Defiant Chelsea hold on for draw at Liverpool after Reece James red card

Liverpool 1-1 Chelsea: The Blues were in control until James was penalised for a handball on the goal line

Miguel Delaney
Saturday 28 August 2021 20:52
<p>Reece James is sent off </p>

Reece James is sent off

A game that looked like it was going to tell us something new about the title race only ended up bringing out an old-fashioned quality in Chelsea.

They showed plenty of defiance as well as just how astute a tactician Thomas Tuchel is with this 1-1 draw at Anfield. As enthralling as that was, it did leave a lot of frustration for neutrals, Chelsea and the home side.

Liverpool will regret failing to take advantage of Chelsea being reduced to 10-men just before half-time and Chelsea will regret squandering the position of superiority they held after Kai Havertz’s opener, as well as more than a few moments in that period of mayhem that led to Reece James’s red card and Mohamed Salah’s equalising penalty.

The rest of us saw a pulsating and extremely high-quality end-to-end contest turn into a one-way attack versus defence, that just led to a stalemate.

The regret is that it looked like it was going to bring out more in both sides, with the way they had been pushing each other, and probing.

As to the blame for that, well that depends on your perspective. It could be James for the handball, Marcos Alonso for an ill-judged header that led to it all and maybe the very laws of the game.

The rules say James should have been sent off for that handball on the line, but it was effectively a double punishment for one offence. The wonder is whether it should be reassessed in the way double jeopardy for fouls that deny goalscoring chances was. In this game, it meant a nightmare minute for Chelsea.

They lost the lead. They lost a player to a red card. They then lost another player, in N’Golo Kante, who often covers the ground of three players. How they could have done with him in the second half.

And yet it is testament to Tuchel’s acumen that he so successfully reshuffled Chelsea at half-time that they actually gave up fewer chances and still looked as threatening as Liverpool.

That is why this will ultimately be a more satisfactory end result for the European champions, even if they will be ruing some of the match itself.

There was so much we were denied in that second half, not least what had looked a burgeoning battle between Romelu Lukaku and Virgil van Dijk.

There had been so much focus on those two that it was hard not to think it played a part in Havertz suddenly enjoying the sufficient space to loop in a fine arched header. Suspicions that it was unintentional are surely undercut by the amount of power he evidently tried to get on it. James supplied the corner, having looked so dangerous when going towards Liverpool’s goal. He was the source of so much of their attacking. This was just something else the red card affected.

For all the debate about the decision, though, one thing should be remembered. It wouldn’t have been a penalty had it not been for Alonso’s own inexplicable decision to go to try to head the ball when it was about to land into Edouard Mendy’s hands. That directly led to all the chaos that followed with Joel Matip hitting the bar and Sadio Mane’s shot eventually hitting James’s hand.

Amid high emotion, and a lot of rancour, Salah predictably kept his cool. It was powered into the corner. The entire game had changed as well as the score. Having been so solidly structured in defence before, Chelsea now had to be defiant.

That could be seen in many interceptions and challenges, not least one clearance by Antonio Rudiger, as well as a brilliant intervention from Thiago Silva when Harvey Elliott seemed set to jink his way into the box.

There was also one of those curious but relatively logical ironies to the game. Precisely because Chelsea were forced back, and had to congest the space, Liverpool actually had fewer openings. When they did get one, Salah softly rolled it towards Mendy.

It was inevitable that Thiago Alcantara was introduced, although maybe some surprise it was for Jordan Henderson. The captain had grown into the game after an early miss and was everywhere. He found himself too close to Mendy after the penalty, getting the ball kicked at him in a moment that provoked a lot of square-offs.

Liverpool couldn’t carry that through. Chelsea used the sense of injustice to dig in and claim a draw. Whether it would have been so much more is open to debate. It certainly denied the game being much more.

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