How Chelsea-Liverpool classic began 2022 with a bang

A Premier League classic, some sensational goals, a red card controversy and two title contenders a little further off the pace – it’s fair to say Chelsea and Liverpool’s 2-2 draw started the new year with a bang.

Not only were there magnificent individual goals from Mohamed Salah and Mateo Kovacic, there was some inspired goalkeeping from Liverpool stand-in Caoimhin Kelleher and Chelsea number one Edouard Mendy as well.

And while the return of a single point apiece did little for either side’s pursuit of leaders Manchester City, both bosses said it was a spectacle to behold.

“A brilliant match of football, everybody not in the stadium missed something,” Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel told Sky Sports.

“We turned it around, we were close to winning it. To coach in that game was high level – it was on the edge and could have gone either way. A good Sunday afternoon and new year.”

Liverpool were forced into changes by Covid – not least the absence of manager Jurgen Klopp, leaving his assistant Pep Lijnders in charge for a match he will likely never forget.

“It’s never boring with us, eh? Never,” Lijnders told BBC Radio 5 Live.

“We’re really proud of the boys because they made a proper football match. We could have made a lot of excuses but we didn’t, we attacked the game.

“There was incredible intensity from the start with both teams. Overall, for the public it must have been an unbelievable game.”

Former Liverpool midfielder Graeme Souness, in his role as a pundit for Sky Sports, agreed, saying: “What an advert for the Premier League. Two top teams, relentless and never stopped. A fabulous game of football and some fantastic goals.”

Glorious goals and great goalkeeping

Mohamed Salah's goal was his 16th in the Premier League this season, six clear of nearest rival and team-mate Diogo Jota
Mohamed Salah’s goal was his 16th in the Premier League this season, six clear of nearest rival and team-mate Diogo Jota

While Mane’s opener sprang from an error by Chelsea’s Trevoh Chalobah, the remaining three goals were all about attacking quality as Salah glided effortlessly past Marcos Alonso to double the Reds’ lead before Kovacic’s stunning first-time volley from 20 yards and a cool Pulisic strike.

“Nice goals, no? The first one [Kovacic] was absolutely brilliant but also the second was difficult,” smiled Tuchel.

Lijnders admitted there was little Liverpool could do for either Chelsea strike, shrugging: “Two incredible goals. You always try to put organisation in place to stop these situations but two incredible goals.”

Salah’s strike, meanwhile, drew high praise from BBC Radio 5 Live pundit Karen Carney, who said: “That is absolutely ridiculous. Ruthless. The only other player I’ve seen do that drop of the shoulder as good as that is Lionel Messi.”

While the second half bore almost as many opportunities as the first period, goalkeepers were on top with Mendy superbly denying Salah’s 35-yard chip as well as foiling Mane, while Reds understudy Kelleher, who had earlier made a smart stop from Pulisic, again thwarted the USA forward with an instinctive save from a close-range header.

It was only 23-year-old Republic of Ireland stopper Kelleher’s fourth Premier League start and his performance, along with that of his Chelsea counterpart, drew praise from Reds defender Virgil van Dijk.

“I am a big fan of him [Kelleher], he is a fantastic goalkeeper, he is learning from the best in my opinion in Alisson, his presence is good, he is confident on the ball. And Mendy had a fantastic game, too,” the Netherlands centre-back said.

Mane elbow puts Chelsea noses out of joint

Referee Anthony Taylor opted to brandish only a yellow card to Sadio Mane for his first-minute challenge on Cesar Azpilicueta
Referee Anthony Taylor opted to brandish only a yellow card to Sadio Mane for his challenge on Cesar Azpilicueta

No great game is complete without controversial moments, and that was certainly true of this one with Mane’s early elbow on Cesar Azpilicueta as the two challenged in the air.

The foul, which referee Anthony Taylor punished with only a yellow card, came inside the game’s opening 15 seconds, with Sky Sports pundits Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Souness both stating the Senegal striker should have seen red, although former Reds defender Jamie Carragher disagreed.

Mane went on to score the opener and also played a part in the build-up to Liverpool’s second goal.

“It’s a clear red,” said Azpilicueta. “I watched the replay but I didn’t need this because live I knew it was a red.

Tuchel, meanwhile, questioned why VAR sent off Reece James for deliberate handball in the reverse fixture at Anfield earlier this season, when 10-man Chelsea held out for a 1-1 draw.

“In the first game we got the red card and the referee was so quick to give the red card,” Tuchel told the BBC.

“They did not check it today. I hate to say it normally as I don’t like a red card early in the game, it can kill it – and Sadio Mane should always be on the pitch because he is a brilliant player and a good guy – but it is a red card.”

Manchester City the day’s only winners?

Both sets of players were disappointed at the final whistle after the second half, and four additional minutes, failed to yield a winner
Both sets of players were disappointed at the final whistle after the second half, and four additional minutes, failed to yield a winner

That the majority of players from both sides were doubled over or sank to the floor at the final whistle was no doubt partly down to exhaustion after a non-stop 94 minutes – but it also spoke volumes about the disappointment in both camps.

While Liverpool were understandably despondent about allowing a two-goal lead to slip, Chelsea’s players were equally downhearted, with the Blues 10 points behind City and the Reds a point further back.

“They are the ones at the top. The more points we are behind the happier they will be. It was up to us to close the gap,” said Azpilicueta.

For Liverpool, the challenge is perhaps arguably even greater even though they enjoy a game in hand on their two title rivals, given they will lose star strikers Mane and Salah, plus Naby Keita to international duty at the Africa Cup of Nations during January.

“Yes, it is a big gap, they have the title maybe to lose at the moment but anything can happen still,” said Reds defender Virgil van Dijk.

“We have been there and gave it away, so anything is possible. There’s no point giving up.”

Former England midfielder Carney, however, believes the cushion City enjoy will be insurmountable.

“Now for these teams it’s about making sure they don’t get hunted by other teams behind them,” she told BBC Radio 5 Live. “Nobody’s catching Man City the way it’s going.”

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