Liverpool vs. Chelsea: Dull 0-0 draw a fitting result for two teams showing no signs of Premier League life

Liverpool vs Chelsea Dull 0 0 draw a fitting result for

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It was the immediate refrain of many — this writer included — as this contest ground towards a half time interval that was so sorely needed: it’s all very midtable-ish, isn’t it? And yet a glance at the Premier League pack rather disabuses one of that notion. When was the last time Brighton or Brentford served up such meek gruel for the viewing public?

The standards of English football’s top flight are such that stuttering build up, heavy legged pressing and basic technical errors are no longer enough for eighth and 10th, the positions these two powers of the global game find themselves in after a dreary 0-0 draw at Anfield. Neither side are doomed to languish in the Premier League dead zone in perpetuity, but equally neither Jurgen Klopp nor Graham Potter masterminded a performance to convince you that they are a few additions away from the level of Manchester United and Newcastle, let alone Arsenal and Manchester City.

This was a big six clash directed by Tommy Wiseau, riddled with structural errors, logical inconsistencies and baffling decision making. Why exactly did Mason Mount play that pass there for Lewis Hall? The Mohamed Salah impersonator occupying Liverpool’s right flank looked the part until the ball came anywhere near him, swishing at thin air when the ball dropped temptingly towards him in the box.

It is easy, if time consuming, to list the absentees as a mitigating case for the quality of this game, to insist that this would be a contest worthy of its billing if only Virgil van Dijk, N’Golo Kante and Luis Diaz were present. Can you really expect comparable quality from Lewis Hall and Stefan Bajcetic? Perhaps not but these were teams with £50million midfielders to dictate terms, expensively recruited frontlines and a who’s who of big names on the bench. The Brightons, Brentfords and Fulhams that sat above these two could never countenance Chelsea‘s level of expenditure and yet there is scarcely a penny wasted across their squad. It is unimaginable that they would have a 31 year old, signed for £33 million mere months earlier, warming the bench alongside the striker they signed for a manager they sacked weeks later.

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There were those in this game who had sparkled in midtable before but looked a shadow of what they once were. Conor Gallagher might press hard but too often in advanced positions he plays with his head down. Marc Cucurella has been handed the ideal situation to make the step up — he even has the same manager who brought the best out of him at Brighton — and yet he seems unable to convincingly connect with a football.

Some looked a level above the scrum. Kai Havertz, so often a diffident line leader, was industry personified, his height and turn of pace a good match for a game of hit and rush. The finest of margins saw him denied the game’s opener when he turned in the rebound from Thiago Silva‘s shot against the post, though his task might have been a little harder if any Liverpool defender had moved after the corner had come into the area. 

It also transpired that one of the star turns in an Ajax side that reached the Champions League semifinals is actually an effective footballer. You would not know that Hakim Ziyech was such a talent given how he has been managed so far in his Chelsea career, today he dazzled with drops of the shoulder and free kicks laid on a dime. He was undoubtedly in the minority. This was not a game fitting of the great rivalry between these two. If these two sides improved in the second half it might have been they had set the bar low enough for an under-five’s high jump. 

At least it gave Mykhailo Mudryk a chance to get up to speed. His first touch a dangerous area rather seemed to be the £100 million man playing down to the occasion — a heavy touch with his right foot sending the ball through to Alisson when he had space to attack — but a dart past two defenders and shot into the sidenetting was rather more impressive. His burst of pace enlivened a moribund contest, forcing Jurgen Klopp to withdraw James Milner for Trent Alexander-Arnold. It was perhaps no surprise that the veteran Milner struggled to keep pace with a new signing who was one year old when he began his Premier League career.

Making Milner look cumbersome is one thing, having the afterburners to blow past Ibrahima Konate quite another. For the first time this season a Chelsea forward had the opposition looking fretful. The grim reality, however, is that the cavalry has likely arrived too late. Newcastle will exit the weekend at minimum nine points clear of these two teams who look incapable of putting together the sort of winning run that they would need to clamber up the table.

Help will come as the injuries ease. Todd Boehly will presumably throw another £300 million at the problem. But, on the evidence of this 90 minutes, squarely in the middle of the pack is where these two sides belong.

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