Liverpool and Chelsea scrapped and haggled as hard as they could on Saturday before ultimately settling for a 0-0 draw at Anfield that does little for either team’s faint hopes of a top-four finish in the Premier League this season.
Kai Havertz thought he’d scored inside three minutes after Liverpool failed to defend a corner, but VAR overturned the effort for offside and the game settled back into a frustrating rhythm.
It was a day of notable moments — Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp celebrating his 1,000th game as manager, the English top flight (including Premier League) reportedly staging its 50,000th fixture and a debut for much-ballyhooed wide man Mykhailo Mudryk — but the match itself will not go down in the history books as the two sides fought to a frustrating stalemate.
The result leads both teams firmly stuck in mid-table, with Liverpool in eighth and Chelsea in 10th ahead of the weekend’s other fixtures, separated only by goal difference on 29 points with Brentford between them, and Chelsea having played a game more than both. Back to the drawing board, then.
1. Two struggling teams will be grateful for the shared points
Whatever these two teams were hoping to get out of Saturday, they clearly didn’t get it, though both Klopp and Chelsea boss Graham Potter will strain and stretch to extract the positives from a goalless game that doesn’t hurt their respective missions to get back into the European places before it’s too late (don’t tell them it already might be too late, though).
For Liverpool, they didn’t lose! They conceded a goal that was disallowed! Phew! They looked better once Darwin Nunez joined Cody Gakpo and Mohamed Salah in attack, Trent Alexander-Arnold didn’t make a critical mistake, and Alisson again was sturdy and stoic to deny Chelsea’s best scoring chances. With so many injuries, Stefan Bajcetic again got the nod in central midfield and showed he has something to offer at the senior level, while Naby Keita‘s poor passing was offset by a lively display of pressing and persistence to keep Chelsea’s midfield off balance.
For Chelsea, it’s another well-earned point away from home as Potter continues to shuffle a team and squad in transition. Thiago Silva anchored the defense nicely with Benoit Badiashile, Jorginho used every ounce of his veteran nous to disrupt the hosts’ attempts at possession and Hakim Ziyech made the most of his wing-back exile to apply pressure on a Liverpool defense that’s built on sand.
While both sides can claim some degree of victory from a draw that was admittedly dull for long stretches, it will also leave them frustrated. For as bad as this way, both Liverpool and Chelsea could have finagled all three points: Havertz had a goal disallowed in the third minute for offside (replays showed it to be a fair call), Gakpo wasted several big chances and Nunez also will know he should have converted late on. Chelsea debutant Mykhailo Mudryk also gave the home side some nervous moments with two far-post efforts shanked into the side netting after whizzing into a promising position.
2. If Klopp is to get another 1,000 games as a manager, he’ll need to reinvent things
Liverpool fans will have hoped that their talismanic manager could get three points in such a milestone game, but his choices and his tactics again failed to produce the desired result. Is it time for a fundamental change in how they play?
With less emphasis on pressing from the front, a more traditional center-forward in Nunez and plenty of senior players injured (Virgil van Dijk, Roberto Firmino, Diogo Jota, Luis Diaz) or woefully out of form (Trent Alexander-Arnold, Fabinho, Curtis Jones), something must give. But what, exactly?
The first half saw Liverpool create just one scoring chance — a deflected Thiago shot that nestled gently in Kepa Arrizabalaga‘s hands — and, despite a furious opening 10 minutes of the second half in which they hustled with pace and nastiness, things soon regressed to the mean.
Waves of possession resulted in half-chances or rushed first-time shots that troubled Row Z rather than the Chelsea goalkeeper. Salah cut a frustrated figure on the right given how little he was able to get the ball in space to run at the Blues defense, Keita played more passes to the opposition despite covering every inch of the Anfield pitch, and the fan frustration was impossible to ignore by the final whistle.
To Klopp’s credit, he’s clearly trying to find the right motivational lever to pull with a squad sorely lacking good vibes — he started eight of the XI that won 1-0 at Wolves in midweek, perhaps a reward for getting Liverpool’s first good result of 2023 — though it’s not working. At least not as it should be. A formation change, longer run of games with Nunez up front, Alexander-Arnold in midfield, Salah in midfield? Something’s got to give, and quickly: they face Wolves away, Everton at home and Newcastle United away in the league before a stomach-sinking Champions League date with Real Madrid.
3. Chelsea’s new signings hint at a brighter second half of the season
Transfers and signings has become a bit of a meme when it comes to Todd Boehly and his methods. From comically long contracts to seemingly buying every winger linked with a Premier League move, Chelsea’s squad these days has more of a “Getting To Know You” feel than one of a well-honed collective. But there is some method to the madness as a pair of those new arrivals in particular, Badiashile (signing No. 13 of 2022-23) and Mudryk (signing No. 15), seem more than capable of hauling the Blues back up the table.
