Premier League

Liverpool & Chelsea demonstrate title credentials in feisty Anfield draw

Max Cooper
A game between two of the best teams in England
A game between two of the best teams in England / Michael Regan/Getty Images

For 45 minutes of Saturday's royal rumble between Liverpool and Chelsea, one thing was clear: we were witnessing two genuine Premier League title challengers lock horns.

The intensity, aggression and quality on display was undeniable, and both sides were proving exactly why they've won major silverware over the past couple of seasons.

Ultimately, the competitive balance was thrown off-kilter by Reece James' red card on the stroke of half-time, but there was enough evidence for us to name the Reds and the Blues as 'up there at the end of the season'.

The first half was the most intense half of football of the season so far. Liverpool started with their typical gusto and industry, while Chelsea deployed Thomas Tuchel's intricate game plan, soaking up the Reds' early enthusiasm.

Then arrived the sucker-punch. Mason Mount whipped a corner into the front post, and Kai Havertz was waiting to loop the ball over Alisson Becker and into the net with a stunning header. From that moment on, Chelsea began to flex their muscles.

Romelu Lukaku was looking seriously threatening, and the ease at which he rolled Joel Matip and found his flying teammates suggested the Reds were getting involved in a slugging contest, whether they liked it or not. The momentum was swinging uncontrollably, with the best defenders, midfielders and strikers in the league going to war.

Then came the turning point. The introduction of Diogo Jota just before half-time bore fruit immediately, as he won a spot-kick through sheer persistence, forcing James to handle the ball on the line.

James received his marching orders as well as conceding a penalty, and Mohamed Salah did the rest to set up a grandstand second half. There seemed to be only one outcome to the match, but Chelsea showed their steel to frustrate the hosts.

The Anfield crowd was behind Liverpool from the off, and the shots and crosses rained down on Edouard Mendy and his rearguard. The Blues rode their luck at times, and relied on the expertise of the French shot-stopper, but weathered the storm to survive the 20-minute barrage.

Antonio Rudiger
A hero at the back / Michael Regan/Getty Images

From then on, Chelsea managed the game brilliantly, slowing down the tempo and winning energy-saving free-kicks all over the pitch. The Anfield faithful grew restless as the players huffed and puffed, and there was a sense that the Blues were now much more in control of their own destiny than expected.

That can happen when facing 10 men, especially a side as well drilled and organised as Tuchel's boys. When the final whistle blew, the contrast in emotions was evident.

Liverpool's stars were frustrated to have spent so much energy and have little to show for it against a team which was a man light, and Chelsea's heroes congratulated each other as if they'd collected all three points.

We did learn one major thing from the meeting, however. The fact that Klopp and co. were disappointed to have only drawn with the European champions shows that they still boast the same high standards of their own title glory in 2020.

Jurgen Klopp, Thomas Tuchel
Title rivals / Michael Regan/Getty Images

And as for Chelsea, their ability to nullify one of the most dangerous attacks in Europe in front of a packed out, motivated crowd left little doubt over their togetherness, ability and overall strength.

It's going to be one hell of a fight at the top.