Liverpool 0-0 Chelsea: 16 Conclusions on a game that showed why ninth v tenth doesn’t usually get 16 Conclusions

Date published: Saturday 21st January 2023 6:10 - Dave Tickner

Mykhaylo Mudryk misses a chance for Chelsea against Liverpool in their goalless Premier League clash

We knew it was going to be 0-0, it was 0-0, and we still committed to 16 Conclusions on Liverpool v Chelsea. Only ourselves to blame.


1. That was a bit shit really, wasn’t it? I guess there’s a reason why we don’t generally do 16 Conclusions on games between mid-table dregs. They’re liable to just cancel each other out, aren’t they? Not much more to say, is there? But we’re going to have to find another couple of thousand words on two bang-average teams coming into the game ninth and tenth playing bang-averagely in a bang-average game. In 2019/20, a Premier League clash between ninth and tenth would have been Burnley v Sheffield United; with all due respect to all involved, nothing about today could be considered in any way better than that.

It’s not the first time we’ve seen Liverpool and Chelsea cancel each other out. This is their fifth draw in a row and third goalless draw in the last 12 months; the difference is that those other two 0-0 stalemates came in cup finals. Neither looked much like any kind of cup finalist here.


2. And the pace of change could be seen not just in the drab, low-quality nature of this particular goalless draw but in the line-ups. Only nine of the 22 starters from the FA Cup final eight months ago did so here. But the more things changed the more they stayed the same.

Both sides would point to the absences and injury lists as mitigation for the struggles of today specifically and the season in general, but that can only go so far. Both – most notably and increasingly ludicrously Chelsea – still have vast numbers of players on which to call, and while neither team was at full strength today nor was their any excuse for the players who were on the pitch to combine as they have to produce mid-table teams playing mid-table football.


3. Yet for all the assorted superstars still on display, this was a game between two sides in urgent need of a fit and firing number nine. Both teams were sufficiently error-prone and uncertain in defence for the game to feature several presentable chances. But both teams were sufficiently error-prone and uncertain in attack that it didn’t matter. Cody Gakpo had a couple of presentable half-chances early on, one of which he fashioned for himself by smartly dispossessing Lewis Hall. He snatched at both, leaning back and shooting high and wide without conviction.

He is not yet for Liverpool the player we’ve seen for PSV this season or for the Netherlands at the World Cup. It’s entirely understandable that he needs time and space to adapt; his problem is that he has arrived at a club and a situation where that luxury doesn’t currently exist.


4. Mykhaylo Mudryk’s introduction from the bench for Chelsea was a variation on the theme. The end product wasn’t quite there, most notably when controlling rather than taking a first-time shot when arriving entirely unmarked at the far post. He was, though, instantly the most exciting and likely source of anything happening from the moment he came on, and while that was a low bar in a match in which that distinction had previously been held by Hakim Ziyech, there were enough clever touches and enough smart movement to show what can be expected if/when he settles in and has a team with some confidence and closer to his wavelength.

His arrival may be the most sarcastically Chelsea piece of transfer business in a month that has become absurdly chock full of such business, but he’s a player. He was able to do in minutes what nobody else in blue had managed up to that point: exposing James Milner’s limitations as a makeshift right-back and force Jurgen Klopp to introduce Trent Alexander-Arnold from the subs’ bench to address the near comical pace and trickery mismatch that had been established by the Ukrainian’s introduction.


5. Milner will have been grateful to be withdrawn from what looked like being a horribly one-sided battle, one that earned him a yellow card barely 10 minutes after Mudryk’s introduction. But he surely also won’t have been able to quite believe his luck at how straightforward an afternoon he’d enjoyed at right-back for the first 55 minutes of the game.

His afternoon had got off to an inauspicious start, clumsily conceding a corner from which he was out of formation with the rest of Liverpool’s defensive, initially playing Thiago Silva onside to shoot against the post before Kai Havertz slotted home the rebound. That Havertz’s foot was a fraction ahead of the play was pure dumb luck on Milner and Liverpool’s fault. But until Mudryk was introduced in the second half, Milner was barely tested again.


6. The consensus among the BT pundits after the game was that Graham Potter would be the happier of the two managers. It’s probably true. Chelsea were the away side, and despite (because of?) being at the Stamford Bridge reins so briefly is without doubt the manager less able to ride out further disappointment. But neither manager could truly express themselves happy with this level of performance. Both teams were there for the taking today, and the chance of a statement win whose significance and impact may have significantly outweighed its actual difficulty tariff was squandered by both.


7. Indeed, the answer to any question about the happiest manager after that game would have to be Eddie Howe. And if you want to expand further you could add Erik Ten Hag, Antonio Conte, Marco Silva and Roberto De Zerbi. If one were being mischievous, one could even add Pep Guardiola to that list. The current top four are starting to look pretty cosy in those Champions League spots, but the fact that any challenge from either of those two top-four perennials is now going to require not only a charging run of form that remains, on this evidence, wildly unlikely as well as Manchester United or Newcastle suffering an equally improbable collapse is still nice to know.

Winning the Champions League is starting to look like the likeliest route back into Tuesday/Wednesday European action for these two now. They’re both four points behind Spurs, for crying out loud. To be objectively worse than Spurs in the league table is bad enough; for both teams to produce a performance that makes you got “Yeah, fair enough, these two teams are worse than Spurs” is somehow even more humiliating.


