While Manchester City are pretty much at the top of the table, the English Premier League runners-up and thirds have put a classic on the table to show how much the EPL crown means to everyone involved.
Chelsea welcome Liverpool 11 points behind defending champions Pep Guardiola after their hard-fought victory over Arsenal on Saturday. Jürgen Klopp’s Reds were another point behind.
At Stamford Bridge, neither side could afford to fall further behind in the race and it looked like the guests were hungry for battle in the first few encounters.
We could have looked at a completely different script if Liverpool’s Sadio Mane had seen – unbelievably – red in the first five seconds after an undisguised elbow on Chelsea’s Cesar Azpilicueta on the sidelines. He escaped on a yellow – I think just because it was so early in the game – and went on to score as Liverpool blew their hosts away for the first 20 minutes.
Mane found space and Diego Jota fed the Senegalese star before traveling to the Africa Cup of Nations.
Stamford Bridge Terraces saw a bit of history when safe standing was back in a Premier League game for the first time since 1994, but they certainly wanted a seat when Mo Salah made the 2-0 win.
Trent Alexander-Arnold found the Egyptian – who will also go to AFCON after the game – and the Anfield hero who rolled over Mendy at close range.
So far, so easy for the Reds. The stage was set for another triumph for Liverpool, but suddenly Chelsea woke up.
Mateo Kovacic decided to take matters into his own hands after Marcos Alonso crushed his shot from Caoimhin Kelleher, who fired a volley to close the gap in the style of the goal of the season.
Stamford Bridge erupted shortly thereafter when N’Golo Kante upset Ibrahima Konate and Christian Pulisic equalized before the break.
With Klopp paused due to COVID, so to speak, the locker room conversations alone would have been fascinating during the break, but the second half started at the same breathless pace.
It was end-to-end, both keepers were busy and the tackles were flying. Sometimes only the offside flag offered a respite as both teams knew what was at stake.
Mendy had to do his best to beat Salah in the 57th minute when the Liverpool figurehead tried to sign off with a winner from a distance. Seconds later, Mendy struck an effort from Mane as Liverpool tried to assert themselves again.
The Stamford Bridge believers were in full voice now, roaring at their men in blue and again only the offside flag held their attacks while Liverpool looked fragile at the back.
In fact, Kelleher made a great block from Pulisic in the 63rd minute to give the home side the lead for the first time, letting Liverpool starter number 1 Allison Becker know the Reds had a replacement ready.
Chelsea were at the top for the last 15 minutes as Liverpool’s frustration grew. Mendy and Kelleher had to try their best on either end to hold the score.
Thomas Tuchel’s team knew Liverpool were on the ropes and the passionate crowd kept shouting them in the final minutes. Neither side managed to claim the winner, however, and in the end sharing the point with City in the driver’s seat did not help either side before the clash against Chelsea on January 15th.
How important a tie at Stamford Bridge will be in the 2021-22 EPL race remains to be seen, but that chance has been missed by both sides.