Jurgen Klopp’s 1,000th match in management; the English top flight’s 50,000th fixture – Chelsea’s trip to Liverpool on Saturday wasn’t short of milestones, intrigue or importance.
But there was certainly no surplus of quality at Anfield as two teams who’ve been feeling sorry for themselves for most of the season failed to produce the spark that could reignite their thoroughly underwhelming campaigns.
Graham Potter’s men left with a 0-0 draw that Chelsea might ultimately be relatively happy with, but generally speaking it was a match devoid of brilliance, and by extension an indictment of two teams who should be faring far, far better.
It bears remembering that, in fairness, Liverpool and Chelsea played out draws in seven of their previous 17 Premier League meetings – but such tightness has also led to numerous classics down the years, helping stoke something of a competitive rivalry between the two.
16 – Since his first season in the Premier League in 2019-20, no manager has overseen more goalless draws than Graham Potter (16). Margins. pic.twitter.com/iYoVxJCWzm
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) January 21, 2023
Recent Premier League title winners, recent Champions League titlists – even with their respective injury woes and general struggles, surely this was still going to be a thriller?
There probably wasn’t a more inappropriate description of the first half, a dour 45 minutes of football barely punctuated by any hints of ingenuity or quality.
Chelsea could argue they were the brighter of the teams. Kai Havertz had an early goal disallowed; Lewis Hall flashed a left-footed effort across the six-yard box; Benoit Badiashile headed at Alisson from close range.
But it was hardly sustained pressure, and you could make a case for all three incidents being caused more by poor Liverpool defending than attacking brilliance from Chelsea.
Of course, it cannot be overstated how many important players were absent for both teams – it’s no fluke they began the weekend ninth and 10th in the league.
But even with the likes of Hall and Stefan Bajcetic starting, it wasn’t as if either side resembled a creche. The starting XIs cost over £200million. Each.
Not even Mohamed Salah – a genuine superstar – could bring the desired quality, skying one attempt as he cut inside and onto his left foot. You know the one, the type of chance you’d almost expect him to finish last season… or any past campaign in Liverpool red.
A fairly tame Thiago Alcantara effort was Liverpool’s first shot on target in the 39th minute.
There was undoubtedly a sense of Jurgen Klopp “getting into” – as Reds great Steven Gerrard put it during his punditry – Liverpool at half-time, as they began the second half on the front foot.
Within seconds of the restart, Ibrahima Konate surged forward and seemingly panicked with little else on. His toe-poke from about 50 yards almost crept into the top-left corner in an incident that seemed to sum up everything about the game until that point.
But Liverpool’s intensity didn’t last, their dip seemingly coinciding with the introduction of Mykhaylo Mudryk, who gave Chelsea a notable lift.
— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) January 21, 2023
His first touch was heavy. Cue ironic cheers from the home fans.
But his next will have had the Kop staring wide-eyed in terror.
Conor Gallagher was tripped in the box and Mudryk pounced, remarkably dancing past three Liverpool defenders before drilling left-footed into the side-netting.
Relief was the expression written all over the Reds’ defence – although only for a moment. Soon after he left James Milner for dead, luring the makeshift right-back into a lunge that brought a booking and his subsequent substitution for Trent Alexander-Arnold, deemed not fit enough to start.
Suddenly Chelsea were looking to Mudryk in virtually every attack. Two devilish Hakim Ziyech crosses sought him out at the back post – the first was met with a heavy touch, the second slightly too strong for him to divert goalwards.
The Ukrainian was also neat with his link-up play, delicately releasing Carney Chukwuemeka into the box twice with well-weighted passes, only for the youngster to stumble on the first occasion and then needlessly delay his shot for the second.
Mudryk wasn’t enough to inspire a breakthrough, though. In fact, the game probably didn’t deserve a goal, and you certainly couldn’t say either team were particularly unfortunate not to win.
While Mudryk’s cameo will have undoubtedly offered Chelsea some encouragement, the overriding conclusion from such an underwhelming contest was that both extremely expensively assembled teams still look like they could do with another £200m of investment.
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