8. This is now officially Liverpool’s worst half-season start to a Premier League campaign under Jurgen Klopp. They’re not only now falling dismally short of their (sensational) peak years under Klopp but also below some far more easily cleared bars. They are a point worse off at this stage than in the season where he took over from Brendan Rodgers. Fourteen points worse off than halfway through his first season. Six points worse off than the frustratingly draw-laden 2017/18. They’re even five points worse off than this stage of the 2020/21 season, by which they had quite literally zero defenders they could pick.

They are currently on course for a 58-point season. It would be their worst since finishing eighth with 52 points in 2012, and their joint third-worst of the Premier League era. They have never finished lower than the eighth spot they currently occupy after nudging above Brentford with this point.


9. Klopp did at least manage to direct a rocket up the collective backsides of his players at half-time, because by far Liverpool’s most compelling spell of the game came early in the second half. Chances came and went, yet even in this spell of being half-decent it still always felt like the main threat came not from Liverpool’s play but from Chelsea’s uncertainty. The best and clearest chance of this period fell to Naby Keita from a shanked clearance, to highlight that fact.


10. That shot was blocked by Thiago Silva, and curiously for a 0-0 draw he was perhaps the only defender to truly merit significant praise. He has had a great many tougher afternoons in his career, but he was imperiously untroubled here, an oasis of calm, composed quality in a game sorely lacking those qualities. Even the introduction of Darwin Nunez’s patented chaos cocktail couldn’t disturb the Brazilian’s equilibrium. There was one particularly notable example of Thiago’s calmness under fire when Nunez had a rare chance to run at the 38-year-old and, despite obviously beating him for pace, still somehow found himself shepherded ever further from the centre of goal, forced to an ever narrower angle before shooting straight at Kepa.

It was textbook Thiago. There was nothing showy about it. No specific direct intervention. Just a supreme defender reading the game situation and bending it to his will.


11. It was a disappointingly quiet appearance from the bench all round for Nunez, a man whose chaotic and mercurial tendencies appeared ideally suited to a game on a knife edge but sorely lacking entertainment and quality. He was markedly outperformed by Chelsea’s debutant in a similar role, and it was Chelsea who ended the game on the front foot, albeit without ever truly looking like they might be about to open Liverpool up. It really was a strangely low-key Big Six clash, even allowing for two teams short on form and confidence and the usual buzz-killing effects of the Saturday lunchtime kick-off.


12. We all know you can prove anything with statistics, those compellingly scientific looking numbers that any skilled operator (or indeed any desperate keyboard-masher scrabbling desperately for a few more things to say about a goalless draw) can cherry-pick and pull around to say anything they want them to say. Even so, the fact this game between two expensively assembled elite football teams ended with only one player on either side boasting a pass completion rate above 90 per cent feels like a relevant marker of a game played in fits and starts when it was played at all. Especially when you consider those two players were Liverpool keeper Alisson and Chelsea centre-back Thiago.  The efforts of Lewis Hall (54 per cent) and Naby Keita (63 per cent) from central midfield feel particularly damning.


13. Both these teams looked in need of the two-week break from Premier League action they now have to try and sort themselves out and, in Chelsea’s case at least, maybe sign another two or three tricky attacking players for 80 million quid to see if it helps. But the problem is that neither team has the look of one that’s about to put together a compelling run of form. Both look destined for one step forward, two step back sort of runs over the weeks ahead. For Liverpool you might expect a derby win over Everton at Anfield to lift spirits perhaps, but there’s Newcastle and Manchester United to come soon after. Chelsea’s league February is marked by three London derbies against Fulham, West Ham and Tottenham that in normal circumstances would look like a wonderful opportunity for three points but that now appear fraught with danger.


14. We’ll end with a couple of vignettes, one from the closing moments of each half, that to our mind perfectly summed up the game as a whole. Without wishing to pick on particular players who did nothing to particularly mark themselves out as specifically weak performers across the game but just happened to be involved in the two moments that stayed with us. Apologies, then, to Alisson and to Carney Chukwuemeka.

First to the Liverpool keeper, who was for the most part quietly assured but had one honking moment in first-half injury time. A hopeful punt from Marc Cucurella was easily if somewhat oddly dealt with by Andrew Robertson who eschewed the options of hooking the ball out of play or back upfield in favour of a trickier looking ball back to his keeper. But he made it work, only for Alisson to then shank the ball out of play for a corner. It was an uncharacteristic moment for Alisson, or indeed any modern post-backpass-law keeper and a throwback to a simpler time when keepers really were quite often crap with their feet. But what we really liked about it was that Alisson was almost good enough and suave enough to make it look like he meant it all along.


15. Then came Chukwuemeka’s moment when, after some neatly intricate build-up play with Mudryk, he found himself suddenly inside the Liverpool penalty area with the game to be won and promptly tripped over his own feet. He did not manage to make it look half-intentional, either.


16. So there you have it, we reckon. Liverpool and Chelsea were both a bit crap, both were frequently undone by unforced errors, yet both invariably got away with those errors because of the follow-up errors from the other team. It was like some kind of error event horizon. Some games leave you feeling like neither team deserved to lose, but here was the very definition of one that neither deserved to win. But for reasons we can’t quite put our finger on, it was Liverpool who were able to slightly kid us on that this was the plan all along.

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