It took a late strike from substitute Christian Benteke to seal a 1-1 draw at home to Chelsea on Wednesday night, belying a limp performance.
Liverpool 1-1 Chelsea
Premier League – Anfield – Wednesday 11 May, 2016
Goals: Benteke 90+3′; Hazard 32′
Welcoming Chelsea to Anfield for their final home game of the season, Liverpool looked to continue their push for a fifth-placed finish with a comprehensive victory over the Blues.
On his 50th game in charge of the club, Jurgen Klopp made eight changes to the side that won 2-0 at home to Watford on Sunday afternoon, with only Simon Mignolet, Alberto Moreno and Philippe Coutinho keeping their places in his strongest lineup.
Chelsea were without Thibaut Courtois, John Terry and Diego Costa, among others, leaving Guus Hiddink’s side looking a weak proposition on Merseyside—but this proved not to be the case.
Liverpool started bright, looking to use their width on the right flank, running at the out-of-position John Obi Mikel whenever possible, with Coutinho and Adam Lallana both testing Asmir Begovic in the first 10 minutes.
Chelsea began to grow into the game soon after, however, with the dancing feet of Pedro, Eden Hazard and Bertrand Traore all worrying the Kop as they loomed over the Reds defence.
Firmino found himself in a great position on 20 minutes, set free by Sturridge’s through ball, but racing through on goal the Brazilian took a heavy touch around Begovic and failed to get his shot on target.
While Liverpool supporters expected their attacking stars to shine, it was Hazard who turned on the magic just after the half-hour mark, capping a remarkable, mazy run with a well-placed finish from the edge of the area to put Chelsea 1-0 up.
Coutinho looked to keep things alive for the Reds before half-time, but a lack of movement around him saw the 23-year-old struggle to carve any openings.
Klopp’s side headed into the interval a goal behind, and the German will have drilled into his side the importance of ending this season’s Anfield run with a win.
Liverpool made no changes in terms of personnel at half-time, but Klopp opted for a switch in system, with Lallana dropping back and Firmino pushing forward to take up a diamond shape, focussing on the central areas.
Hazard remained the dangerman, however, threatening to put Chelsea 2-0 up on 56 minutes, trickling through trailing legs before sending a low shot towards goal that Mignolet gathered at second attempt.
Sturridge almost equalised minutes later, with Lallana threaded the striker through on goal, but Begovic was out to make a great save.
Lallana had a good chance to put the Reds level after a Moreno cross, but couldn’t divert his volley in, while Traore then tested Mignolet from range as Chelsea broke on the counter.
Klopp rolled the dice with 15 minutes to play, sending Benteke and Joe Allen on for Milner and Lallana, and Firmino almost nabbed a late strike as his free-kick deflected off the wall and just wide.
Liverpool upped the ante in the closing stages, throwing bodies forward with even Kolo Toure getting up to make a cross from the left flank, while Sheyi Ojo flashed an effort across goal with his first touch on 88 minutes.
It was Ojo’s delivery that led to Benteke’s late equaliser, with Begovic flapping at the youngster’s cross to allow the Belgian the simplest of headers.
TIA Man of the Match: Nathaniel Clyne
Liverpool: Mignolet; Clyne, Toure (Ojo 88′), Lovren, Moreno; Can, Milner (Allen 75′); Lallana (Benteke 75′), Coutinho, Firmino; Sturridge
Substitutes: Bogdan, Skrtel, Smith, Lucas, Allen, Ojo, Benteke.
Chelsea: Begovic; Azpilicueta, Mikel, Cahill, Baba; Fabregas, Matic; Pedro, Willian (Kenedy 57′), Hazard; Traore (Abraham 73′)
Substitutes: Amelia, Tomori, Kenedy, Loftus-Cheek, Palmer, Pato, Abraham