Thanks to Simon Mignolet and Giorginio Wijnaldum, Liverpool managed to salvage a point against league leaders Chelsea after a hard fought 90 minutes at Anfield
It was a game in which the likes of Firmino, Hazard, Coutinho and Willian failed to make any significant impact, and thanks to Diego Costa’s horrid penalty and Simon Mignolet’s superb save, Liverpool managed to keep themselves in the title race, if only just.
Jurgen Klopp’s side dominated the game, launching wave after wave of attacks on Chelsea, who seemed content to sit back, absorb the pressure and attack on the occasional counters. David Luiz gave them the lead with a fantastic free-kick and some absent-mindedness from Mignolet.
Georginio wijnaldum popped up in the 57th minute with the equalizer and both teams kept going back and forth. The battle in midfield was an especially good one, with tireless displays from N’golo Kante and Liverpool Captain Jordan Henderson, both the best players for their respective sides.
Then in the 75th minute, Costa was brought down by Joel Matip in the box and it looked as if Chelsea would extend their lead to the top of the table by 11 points. However, it was a rubbish penalty by his standards, one that was easily saved by Mignolet, who redeemed himself for his earlier error.
Both teams would have a few chances after that and it was a game of back and forth, with both sides creating and missing chances. The score would stay level, but it is likely that Conte would be the happier of the two managers, having held off Liverpool to extended their lead to 9 points.
Costa Keeps Title Race Alive
With the kind of form he is in, one would have expected nothing less than to see the ball nestle in the back of the net when they saw Costa step up to take the spot kick. Chelsea’s hero on so many occasions this season, if there was ever a time they needed him to at his clinical best, it was now.
But it was a tame effort, which needed a great save from Simon Mignolet to keep the score level. As a result, the score stayed 1-1 and Chelsea had missed a glorious opportunity to extend their lead at the top by 11 points, after both Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur failed to win.
While a 9 point lead is an extremely difficult one to catch up with, Chelsea have tricky fixtures against Arsenal, Burnley, Swansea and West Ham coming up and all the teams take their game up a notch, especially the ones fighting for survival.
Chelsea’s Creativity Conundrum
Chelsea found it extremely difficult to create chances and keep possession for extended spells against a Liverpool’s gegenpressing style of play. Conte’s insistence on sacrificing Fabregas’s creativity for Matic’s defensive stability seemed to have cost the Blues in that aspect.
Without a pass master or creator deep in midfield, all the pressure to create chances falls on the front three and some of it on the overlapping wingbacks. Against the likes of Can and Henderson in midfield, Chelsea could have perhaps used Fabregas, rather than put them up against Matic and Kante.
As a result, Chelsea had only 38% of the possession. While that isn’t a stat that Conte would mind, given that Chelsea went with the intent of sitting back and attacking on the counter, the Blues’ would have perhaps fared better by taking more risks and taking the game to the opposition.
Dilemma Between The Sticks
Take nothing away from David Luiz’s freekick. It was a fantastic right-footed effort, reminiscent of the kind of belters he used to score in his first spell at Chelsea. If any Chelsea supporters were wondering if he could still dish out stunners like that, there was the answer.
However, it should have been saved. Simon Mignolet should have been alert of the situation and should have positioned himself correctly and paid attention to the ball and the Chelsea players standing behind it.
While he did manage to redeem himself with a good last-minute save from Diego Costa, there’s no denying that their goalkeeping is still an area Liverpool need to fix.
Mignolet returned to the side after missing out ties against Southampton and Wolverhampton, both of which Liverpool lost. However, he continued his error-prone ways. It is yet to be seen how much longer Jurgen Klopp can deal with the Belgian’s mental lapses, before eventually dipping his hands in the transfer market for a better keeper.
Firmino In A Fix
One of Liverpool’s finest players this season, the Brazilian had a difficult outing in front of goal for the Reds. The 25-year-old had suffered a slight dip in form toward the end of last year and it was suspected that it because he was being played on the wings.
He scored twice in their last league game against Swansea, but couldn’t find the net against Chelsea. He missed a superb opportunity to win the game for his side late in the game, but instead headed it straight toward a grateful Courtois from 6 yards out.
His work rate off the ball was superb, getting into spaces in between the Chelsea defence, running the channels and being a constant menace. However, he had nothing to show for it, neither a goal nor an assist.
The Brazilian is preferred over Sturridge and Origi by Jurgen Klopp, which makes Firmino the only option to lead Liverpool’s attack given that the Reds haven’t signed a forward in the transfer window.
The return of Coutinho should significantly help him, but if Liverpool are to mount a proper charge for the title or a top 4 berth, they’ll need Firmino to return to his clinical best.