mignolet to see it drop over him into the net.
Terribly unlucky but it was the Chelsea pressure that put them into those positions and it paid off. It also put a dampener on a good defensive display where the back four acquitted themselves well.
After a delay on the touch line, an angry Jurgen Klopp eventually brought Lallana and Mané on but it was too late for them to make any sort of meaningful impact. Man of the match, Salah, almost won it for Liverpool in injury time but his shot was saved and the old foes shared the points.
Before the game, any Liverpool fan would’ve have taken a draw against the current Premier League champions, but it did feel like they were there for the taking. Klopp’s late substitutions somewhat tainted a good point and left fans with the feeling of what could’ve been. It also left them questioning Klopp’s in-game management and not for the first time.
It was apparent that the manager had unmitigated trust that the players on the pitch could see out the 1-0 for thirty minutes. It’s a nice sentiment but has often left him wanting. It was also a great opportunity to close the gap on the teams around them. Tottenham had earlier dropped points at home to West Brom and with Arsenal playing Manchester United next week, three points against Chelsea would have proved significant in gaining on them. As it is, the Reds sit in touch with the pack and all is not lost.
However, Klopp needs to curb this worrying trend of dropping points and surrendering comfortable leads late on in games as it will slowly chisel away at an already brittle confidence. But there’s no time for Liverpool and Klopp to dwell on it now as the games come in quick succession from here on in and maybe that will prove to be an advantage. Who knows? Next up we’ll see if they can do it on a cold, Wednesday night at Stoke.