Much had been written about Mudryk’s pace prior to his arrival at Chelsea, but Saturday saw him demonstrate why he was such a coveted transfer target this winter. In a breezy 40-minute cameo on the left wing, the Ukraine international gave James Milner nightmares (and a deserved yellow card) while his ability to speed into menacing positions at the far post could have resulted in a couple of goals. Those goals will come with better control, and maybe better timing, but it was a promising debut for a player who has a lot of hype to live up to.
Meanwhile, Badiashile is a natural fit alongside Thiago Silva in the heart of the Blues’ defense. He gave Gakpo little room around goal, always served as the final, insurmountable obstacle for rare Salah forays into the box, and had sharper distribution of the ball than virtually everyone else on the pitch. His presence was sufficiently frustrating for a Liverpool side that is still searching for some momentum.
For now, we can chuckle at the fact that many of these Chelsea players have barely finished the meet-and-greet, but there’s a lot of talent in the squad, tons of options in attack and a manager in Graham Potter who could yet figure it out. Chelsea fans just need to hope Boehly isn’t as jumpy with his coaches as he is with his transfers.
Best and worst performers
Thiago Silva, DF, Chelsea: He might be up there in age, but the veteran defender was so often the calming presence to nullify what little Liverpool created.
Thiago, MF, Liverpool: He’s always the liveliest player in Liverpool’s midfield and Saturday saw him really be the only one in red trying to create things when confronted with a packed Chelsea defense.
Hakim Ziyech, FW, Chelsea: Had one brilliant run beyond a string of broken tackles that deserved a goal, but the Morocco international was aggressive and all too eager to run at Liverpool throughout.
Naby Keita, MF, Liverpool: Lots of hustle, little end product. Misplayed enough passes to frustrate the home fans.
Kai Havertz, FW, Chelsea: Isolated up front throughout and didn’t get many opportunities to impact the game or its outcome after his early goal was disallowed by VAR.
Cody Gakpo, FW, Liverpool: Was involved in some of Liverpool’s brighter moments, but needs to translate his sharp finishing from the Eredivisie and the World Cup to his new club. Snatched at shots, giving fans a souvenir rather than a goal to celebrate.
Highlights and notable moments
Before the match, Liverpool hailed their much-loved boss Klopp as he prepared for his 1,000th match as a manager.
Tomorrow marks Jürgen Klopp’s 1️⃣0️⃣0️⃣0️⃣th game in management.
A truly incredible achievement 👏 pic.twitter.com/yWHjIU6xZC
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) January 20, 2023
There was a lot of fuss surrounding Mudryk’s transfer to Chelsea, but fans finally got to see what he can do when he came on as a second-half substitute and got everyone off their seat with a mazy dribble into the area.
A nearly brilliant finish for Chelsea’s newest signing, Mykhailo Mudryk.
— NBC Sports Soccer (@NBCSportsSoccer) January 21, 2023
After the match: What the players/managers said
Jurgen Klopp: “A clean sheet against Chelsea, we didn’t create a lot of chances and they had some as well. We defended in the second half with passion and clear organisation, but we were too deep in these moments. In the end, I’m okay with 0-0 because you have to accept these steps. We can build on that. Both teams were very aggressive.”
Graham Potter, on whether Mudryk will start the next game: “No, he’s not played since November. Hasn’t had any game time. It would’ve been a risk. He’ll get better the more he is with us. Sometimes people think us coaches turn top players into top players. But [players like] Mudryk understand the game. It’s just fine-tuning it a bit.”
Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information research)
– This match was the 50,000th in the history of the English top flight, 134 years since the first league competition began.
– This was the first Premier League meeting between Liverpool and Chelsea with both clubs outside of the top four since 2016.
– Kai Havertz’s disallowed goal was the fourth Liverpool have had overturned by VAR this season, more than any other Premier League club.
– This was the third consecutive meeting between these two clubs to end 0-0, after last season’s Carabao Cup and FA Cup finals (both of which Liverpool won on penalties). They have gone over six hours of playing against each other without either side scoring a goal.
– Liverpool have failed to score a Premier League win over Chelsea in four attempts for the first time since 2017-18.
– Chelsea have now earned 15 Premier League points at Anfield since the start of 2013, five more than the next nearest club (Crystal Palace, with 10 points).
Liverpool: Klopp now has a week to rest before match No. 1,001 as a manager, which will be an FA Cup fourth-round tie at Brighton (stream LIVE Sunday, Jan. 29, at 2 p.m. ET on ESPN+ in the U.S.), before their Premier League campaign resumes at Wolves on Feb. 4.
Chelsea: With the Blues already out of the FA Cup after the third round for the first time in 25 years, they have plenty of time for their new signings to settle in (and maybe make a few more) before they host local rivals Fulham at Stamford Bridge on Feb. 3.