Despite Chelsea having the ball in the back of the net twice at Stamford Bridge, through Reece James and Kai Havertz, we had to make do with yet another draw against Liverpool in the Premier League.
Just like our last meeting at Anfield in January, neither side was able to find a goal in 90 minutes of Premier League action, this time at Stamford Bridge, making it a fourth draw in a row overall between the two clubs in that competition.
It wasn’t for lack of trying by the Blues, though, as we enjoyed comfortably the better of the game, came close on a number of occasions in the first half and even scored twice, only to see the goal ruled out by VAR both times.
A pair of last-ditch blocks by Joel Matip and Ibrahima Konate denied Joao Felix and Mateo Kovacic what looked like certain goals early on, the latter after he had rounded goalkeeper Alisson, who quickly followed that with a point-blank save from Havertz.
Reece James then smashed in a powerful low volley that gave the keeper no chance, but VAR intervened as Enzo Fernandez had been marginally offside when Joao Felix headed the initial corner towards goal and it didn’t count.
That early intensity continued into the second half and Havertz was the next player left frustrated after his shot was saved by Alisson but then ricocheted into the net, only for replays to show it came off the German’s arm and for the second time VAR chalked off a Chelsea goal, leaving us to settle for a draw with Reds again.
Kepa Arrizabalaga continued in goal as interim head coach Bruno Saltor named his first Chelsea line-up, but there was a change to the defence in front of him. Wesley Fofana, who missed Saturday’s loss to Aston Villa due to injury, came in beside Kalidou Koulibaly and Marc Cucurella.
That meant Reece James pushed forward into a wing-back role, with Ben Chilwell on the opposite flank. Mateo Kovacic and Enzo Fernandez lined up in midfield again, but joined by the returning N’Golo Kante, who captained the side after coming off the bench against Villa for his first appearance since August.
The first opening for Chelsea came after just three minutes, when we pressured Liverpool into a mistake at the back. Havertz was alert to step in and intercept an underhit pass in defence, moving the ball on to Joao Felix. The Portuguese international ran directly at the back line into space, turning Joel Matip, but the defender recovered to make the block and Havertz couldn’t adjust his body to meet the rebound clearly as it fell out of the sky.
We then went closer almost straight away, Havertz again causing problems in the right channel. This time his pass inside found Kovacic charging into the box and the midfielder rounded goalkeeper Alisson, only to see his finish cleared by the sliding Ibrahima Konate.
The frantic pace and high-energy of the opening exchanges at Stamford Bridge continued, as Liverpool tried to counter before Cucurella got an important toe in to dispossess Darwin Nunez, and then Matip was fortunate to get away without a card for a dangerous looking challenge on Joao Felix on the halfway line.
There were no signs of things slowing down when Chilwell raced on to a ball over the top and squared for Havertz, but his shot was saved by Alisson at close range and Matip was just able to clear before Joao Felix could bounce on the loose ball. We were knocking on the door, but how long could the teams keep up the relentless pace?
There was also a feeling that a mistake might provide the breakthrough one way or the other, with several players losing their footing at the wrong moment on a slippery surface. We were certainly pressuring Liverpool into errors, with the return of Kante aiding Enzo and Kovacic take ownership of the middle of the park and deny the visitors a route out of defence, while we looked for every opportunity to make use of James and Chilwell, who were finding plenty of space from which to threaten down the flanks.
The Reds weren’t without threat of their own on the counter, though, as shown when we struggled to clear our lines following a long ball and Jordan Henderson attempted to lift a shot over the out-of-position Kepa from range, but Koulibaly was back covering and comfortably dealt with it.
We did have the ball in the back of the net courtesy of a fine strike by James, but the linesman’s flag was up. Joao Felix had met Chilwell’s corner and flicked a header towards goal. That was scrambled clear in a bundle of bodies but it only went as far as James, who lashed a low volley into the bottom corner. However, Enzo had been slightly ahead of Konate on Joao’s initial header, so it was ruled out.
After a long pause while VAR checked that decision, without intervening, the break was extended as the officials allowed the players to take on board fluids as the Muslims among them broke their fast. The lengthy break didn’t halt our momentum too much, though, with Kante doing well to launch an attack and release Havertz on the left side of the box, but he dragged his shot wide of the far post.
Goalless at the break
Almost inevitably, given the furious way the game had begun, the pace did slow a little as we edged towards half-time, but there was no question which side had the better of the opening 45 minutes, despite a bit of late pressure from Liverpool as Kepa saved Joe Gomez’s powerful shot from the edge of the box and Fofana headed Fabinho’s effort around the post from the resulting corner.
It didn’t take us long to get back on top in the second half, though, when right from the off Joao Felix put the Liverpool defence on the back foot with a darting run and Kante did well to keep the attack going when Havertz came under pressure. The ball broke for Kovacic, but his attempt to curl a shot in across Alisson flew over the bar.
VAR intervenes again
For the second time of the day, Chelsea had the ball in the back of the net, but Liverpool were given a reprieve by the officials. This time it was Havertz who broke free of the defensive line and bore down on goal, again being released by Kante. Alisson stopped his initial chipped effort but the rebound ricocheted off the German and bounced in. However, replays showed the ball came off his arm and VAR quickly struck off the goal, even if Havertz’s arm was across his body.
Surely the luck would have to roll Chelsea’s way sooner or later, as that seemed to be the only thing preventing us from taking the lead. By now the attacking play was starting to flow with a rhythm, too, Joao Felix the latest to go close as he rolled a deft shot wide of the near post after a lovely combination between Kante and Havertz on the right.
With just over 20 minutes remaining, Kante’s race was run after such a lengthy lay-off, being replaced by Conor Gallagher after a period during which the two teams had ground into something of a stalemate, the pace and feeling of urgency having dropped considerably after what had been a promising start to the second half for Chelsea.
We were still having the better of things, but the openings weren’t coming any more, with the best we managed going into the final 10 minutes a snapshot by Joao Felix from just outside the box, but he was leaning back under pressure and it went high without troubling the keeper.
The momentum continued to wind down as the latter stages of the game went on, both teams paying a price for the high tempo earlier in the game, while the large number of substitutions by both sides and some dubious time wasting by Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson also did little to help the flow.
That meant for the second time this season, and the fourth time in a row in the Premier League, we had to make do with a draw against Liverpool.
The Blues are in Premier League action at the weekend as we travel to Wolverhampton Wanderers for a 3pm kick-off on Saturday 8 April. Then it is a big away trip, for the first leg of our Champions League quarter-final against Real Madrid, at 8pm on Wednesday 12 April.
Chelsea (3-4-1-1): Kepa; W. Fofana, Koulibaly, Cucurella; James, Kante (c) (Gallagher 69), Enzo, Kovacic, Chilwell (Mudryk 78); Joao Felix (Sterling 85); Havertz
Unused subs: Mendy, Badiashile, Loftus-Cheek, Madueke, Mount, Pulisic
Booked: Kovacic 67
Liverpool (4-3-1-2): Alisson; Gomez, Matip, Konate, Tsimikas (Robertson 65); Henderson (c), Fabinho, Jones (Milner 79); Firmino (Salah 65); Jota, Nunez (Gakpo 79)
Unused subs: Kelleher, Alexander-Arnold, Phillips, Arthur, Carvalho
Booked: Matip 46, Tsimikas 56, Jones 61, Fabinho 74
Referee: Anthony Taylor