Chelsea 2-2 Liverpool: Five talking points as both sides lose ground in title race

On Sunday afternoon, Chelsea and Liverpool met at Stamford Bridge for what sure to be a match that would have strong impact on the title race in the Premier League. These two teams were seen as genuine contenders, possibly able to snatch the crown away from Manchester City, but as Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah gave Liverpool a two-goal lead and Mateo Kovacic halved it before Christian Pulisic equalized, the only winners of the contest are the defending champions.

Controversies

Hardly a game goes by in the English top flight these days without the officials and their decisions drawing immediate, and mostly fully deserved, criticism. Anthony Taylor was in charge for this one, with Paul Tierney in the VAR room.

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Not 10 seconds into the match, Mane was booked for elbowing Cesar Azpilicueta. The foul was pretty obvious and there can be no question about the booking being fully deserved regardless of the time on the clock, but they were thoroughly unhappy with it in the Chelsea camp. Azpilicueta, as well as goalkeeper Edouard Mendy, Mane’s international teammate, spoke after the match, expressing bewilderment at the Liverpool forward being allowed to remain on the pitch.

However, neither of them mentioned the incident which took place in the 78th minute, when Kai Havertz did the same, arguably even worse, to Ibrahima Konate. Taylor didn’t even deem it worthy of a foul, let alone a card of any colour, and Tierney in the VAR room remained silent. What’s more, Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel cunningly took advantage of the commotion as Liverpool players kicked the ball out for the notably shaken Konate to receive treatment, to take Havertz off and replace him with Callum Hudson-Odoi.

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VAR did check two situations, one arguably understandable as it first appeared that Mason Mount kicked Kostas Tsimikas while the Greek was on the ground, but at closer inspection, it became clear the Chelsea forward didn’t put in as much into it as it seemed at first.

The other check seemed ridiculous to begin with. Kovacic had scored Chelsea’s first goal with a fantastic volley from around 20 yards, and Tierney felt the need to check if Antonio Rudiger, standing in an offside position at that moment, impacted goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher in any way. The Chelsea defender was nowhere near a position to do so, which was abundantly clear to everyone except, obviously, Tierney. A complete waste of time which caused players of both teams to look politely bewildered while it lasted.

A great game

Club affinities and official performances aside, the match was extremely exciting and provided the neutrals with plenty to enjoy. Both teams played to win and attacked as often and as hard as they could, and the outcome remained unpredictable right until the final whistle.

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Four first-half goals, an early ruthlessness from Liverpool and extreme resilience and willpower from Chelsea to get back into it, promised a lot of excitement for after the break, and though there weren’t any more goals, the contest was far from dull. Both teams had plenty of chances to swing the tie their way, but Mendy and Kelleher did well on several occasions each, one thwarting Mane and Salah, and the other Havertz and Pulisic.

All four goals were great, a cool reaction of Mane to a mistake from Trevoh Chalobah, a trademark glide and finish from Salah, a finely controlled and incredibly accurate volley from Kovacic, and cool execution by Pulisic after a lovely pass from Kante.

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Salah and Mane were terrific, as were Mount and Pulisic and Kovacic, and the two goalkeepers, but one player arguably outshone them all.

N’Golo Kante

Nobody has disputed the quality of N’Golo Kante for a long time now, but the France international really turned it on this time. He was undoubtedly the best player on the pitch, with 86% passing accuracy, three completed dribbles and two successful tackles. Some of his passes completely broke Liverpool’s lines, including the beautiful one in the first-half stoppage time which ended as an assists for Pulisic’s equalizer. At the other end, his vigilance and agility stopped several potentially dangerous attacks from the visitors.

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Kante was one of the key components of the Leicester City team which shocked the world by winning the Premier League in 2015-16, before making his move to Chelsea, and he’s been a vital cog for everything the Blues have achieves since as well. One of the best-rounded midfielders in the game right now, Kante is frequently, and wrongly, left out of the conversations about the best players in the world. He definitely needs to be mentioned in any serious discussion on the subject.

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Kovacic had a fine game too, showing great anticipation, intelligence and a lot of spirit, but the Croatian, despite scoring a great goal, was overshadowed by Kante. As for the Liverpool midfielders, they all struggled to get anywhere near him.

Caoimhin Kelleher

The man that arguably drew attention the most in Liverpool’s ranks was the goalkeeper. Not that his performance was above the rest of the team, but merely because many believe the presence of Alisson Becker, unavailable for this match through a positive COVID-19 test, is such a huge factor that his absence means ruin. Well, Kelleher has certainly proven them wrong, and not for the first time.

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Naturally, there is still a lot for the 23-year-old Ireland international to learn to reach the heights of his Brazilian colleague, but Liverpool do have a very able replacement to call upon when needed, even in the biggest of games. But with Alisson contracted to the club until the summer of 2027, it remains to be seen how long Kelleher remains content with his current role as the second choice between the posts, and whether his future lies away from Anfield.

Is it still a race?

Manchester City now have a 10-point advantage over Chelsea in second place, and 11 over Liverpool in third, though the Merseysiders have a game in hand on both rivals after their match against Leeds United got postponed a week before this one. The title race was pretty exciting for a while, but it certainly seems it’s all but over at this point.

Pep Guardiola’s team were very lucky to walk away from their clash with Arsenal at the Emirates on Saturday with three points – it was another match which drew justified criticism of the officials, and even the neutrals agree that the champions received a big push towards the victory. On the other hand, it cannot be doubted that they are a fantastic team which delivers win after win, week after week, and that is obviously the most important factor when it comes to finishing top of the table.

So the question is – is it still a race, or is it all over? Truth be told, it’s highly unlikely that anyone will be able to overtake City from this point on. Their success is a proof of the most obvious thing in modern football, and that is that a great manager coupled with apparently unlimited financial resources invariably bring success.

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Be that as it may, City and Chelsea will do battle at the Etihad on January 15th, and that match may yet bring City’s triumph back into question, or at least make it less certain, but Tuchel’s team simply have to return to London with all three points if that is to happen.

Meanwhile, Liverpool will take on Brentford at Anfield in January 16th next, one of the teams that unexpectedly took points off them in the first half of the season. As for facing City, their trip to the Etihad will take place in early April, and a lot will be clearer by then.

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Author: XenBet