Image Credit: [The Times]
The game was wedded to be ‘The Battle of Salah and Hazard’ by various tabloid media outlets, but this only tells the superficial side of the football match. Saturday’s late afternoon fixture was the coming together of Klopp’s revved pressing machine against Sarri’s speedy passing locomotive. Big questions were going to be asked of whether Jorginho, in his holding midfield role could handle Liverpool’s press which had embarrassed Eric Dier and Marquinhos over the previous fortnight, and whether Liverpool could restrain themselves in their press to prevent Chelsea from simply circumnavigating round them.
Saturday may have ended a one all draw but the football displayed and the antics surrounding could not have been more charming.
As the game started to swing into motion, Chelsea showed that their resolute nature. Jorginho and Kovacic throughout showed why Sarri brought them to the Bridge, while Liverpool’s incessant pressure was shown to be trivial. Before long Chelsea opened Liverpool up. Alexander Arnold inexperience was exposed as he went into Chelsea’s half to try and catch Hazard off guard, Hazard smoothly back-heeled the ball to Kovacic, creating space. Kovacic made a quick one-two with Jorginho before releasing the ball back to Hazard in the position Alexander Arnold should have been in; Hazard took the chance wonderfully, but the goal was created from a mistake not a moment of genius.
The difference between the two sides throughout the game came from the performance of either side’s full backs – with Liverpool often having the weaker of the two pairs. Robertson was outplayed by Willian offensively and defensively, as Willian prevented his surging runs and repeatedly made himself too difficult for Robertson to handle. It was a sign of the experience Chelsea has in these areas, Azpilicueta’sand Alonso’s knowledge of knowing when to push forward and when to hold was pivotal in the chances created and avoided. Liverpool best chance of the game came when Robertson escaped a wrong footed Azpilicueta, and finally got into the crossing position he’s been so dangerous from during his Liverpool career, but it was Shaqiri who failed to convert.
I describe Shaqiri’s miss as the best chance for Liverpool in a 1-1 draw, as the effort produced by Sturridge was so supreme and yet made to look so effortless, that to use a football cliche ‘he had no right to score from there’. Sturridge picked the ball up on the wing around 35 yards from goal with a humongous Antonio Rudiger in his way. Nonetheless, he looked up like a golf player on the green and hit the ball with perfect technique so it avoids both Rudiger and Arrizabalaga, nestling into the top corner. It is such a tragedy to have seen such a talent, that Sturridge is, be tarnished with his injury problems; however, he now has three in three and will be crucial in Liverpool’s mount to be champions.
The most endearing moment happened as Klopp and Sarri went into the end of the match handshake with the biggest smiles on their faces, before hugging and complimenting each other. Both in their post-match interview credited each other and said how much they enjoyed the match and how enthralling it was to view one another’s team. It was roughly 10 years ago when Mourinho first left Chelsea, where his Chelsea side and Benitez’s Liverpool had built the most intense atmosphere. It felt like then they would play each other five times a season, and each would always be a defensive cagey affair, usually ending in a 1-0 victory. Fast forward 10 years and Liverpool and Chelsea have two of the most attacking managers in the world; yet, on the other hand, Mourinho and Benitez are at Manchester and Newcastle United respectively, both playing defensive football and both having spouts with their boards. Saturday may have ended a one all draw but the football displayed and the antics surrounding could not have been more charming.
By Owen Ellicott