Chelsea produced a heroic second-half defensive effort to secure a point at Anfield despite playing more than 45 minutes with 10 men.
A match between two teams with 100 per cent records this season started at a fierce pace and it looked like it could be a great day for Chelsea as we made the better of the early chances, before Kai Havertz gave us the lead with a brilliant looping front-post header from Reece James’ corner.
The game was turned on its head in one minute of first-half injury time, though, due to a VAR review. After heading to the touchline to watch the replays, referee Anthony Taylor decided James’ handball on the line was deliberate, meaning the Chelsea wing-back was given a red card and Mohamed Salah was able to equalise from the penalty spot with almost the last kick of the half.
That sending off, and an injury for N’Golo Kante, forced Thomas Tuchel to rethink at the break and the Blues were forced to defend stubbornly throughout the second half, but we denied our opponents clear chances while posing the occasional threat on the counter ourselves, to secure what could turn out to be a valuable point away against another team with title ambitions this season.
Cesar Azpilicueta made his 300th Premier League appearance for Chelsea on his 32nd birthday as the Blues made one change from last weekend's win at Arsenal. That one alteration saw N'Golo Kante replace Mateo Kovacic in central midfield alongside Jorginho.
In attack, Romelu Lukaku led the line once again supported by Kai Havertz and Mason Mount. Edouard Mendy continued in goal behind a back three of Azpilicueta, Andreas Christensen and Toni Rudiger, while Reece James and Marcos Alonso were preferred at wing-back.
Jurgen Klopp made three changes for Liverpool as Andy Robertson, Fabinho and Roberto Firmino came in.
After a slight mix-up and false start, with Romelu Lukaku too eager to begin the game, the Belgian striker kicked off with both sets of supporters making a great atmosphere. That desire to get going set the tone for the match’s opening, as both teams pressed relentlessly and pushed forward on the ball, giving the action a breathless pace.
It was Liverpool who produced the first effort on goal, as Harvey Elliott attempted a low drive from range. It was close enough to have Edouard Mendy diving to his left, but fizzed wide of the post.
We had to endure some early pressure, but Reece James’ strength and Kai Havertz’s skill allowed us to escape down the right and from the resulting free-kick, after the German was fouled by Virgil Van Dijk, Lukaku wasn’t too far away from getting on the end of the quick ball over the top.
Antonio Rudiger miscued his volley from another free-kick shortly afterwards, and then Mason Mount fired over from the edge of the box following a corner. Despite the home side’s strong opening few minutes, we certainly weren’t letting them have it all their own way at Anfield and were making the better of the openings.
We did receive a let off, though, as Jordan Henderson somehow managed to miss the target when free in the box on the end of Trent Alexander-Arnold’s cross from deep. Alonso then had to be alert to shepherd the ball away from Mohamed Salah at the back post as the blistering pace continued. There was nothing cagey about this game.
We continued to keep an eye out for the opportunity to play the ball in behind Liverpool’s high defensive line early, with Havertz the next to go close only to be beaten to it by Alisson.
However, less than a minute later, the German’s name was on the scoresheet. It came from a set-piece, this time James whipping in a corner. Havertz had plenty to do, though, as he met it well in advance of the near post, but got his head under and around the ball to brilliantly loop his header back over the crowd to drop beyond Alisson and under the crossbar at the back post.
Pushing for more
There was no sign at this stage we were content with a 1-0 lead, either. On two occasions Mount was close to playing Lukaku in behind Liverpool’s defence, one with a delightful scoop, and then Havertz had an effort from just inside the box deflected wide. Mendy had to be alert to come out and clear after a James pass was intercepted in a dangerous position, though, with Salah poised to pounce.
Mount was agonisingly close to making it two at the end of a brilliant passing move started by N’Golo Kante in our own half and ending with Lukaku sliding a pass into our number 19 on the left of the box. Mount did well to escape the attentions of Alexander-Arnold, but his finish rolled across goal and wide.
It was still an even contest but we seemed to be finding it easier than the Reds to carve out opportunities in the final third, although Elliott was guilty of wasting another opportunity for the home team as he sliced a volley high and wide inside the penalty area.
