LIVERPOOL: Thomas Tuchel believes Chelsea showed the resilience that can make them Premier League champions in frustrating Liverpool for 45 minutes with a man down in a 1-1 draw at Anfield on Saturday. Kai Havertz’s looping header put the visitors in front before Reece James was sent-off in first-half stoppage time for handball on his own goal line and Mohamed Salah converted the resulting penalty. But Jurgen Klopp’s men failed to make their man advantage count in the second-half as the European champions showed resilience to dig out a precious point that strengthened their title credentials.
“We showed great resilience and deserved the point,” said Tuchel. “I cannot praise the team enough I do not know if there is a harder stadium than at (Manchester) City or Anfield to go one man down. Suddenly the world was upside down, I can’t praise the team’s resilience enough. It felt like it would never end. I was hoping we would survive and take a well-deserved point.”
The two sides and Manchester United, with Cristiano Ronaldo back at Old Trafford, are expected to pose Manchester City a much tougher challenge to retain the Premier League this season. And the first heavyweight clash of the campaign did not disappoint with a raucous Anfield atmosphere the accompaniment to 90 minutes of high drama that left both sides level at the top of the table with seven points from three games.
Liverpool’s title defense was knocked off course by a series of long-term injuries to key players last season. However, with Virgil van Dijk and Joel Matip restored in central defense, allowing Jordan Henderson and Fabinho to play their more familiar midfield roles, the Reds’ blend of intense pressing and counter-attacking was back to its best early on.
And Klopp insisted he was not too despondent with the draw. “Everybody thinks playing against 10 men it is easy, it is an advantage in possession but their defensive structure only changes in that they defend a little deeper,” said Klopp. “It’s really early in the season. We drew against obviously the best team in Europe last year. That’s ok, it’s a good start. Three games, seven points, let’s go.”
Klopp made the bold call to give 18-year-old Harvey Elliott just his second Premier League start with Thiago Alcantara left on the bench. Elliott fired the first shot inches wide before Henderson then missed a glorious chance to open the scoring when he volleyed wide on his weaker left foot from Trent Alexander-Arnold’s inch-perfect cross.
Chelsea had barely threatened until they hit the hosts with a sucker punch on 22 minutes when Havertz’s header brilliantly guided James’s corner into the far corner. The Blues then could have put the game beyond Liverpool before the game-changing incident at the end of the first-half. Romelu Lukaku announced his return to English football by scoring on his second Chelsea debut in a routine 2-0 win at Arsenal last weekend. The Belgian struggled when up against Van Dijk, but got the better of Matip to send Mason Mount through on goal and the England midfielder’s shot flashed across goal.
Liverpool were struggling to pick holes in the Chelsea back five until a corner deep into first-half stoppage time. Matip’s header came back off the crossbar and in the goalmouth scramble James stopped Sadio Mane’s effort crossing the line with his hand. There seemed little intent from the England international, but once referee Anthony Taylor awarded the penalty following a VAR review, he had little option but to send James off for denying a clear goalscoring opportunity.
At half-time, Tuchel sent on Thiago Silva for his first appearance of the season in place of Havertz to shore up his defense ahead of the expected Liverpool siege. But the home side were largely restricted to efforts from long range as Van Dijk, Fabinho and Andy Robertson tested Edouard Mendy, while Henderson curled a shot inches wide. Chelsea could even have stolen all three points late on when Alisson Becker made a meal of stopping Mateo Kovacic’s strike on the break. – AFP