The visitors silenced the Anfield crowd midway through the first half when James’ corner was superbly headed up and over the despairing dive of Alisson by Kai Havertz to give them the lead.
But the game was turned on its head in first half stoppage time when a VAR check from Anthony Taylor led to James being sent off for handling the ball on the goal line and Mohamed Salah converting the resulting penalty to level things up.
Jurgen Klopp’s men pushed for a winner in the second half but could not find a way through a resilient Chelsea defence as the spoils were shared on Merseyside.
Here are five things we learned from the game.
Big games call for big decisions
The goalmouth scramble that led to James’ sending off and the subsequent Salah penalty was one that, in real time, was anyone’s guess as to what was going to be given.
Referee Taylor initially chose not to point to the spot, presumably as he was unsure what part of the body James had cleared the ball away with. But when he had the chance to go over to the monitor the official was in no doubt it had struck the England defender’s arm. Unfortunately, that also meant James had to see red in a double blow for Thomas Tuchel’s side.
VAR has been praised for the way it has been implemented so far this season and this was another success story for it.
Who knows what Taylor would have given had he know VAR was not there to back him up. But who cares? It was there and we got to the correct decision in the end. A red card seemed harsh in the circumstances, but had Salah missed the penalty it then would have felt lenient had it only been a yellow. Tough for Chelsea to take, but the right outcome.
Breakout performance from Liverpool teenager Harvey Elliott
Harvey Elliot started Liverpool’s last Premier League game at home to Burnley last weekend and looked shaky in possession at times. So when his name was on the team sheet for the clash with Chelsea, some Reds fans may have been slightly concerned given the magnitude of the match. But boy did the 18-year-old silence those doubters.
From the outset the youngster looked supremely assured and accomplished on the ball. He was everywhere in what was a frenetic opening quarter of an hour. The Surrey-born Englishman went desperately close to breaking the deadlock with a venomous drive from 25 yards out and then got the crowd roaring with some lovely link-up play down the right-hand side. Another chance before the break was snatched at with his weaker right foot, but he continued to take on the responsibility of driving forward.
Heading into your first Liverpool vs Chelsea clash and being tasked with facing N’Golo Kante and Jorginho is about as close to a baptism of fire as Elliott is ever going to get. Not only did he hold his own, he was perhaps the most impressive midfielder on the pitch, particularly in the first 30 minutes of the match.
Liverpool may have lost Georginio Wijnaldum in the summer, but Elliott could well be the man to fill his boots.
Mount and Havertz benefit from Van Dijk winning Lukaku duel
Prior to the match a lot was being made of a potential showdown between Romelu Lukaku and Virgil Van Dijk. One of the best strikers in the world coming up against the returning Dutchman, who for a period of time was widely considered the best centre-back around.
Up until the sending off which changed the whole complexion of the game, Lukaku did opt to occupy the shoulder of Van Dijk as he looked for a way down the right channel inside Andy Robertson. And while he did not receive a great amount of individual joy, the positions he took up to draw Van Dijk away from the play allowed Havertz and Mason Mount the freedom to wreak havoc coming in from the left.
That’s the issue when defending a player like Lukaku against a team like Chelsea. You have to keep one eye on the Belgian but at the same time contain Mount - the Blues’ player of the season last year - and Havertz - the club’s second most expensive signing of all-time.
That front three drift all over the place and showed against Liverpool that they threaten to dominate the Premier League.
Alexander-Arnold returning to supreme form
This is a brilliant performance that may not get the recognition it deserves on the highlights package.
Trent Alexander-Arnold is returning to the kind of form we saw from him in the 2019-20 season when Liverpool won the Champions League. His defensive capabilities still remain a slight concern - there were one or two times when Mount exposed him going backwards - but this display was much more than that.
The constant threat he offered going forward will be giving Marcos Alonso nightmares for weeks. Some of the deliveries into the box were right on the money, it’s just a shame they didn’t have that man in the middle who could win the ball in the air up against Chelsea’s three central defenders.
Alexander-Arnold’s YouTube clip-worthy moment came in the first half when he dinked a sumptuous cross-field ball over the Chelsea defence for Jordan Henderson, only for the skipper to fluff his lines and skew wide. Had it gone in, it would have undoubtedly been the pass of the season so far.
Tuchel struggled to conjure up Plan B after sending off
For a manager who is regarded as one of the best tacticians in the game - the coach of the reigning European champions - Tuchel’s response to James’ dismissal seemed like a poor one. The result may have gone his way but that should not be the sole dictator of whether it worked.
Learning how to play with ten men is presumably a drill practised frequently by Premier League clubs. But Chelsea didn’t seem like they knew what to do in the second half, particularly for the first 25 minutes. Tuchel took Havertz off for Thiago Silva but all that seemed to do was widen the gap between Lukaku and any other player wearing blue.
The Belgian was forced to drop deep and that created a defensive block to which there was no out ball. As a result, they welcomed more and more Liverpool pressure until around the 70-minute mark. It appeared Liverpool began to tire in the latter stages more than Tuchel tinkered his system. Had Klopp’s men kept their foot on their opponent’s throat then they almost certainly would have found the winner.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies