Kelleher’s chance and midfield needs strengthening – Last word on Chelsea 2-2 Liverpool

There was plenty of chaos for Liverpool at Chelsea as they relinquished a two-goal lead that was reminiscent of the early years under Jurgen Klopp.

The Reds knew three points were essential to at least keep within striking distance of Man City, but instead it was a share in the spoils that did little to help Liverpool or Chelsea.

Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane looked to have handed the best parting gift they could provide with two early goals, but the inability to suck the life out of the game allowed the hosts to strike back.

Chances would come and go in the second half but the 2-2 scoreline would remain to leave Liverpool without a league win from their last three.

Here, This Is Anfield’s Joanna Durkan (@JoannaDurkan_) is joined by Ben Kelly (@bkelly776) and Dan Clubbe (@dan_clubbe) to discuss the draw at Chelsea and the midfield frailties.


Any positives from the draw…

LONDON, ENGLAND - Sunday, January 2, 2022: Liverpool's goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher during the FA Premier League match between Chelsea FC and Liverpool FC at Stamford Bridge. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

BEN: I thought the main positive was the performance of the goalkeeper, Caoimhin Kelleher.

I think it’s in games like yesterday where we really see the benefits of ‘cup teams’ and in this case, the experience in goal Caoimhin has had in the League Cup meant he was absolutely ready when called upon.

The incident early on where he was quickly out to Christian Pulisic’s feet set the tone for his performance. He didn’t spill one cross from a corner or any long-range efforts that looked awkward.

For the Kovacic goal, he did everything we could expect him to do. He got a great punch on the ball and was unlucky the strike in return was so good and went in off the post. He was superb.

DAN: I agree, Ben. Perhaps the biggest positive from the match was yet another example of Kelleher stepping into the breach and looking every bit worthy of being the understudy to Alisson.

JOANNA: These guys have said it all really but did like how composed and calm he was. Could he have done better for Pulisic’s goal though? Probably.

But it’s great to have Kelleher as our No. 2, a huge improvement on our previous understudies and he’s really benefitting from Alisson‘s proclivity to miss a handful of games each season.

LONDON, ENGLAND - Sunday, January 2, 2022: Liverpool's Sadio Mané goes around Chelsea's Chelsea's goalkeeper Édouard Mendy to score the opening goal during the FA Premier League match between Chelsea FC and Liverpool FC at Stamford Bridge. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

BEN: Other positives? Probably Mane ending his goal drought. That might be about it.

JOANNA: I was really pleased for Mane that he could tuck away his goal, it wasn’t his best performance – nor was it anyone else’s – but to get that off his back before he left felt like a relief for all.

DAN: Definitely, whilst it looks unlikely to directly benefit Liverpool in the immediate term, Mane’s return to goalscoring form was a plus point having previously looked way out of sorts in front of goal.

And both the pass from Trent Alexander-Arnold and the finish from Salah underlined their quality as well as their telepathic link-up.


Dropping points after taking a two goal lead…

LONDON, ENGLAND - Sunday, January 2, 2022: Chelsea's Christian Pulisic scores after his side's second goal, equalising the score at 2-2, during the FA Premier League match between Chelsea FC and Liverpool FC at Stamford Bridge. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

DAN: Letting a two-goal lead slip in any game is criminal – let alone in the space of four minutes against a potential Premier League title rival.

Unfortunately, that type of thing has been all too commonplace this season and could ultimately mean Liverpool fall short in the race.

BEN: The most disappointing part of the draw, despite it stating the obvious, was being 2-0 up. But also, I felt like we settled for it in the end.

We had a bright spell early in the second half, but after Konate needed treatment, we seemed to have the wind taken out of our sails and it felt pretty flat from there.

I’d have liked to have seen us risk the point we had in order to take all three. But ultimately, dropping points from winning positions is the reason we aren’t in a title race anymore.

