Chelsea 0 Liverpool 0
It was hardly an occasion to rival some of the classic encounters between these bitter rivals, especially with Bruno Saltor doing his best to step into the void left by Graham Potter’s departure, although in the end it was difficult not to conclude that it was not Chelsea’s interim head coach who was having trouble recognising his own team.
Bruno, more bewildered than anyone that he was chosen to hold the fort until Todd Boehly and Behdad Eghbali can convince Julian Nagelsmann, Mauricio Pochettino or Luis Enrique to take over, could hold his head up high. Whether the Spaniard is still in charge by the time Chelsea visit Real Madrid next week remains to be seen, but at least his players showed some pride.
Was it perfect? No. But Bruno got his tactics right and, while another draw keeps Chelsea in the bottom half, victory would have been theirs if they had anyone capable of putting the ball in the back of the net by legal means.
Liverpool were lucky. Jürgen Klopp had tried some shock therapy, dropping some of his biggest stars, but his side’s identity has disappeared. The intensity of old is gone. It was another stodgy, sloppy Liverpool performance and, with the gap to the top four at seven points, it looks increasingly unlikely they will qualify for the Champions League now.
The latest big idea from those in charge of Chelsea was to place their faith in a man who has never picked a side before. Bruno had found himself in an unenviable position, left to pick up the pieces after Potter’s departure, although he was determined to stay professional.
After all this was a chance for the 42-year-old to display his coaching credentials and, while his long-term future is likely to be tied to Potter, there was at least one positive: taking on a Liverpool side hardly brimming with good vibes after their defenestration by Manchester City.
The vibes were weird in both corners. Bruno kept it simple – two centre-backs in the team, a packed midfield, N’Golo Kanté starting for the first time start since August – but Klopp went rogue with seven changes. Out went Mohamed Salah, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson in a show of ruthlessness from Liverpool’s manager; in came a group of players who spent the early moments playing as if they had all been introduced to each other on the journey to London.
The wobbles would appear as early as the fourth minute, a misplaced pass from Kostas Tsimikas sending Chelsea away, Joël Matip just doing enough to stop João Félix. Already what passed for the Liverpool midfield was being overrun. Moments later Kanté was charging down the right and nobody was tracking Mateo Kovacic, who rounded Alisson and saw Ibrahima Konaté clear his shot off the line.
Bruno’s plan to overpower Liverpool and release Ben Chilwell and Reece James on the flanks was working. Roared on by the crowd, Chelsea kept pushing. Soon Chilwell was charging behind Joe Gomez, unconvincing with his distribution and positioning after replacing Alexander-Arnold, and crossing for Kai Havertz to draw a stop from Alisson.
Liverpool, weakened without the unwell Virgil van Dijk, toiled. This was only the third time their back four of Gomez, Matip, Konaté and Tsimikas had played together and it showed.
It would not be long before Klopp was tearing into Matip. As ever, though, the problem for Chelsea was the lack of a reliable finisher. James had a goal disallowed after Enzo Fernández strayed offside, but Félix and Havertz would both waste the kind of openings that Frank Lampard, who was here to watch his old side, would have gobbled up during his pomp.
No doubt Lampard would have recognised the profligacy from his time in charge of Chelsea. It encouraged Liverpool on. Jordan Henderson threatened to embarrass Kepa Arrizabalaga when the goalkeeper strayed. There were also bright runs from Diogo Jota and the half would end with Liverpool on top, with Darwin Núñez and Gomez testing Arrizabalaga and Wesley Fofana blocking Fabinho’s goalbound drive.
Chelsea needed to regroup. In time, they hope to have a permanent manager delivering the half-time message. Contact has already been made with Luis Enrique and Nagelsmann, although whoever takes over will surely want to add a goalscorer to this squad. Creating chances is not an issue. Yet it felt like the same old story when Kovacic ran clear at the start of the second half and lifted a woeful shot over.
Was it going to be one of those nights? It felt that way when Kanté spotted a gaping hole in Liverpool’s defence, Havertz saw his initial effort saved by Alisson and the Germany forward’s celebrations were cut short after a VAR review confirmed the rebound had gone in off his arm.
Chelsea were grasping for conviction, even with Kanté running midfield. Liverpool came again, Núñez enjoying his battle with Fofana, and Klopp would soon turn to his bench. It felt a bit like old times when Salah and Robertson were on.
The hosts responded, introducing Raheem Sterling, Mykhailo Mudryk and Conor Gallagher. But it ended in the second goalless draw between these sides this season. – Guardian