If the first half of this game was all the football I got to watch in a year, I’d be a happy customer.
Sure, the Reds dropped a two-goal lead, but in all honesty, I can’t begrudge Chelsea for tying the game. They deserved it. Their comeback started on the back of a truly remarkable wondergoal by Mateo Kovacic, after a fantastic save from Kelleher (we’ll get to him in a bit). I found myself cheering for Kovacic even as I was feeling the pain of seeing it go in. The replays just reinforce that what looked like a freak was indeed a freak. I don’t think Kovacic himself knew that he was such an excellent ballerina, and he was able to generate devastating power and accuracy with one foot while practically balanced on his tiptoe. We’ve seen amazing long-range volleys of course – Townsend against City a couple years ago pops to mind, or that famous Gerard one – but they typically require a perfect body position to execute. Not so today.
Pulisic, on the back of the momentum from that insane goal, then tied it right before half time with his own, excellent effort. It was all square, and the break was desperately needed to allow everyone to catch their breath.
It wasn’t just the players in blue that scored brilliant goals. Let’s start with Mane. He came into this game angry, and his yellow card five seconds into the game was illustrative. It showed up again a few minutes later. In the face of ongoing pressure from the hosts, Mane maintained his composure to control the ball after a huge error by Chalobah, and to move it away from the onrushing Mendy just enough (something that Pulisic failed to do in the other end, thanks to Kelleher to whom, I promise, we will get in a moment). Then he struck it with so much ferocity that if there were a player in front of it, they might not have survived the impact. In bygone days, that ball might have sliced right through the net.
Then we get to Salah. How do you explain Salah? Try doing it with someone who doesn’t know football, and wants to understand why they heard that Mo Salah is the best in the world. It’s difficult to find the right words. Watch his goal over and over, and even acknowledging the genius of the pass from Trent, he still had so much work to do. And yet he made it look effortless, efficiently generating space for himself with a brilliant drop of the shoulder before coolly slotting it at the near post against one of the best keepers in the world. Audacious, even outrageous, and well earned.
And so we had our final scoreline at halftime.
It’s not that the second half was bad; only that it wasn’t as good in comparison to the insane first one. And in reality, there were plenty of opportunities to come, mostly for the Blues. Coming out of Stamford Bridge today with a point was, in all, a pretty good achievement, because Liverpool could have easily lost. I don’t quite remember when the team last played a game when it didn’t have the – often large – majority of possession. And in keeping control of the ball, Chelsea repeatedly embarrassed the Merseysiders, who are not used to playing so much in their own half. The constant pressure from the hosts was coupled with poor passing from Liverpool, especially in midfield, that resulted in one turnover after another.
It’s hard for me to pick a man-of-the-match, because nobody truly excelled. Some were mostly absent, like Diogo Jota, who should have come off sooner. Yet Kelleher in goal was, perhaps, consistently better than the rest, and considering the level of threat he had to face repeatedly, seems like the right pick. More than any other player, and on a couple of notable occasions, he was responsible for this not ending worse. The problem is, of course, that City keeps winning, and so getting a point means two more lost to them. City is now threatening to run away with the league.
January has recently become established as the Reds’ worst on the schedule in terms of performance.
This January is going to be decisive.