Liverpool claimed a creditable 1-1 draw with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, although the result effectively quashes their hopes of qualifying for next season’s UEFA Champions League.
Brendan Rodgers’ side came into Sunday’s clash with the Premier League champions seven points behind fourth-placed Manchester United, who were 2-1 winners at Crystal Palace 24 hours earlier.
Although Liverpool became only the fourth side to take anything away from Stamford Bridge in the league this season, their inferior goal difference means they would require a sizeable and improbable swing to overtake United in the final two matches of 2014-15.
It was Chelsea captain John Terry who put his side ahead in the fifth minute with a powerful header from a corner, before his opposite number Steven Gerrard – who was described as “a champion” by Jose Mourinho this week and was given a warm reception by the crowd when he was substituted late on – nodded in an equaliser at the end of the first half.
Against a Chelsea side that showed five changes from the team that sealed the title against Palace last week, including a first Premier League start for Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Liverpool had the better of the second half and saw Philippe Coutinho spurn a golden opening to go ahead.
However, Rodgers’ men could not find the winner that would have kept their slim Champions League dreams alive, as Chelsea maintained their unbeaten home league record this season.
Cesc Fabregas was heavily involved in the early action, the Spaniard perhaps fortunate to only receive a yellow card for a dangerous challenge on Raheem Sterling in the opening minute.
The midfielder had a much more positive impact four minutes later, however, swinging in a right-wing corner that Terry met with a firm downward header into the net.
Liverpool responded well to that setback as former Chelsea defender Glen Johnson fired into the side-netting from a tight angle before Coutinho was denied by Thibaut Courtois.
Simon Mignolet parried Fabregas’ effort as Chelsea went in search of a second, although they were dealt a blow shortly after the half-hour mark when Kurt Zouma was forced off through injury and was replaced by Gary Cahill.
With one minute of the half remaining, Liverpool levelled as Gerrard was left all alone at the back post to nod in Jordan Henderson’s free-kick from the left byline.
The visitors carried that momentum into the start of the second period and ought to have gone in front when Sterling picked out Coutinho, who fired wide from 12 yards.
With 55 minutes gone, Mignolet produced a fine one-handed save to tip Willian’s fizzing drive behind, although the touch was so slight it was missed by referee Andre Marriner and a goal-kick was given.
The open nature of the encounter continued, Adam Lallana denied by a block from Cahill before Fabregas worked space for himself inside the box only to shoot weakly at Mignolet.
With a minute remaining, Coutinho’s effort took a wicked deflection off Cahill and almost crept beyond Courtois, but the goalkeeper was able to gather as Chelsea extended their unbeaten run against Liverpool in all competitions to eight matches.
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