It’s mad to think that despite potentially missing out on European football next season, Liverpool and Chelsea could be among those fighting for the 2023/24 Premier League title.
They genuinely could though.
A ‘big six’ clash in early April between two of last season’s headline makers, two rivals that currently represent nothing more than this season’s fish and chip papers, but it’s difficult to visualise that these two clubs faced off in both of last season’s domestic cup finals.
Fixtures of this standing, especially at this time of year, are meant to be box office material for Sky Sports, yet they’ll be cursing their fate that it landed in their lap on the same night that three other Premier League games had significantly more compelling plotlines to them.
Sky’s amusing misfortune aside, I warned a few days ago that this could be a game that amounts to the battle of who could care less.
And, so it came to pass, on an evening when Chelsea looked the team more likely to turn a turgid goalless draw into three points, only for them to be kind enough to field Kai Havertz in their starting line-up.
A defence secured by the goalkeeper
On an occasion that at times reduced itself to walking football pace during the second half, the tone for Liverpool’s hopes was set when we were unnecessarily undone twice in the first five minutes – the overly generous Kostas Tsimikas with the poor ball for the first scare, while he was hopelessly dispossessed for the second.
Our Greek Scouser had a torrid night of it, later going on to toe-end a corner that took an age to hit the first man, one which will go in the Liverpool hall of shame alongside Iago Aspas’ all those years ago.
These were instances that left Tsimikas thanking Joel Matip and Ibrahima Konate for their respective interventions in deflecting a Joao Felix effort towards a Sunday League-quality skewed volley from Havertz, followed by the usually shot-shy Mateo Kovacic having an effort cleared in the six-yard box after he had been composed enough to go around Alisson.
This isn’t to suggest that Matip had a particularly halcyon evening of it.
In for the ill Virgil van Dijk, he was lucky to avoid an early yellow card. His positioning was regularly questionable and his passing was sometimes ill-thought-out and careless.
There were three changes to the backline that was so unremittingly awful at Eastlands on Saturday.
While Matip and Tsimikas gave Konate palpitations aplenty, Joe Gomez slipped under the radar with a steady if unspectacular Yang of a performance when compared to the benched saint and sinner that is Trent Alexander-Arnold‘s Yin.
Alisson was key, he was the one player who could leave the pitch at the end with a defined sense of a job well done.
His point-blank save from Havertz in the six-yard box, in the first half, effectively killed off the home side’s belief that they could procure a goal.
Stats don’t tell the whole story
Apparently, we had more efforts on target than Chelsea did.
But, apart from Gomez’s speculative pop at Kepa Arrizabalaga’s top corner and Fabinho‘s shot deflected wide by Wesley Fofana from the resultant corner, the other 50 percent of Liverpool’s chances aren’t easy to conjure from memory.
Chelsea, of course, had the ball in the net twice. Reece James was denied by a far slimmer offside call than it first seemed, with Harvetz later nudging the ball in with his arm. The longer the game went on the more it huffed and puffed.
Curtis Jones was thrown in for just his second league start of the season and Jordan Henderson tried to be the grown-up in midfield for us, but as with Fabinho, everything was laboured, both individually and as a collective.
It meant that our ineffectual front three were all too isolated.
While it will come for him, Diogo Jota looks like a man who is lightyears away from finding a goal, while Bobby Firmino struck the image of just what he is, a player with little football under his belt for months and an exit strategy in motion.
Meanwhile, Darwin Nunez battled without reward.
Four substitutions were made, each one hard to question, but none of which made any difference to Liverpool’s performance.
A season’s end to endure
This was an ugly game, sat within an ugly wider situation, and we still have seven and a half weeks of it to endure.
To make matters worse, on Sunday we have the visit of the Premier League leaders to Anfield. It will be an Arsenal side that offer a genuine sense of peril, when coming to L4, for the first time since the peak days of Thierry Henry and Patrick Viera.
It could make for painful viewing, yet we could also stumble over the switch that flicks us back into compelling action, simultaneously doing Man City an unfortunate favour in the process.
Through it all, however, Liverpool will emerge from this rut.
They still have a manager I wouldn’t swap for the world, who is armed with a core of players that he should be able to build his much-debated version 2.0 around – one which can rise to challenge again as swiftly as it has regressed.
It’s OK to rage about the current situation and still see a path to a brighter future.