Mykhailo Mudryk made a bright Chelsea debut as just like last season, us and Liverpool couldn’t be separated on a bitterly cold afternoon at Anfield.
The Ukrainian came on early in the second half and immediately showcased his speed, skill and awareness. On another afternoon Mudryk might even have grabbed a couple of goals for himself to settle this tight encounter.
We had in fact found the net inside three minutes through Kai Havertz, but our celebrations were cut short when VAR found him in an offside position from Thiago Silva’s shot that hit the post and fell at his feet.
Most of the best chances thereafter fell Chelsea’s way in what was our best performance on the road for quite some time. Benoit Badiashile, again impressive on his second appearance, was thwarted by Alisson and the man that set that opportunity up, Hakim Ziyech, twice went close in the second half.
Kepa made a few routine saves but there was never a real threat to our goal as we recorded a second consecutive clean sheet, and our first away from home since October.
The only change Graham Potter made to his starting XI led to plenty of pre-match speculation about how it would affect the team’s shape. As it turned out, the incoming Marc Cucurella slotted in at left-back, with Lewis Hall moving into central midfield alongside Jorginho. Conor Gallagher operated behind Havertz, at least for the first hour of the contest before Mudryk’s introduction.
Another player who came off the bench, Cesar Azpilicueta, made his 500th Chelsea appearance in the process. Only five players have managed more in our entire history. Congratulations, skipper!
Fine margins prevent early lead
The Blues thought we had made the perfect start when Havertz prodded home from close range after Thiago Silva’s initial effort hit the left-hand post from a Gallagher corner. However, a lengthy VAR check eventually proved Havertz’s left foot had been fractionally ahead of the ball when Thiago struck. With the ball hitting the post it was effectively a pass, so frustratingly our early celebrations were halted.
Liverpool responded by creating a good opening of their own, Cody Gakpo firing harmlessly over Kepa’s bar from Mohamed Salah’s square pass.
More Chelsea chances come and go
Chelsea looked much the more assured side, though. With Gallagher operating dangerously between midfield and attack, and the long ball over Liverpool’s high line always on, we were a threat. A Mount slip stopped him getting a shot away after Havertz had broken clear, and then Hall fired wide after an incisive Ziyech pass opened the hosts up.
Gallagher controlled and volleyed at Alisson from inside the D midway through a half the visiting support in the Anfield Road end were enjoying much more than their counterparts.
Shortly after the half-hour, we fashioned two more fantastic chances from Ziyech set-piece deliveries. The first, from wide on the left, was begging to be headed in by Badiashile, but Alisson stood tall to block his header and deny the defender a first Chelsea goal. Ziyech’s next free-kick was from the right flank, but just as effective. This time, Havertz glanced a trickier opportunity wide, and beyond Badiashile’s reach.
Reds on top either side of the break
Liverpool did gather something of a head of steam before the interval - Thiago Silva required to make one vital headed interception from a teasing Robertson cross, and Salah curling well over – but the teams went in goalless with Chelsea feeling the better about their performance, even if we had no advantage to show for it.
Liverpool returned from the dressing rooms with a renewed sense of urgency. Ibrahima Konate immediately chanced his arm from distance, and it needed a Thiago Silva block to stop Naby Keita’s volley finding the bottom corner. Gakpo then headed wastefully over, and Jorginho got across to block the Dutch attacker testing Kepa.
On 55 minutes, Potter responded to Liverpool’s increasing dominance by bringing on Mudryk for Hall. Our new Ukrainian was deployed on the left of the three behind Havertz, Mount moved infield and Gallagher dropped deeper alongside Jorginho.
Mudryk makes his mark
The move heralded short-term gains. Gallagher was thwarted and Ziyech embarked on a mazy dribble that took him past four or five red-shirted players, but unfortunately the finish didn’t match the run, blasted over Alisson’s bar.
Mudryk showed what he was all about in the 65th minute, feeding Gallagher, collecting the return pass and weaving past two Liverpool defenders in a very tight spot. His left-footed strike from a narrow angle thumped into the side-netting.
The winger then showcased his speed. James Milner had a clear head start but he sped past him to get to the ball first, only for the veteran to scythe him down and earn a yellow.
Midway through the second half, one in which the overall quality had improved, Gakpo spun and shot in one movement, Kepa equal to it low to his right.
We went back on the attack, and two searching Ziyech crosses were not far away at all from finding an unmarked Mudryk at the far post.
Stalemate it is
A delightful backheel from Mudryk had the Chelsea support roaring in delight although the move came to nothing, unlike one a minute or two earlier which ended with Ziyech’s goalbound effort blocked by Gomez.
Ten minutes remained when Potter made a triple sub, bringing on Carney Chukwuemeka, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Azpilicueta for Mount, Havertz and Chalobah, who hobbled off.
Azpi started his landmark appearance with a trademark defensive header having picked up an intelligent position to reach Jordan Henderson’s cross ahead of Darwin Nunez.
Another sub, Chukwuemeka, had the game’s final chance and a good one at that. Mudryk was again in the thick of things, cutely slipping in the youngster who didn’t get his shot away in time before being tackled. It summed up things in front of goal for us, in what was otherwise a good Chelsea performance that should further lift confidence before we’re back in action next month.
There’s the best part of a fortnight until our next game when Fulham head across town on Friday 3 February. Kick-off at the Bridge is at 8pm.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Kepa; Chalobah (Azpilicueta 81), Thiago Silva, Badiashile, Cucurella; Jorginho (c), Hall (Mudryk 55); Ziyech, Gallagher, Mount (Chukwuemeka 82); Havertz (Aubameyang 81).
Unused subs Bettinelli, Humphreys, Koulibaly, Loftus-Cheek, D Fofana.
Booked Chalobah 80
Liverpool (4-3-3): Alisson; Milner (c) (Alexander-Arnold 72), Konate, Gomez, Robertson; Keita (Nunez 63), Bajcetic (Henderson 82), Thiago; Salah, Gakpo (Fabinho 82), Elliott (Jones 82).
Unused subs Kelleher, Matip, Tsimikas, Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Booked Bajcetic 34, Mudryk 66, Jones 90
Referee Michael Oliver