We’ve done it on five occasions this season, some incidents more forgivable than others, but when you think about this game, the October draw with Brighton, the game away at Brentford, these have to go down as incredibly sloppy points dropped that Man City simply wouldn’t.

LONDON, ENGLAND - Sunday, January 2, 2022: Liverpool's first-team development coach Pepijn Lijnders during the FA Premier League match between Chelsea FC and Liverpool FC at Stamford Bridge. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

City let Leicester back into the game at the Etihad on Boxing Day, but as soon as they did, stepped it up another gear and took the game away from them again. I’m not sure we have the ability to do that at the moment.

JOANNA: It’s a part of our game we couldn’t fathom doing a few seasons back but as many alluded to on social media, it’s as though we’ve turned back the clock in this regard to the earlier Klopp days.

The loss of control was immediate after Kovacic pegged one back, the legs looked heavier and everything looked that little bit more laboursome.

The high line felt uncomfortable for many of the players, Trent, in particular, was twitchy and always looked as though he dropped back first and the furthest, which did not help in pulling back any of the momentum.

Lots to improve in this regard. As Ben noted, we’ve dropped points in this position far too often and we’re paying the price.


Does it highlight how important strengthening the midfield is in the summer?

BEN: I think it does, I think we’re entering a very important 12 months for this Liverpool squad. We simply have to spend money in the next two windows refresh things.

Pre-game, I wasn’t too fussed with Milner starting, I knew he’d want to gain control of the midfield, particularly with Kante about. I’m not sure the call worked, but nobody in the midfield played particularly well.

Henderson looked off it, Fabinho had a stinker. Milner’s tackle to give away the free-kick for the first goal will be singled out, but no one played well.

This squad’s sell-by date is just starting to appear over the horizon. It’s not an immediate problem, but investment in the midfield and forward positions within the next 12 months will be massive to help us prepare for when the players in the 28-31 range hit the stage where they can’t play at the top level week-in-week-out anymore.

We see it from Milner now, you can get good performances from him when he plays, but he’s not capable of doing it every week, sometimes twice a week. Klopp has always talked about ‘leaving the club in a good place’ when he leaves, I am pretty certain that the wheels for that need to be set in motion in the next two windows.

INNSBRUCK, AUSTRIA - Thursday, July 29, 2021: Liverpool's James Milner during a pre-season friendly match between Liverpool FC and Hertha BSC at the Tivoli Stadion. (Pic by Jürgen Faichter/Propaganda)

JOANNA: I agree Ben. These next couple of windows are paramount to get right and it needs investment to keep the squad rolling rather than coming to a halt, which we’ve experienced enough.

Klopp is loyal, we know that and while there is Harvey Elliott and Curtis Jones to look to, more is needed in midfield across the board but to also lessen the load on Fabinho with Thiago, unfortunately, not always available.

It has been an area of the pitch decimated by injury and Covid so far this season which has helped nobody, and perhaps the newly defined triangles, particularly on the right, have opened up too much of the pitch in the defensive transition.

We’re light in the department and there can be no way that another summer window goes by without Liverpool adding to their ranks.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, August 8, 2021: Athletic Club Bilbao's Oihan Sancet (C) is challenged by Liverpool's Naby Keita (L) and James Milner (R) during a pre-season friendly match between Liverpool FC and Athletic Club de Bilbao at Anfield. The game ended in a 1-1 draw. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

DAN: I was one of the many left surprised by the non-arrival of a replacement for Gini Wijnaldum. Whilst on paper the squad has the capacity to flourish in that area, regular issues to the likes of Thiago, Naby Keita and the long-term absence of Elliott has left us all too exposed in the department.

Much love to Milner – who outperformed many of his teammates – but the match shouldn’t have been a game for a soon to be 36-year-old to start in the engine room.

The £54 million on Keita is currently the highest figure spent on a midfielder under Jurgen Klopp, some four years ago now – that simply has to change in 2022.