There was a further blow for Liverpool shortly before half-time as Roberto Firmino pulled up with an injury and had to be replaced with Diogo Jota, at the end of a long break in play for Kante to receive treatment.
That wasn’t the end of the drama, though, as a goalmouth scramble in first-half added-time resulted in a VAR review, and this time it was bad news for Chelsea. After heading to the touchline to watch the replays, referee Anthony Taylor award Liverpool a penalty and decided James’ handball on the line was worthy of a red card, which seemed a harsh judgement after the ball had ricocheted off his hip before hitting his arm.
That allowed Salah to net from the spot three minutes into injury time, with Antonio Rudiger being booked in the build-up to the penalty and Mendy receiving the same in the aftermath as the referee struggled to keep a lid on things.
Having been reduced to 10 men right on the stroke of half-time, and Kante struggling after his first-half injury, Thomas Tuchel made two changes during the break to try and keep our shape intact. That saw Kante replaced by Mateo Kovacic in a straight swap, while Havertz made way for Thiago Silva to slot into the back three, with Cesar Azpilicueta switching to wing-back.
Liverpool seemed determined to make their numerical advantage count, though, and five minutes into the second half the Blues were starting to find prolonged possession hard to come by, and we needed to be alert at the back as Jota headed Salah’s dangerous outside-of-the-boot cross over and then Mendy stretched low to turn a powerful Van Dijk long-shot away.
We were trying to use Lukaku as an outlet for our occasional counter-attacks, the Belgian combining well with Alonso down the left on one such venture forward, but Mount couldn’t get his head on the resulting cross.
It was getting nervy for the Blues, though. We were coming under sustained pressure from the home side and their one-man advantage, as Mendy had to push away long-range efforts from Fabinho and Andy Robertson.
It was clear it was going to be a tough last half-an-hour for Chelsea at Anfield, but the combination of Alonso and Lukaku was still providing our best chance to get forward and relieve the pressure. It even looked like the latter might have a chance to snatch us a goal when Alonso headed a Mount cross back into the danger area, but Lukaku’s volley was charged down. Alonso was then called upon at the other end to make a crucial intervention to pluck the ball off Salah’s toe in the six-yard box.
With 15 minutes to go, the game had settled into a clear pattern, a long way from the frantic opening spell. Now, Liverpool were understandably taking the majority of possession in our half, while we tried to release Lukaku early after winning it back. The Belgian was constantly trying to isolate himself with the Reds’ last defender and urging his team-mates to play a pass for him to run on to one-on-one, but it was taking time for players to get forward and support him as we focused our efforts on containing Liverpool’s threat with 10 men.
As time wore on, legs started to tire, Liverpool continued to press their advantage and Mendy was required to make a couple more saves, it became clear that it was going to take a heroic effort to leave Anfield with any points. That is exactly what we managed to do, though, even if we had to settle for just the one. The result does keep us joint top of table, alongside the Reds and West Ham United.
Domestic football now takes a week off for the international break, but when it returns we will be back at Stamford Bridge in the Premier League, to host Aston Villa on Saturday 11 September.
Chelsea (3-4-3): Mendy; Azpilicueta (c), Christensen, Rudiger; James, Jorginho (Chalobah 88), Kante (Kovacic h-t), Alonso; Havertz (Thiago Silva h-t), Lukaku, Mount
Unused subs: Kepa, Chilwell, Loftus-Cheek, Hudson-Odoi, Ziyech, Werner
Scorer: Havertz 21
Booked: Rudiger 45+2, Mendy 45+3
Sent off: James 45+2
Liverpool (4-3-3): Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Matip, Van Dijk, Robertson (Tsimikas 86); Henderson (c) (Thiago 73), Fabinho, Elliott; Mane, Firmino (Jota 43), Salah
Unused subs: Kelleher, Gomez, Konate, Keita, Minamino, Oxlade-Chamberlain
Scorer: Salah (pen) 45+3
Referee: Anthony Taylor