The Belgian goalkeeper was all at sea when David Luiz fired a spectacular free-kick past him to put the Blues ahead midway through the first half, but then saved a late penalty from Diego Costa to salvage a point for Jurgen Klopp’s men after Georginio Wijnaldum had equalised earlier in the second-half.
The game never quite lived up to expectations, but both sides have reasons to be pleased. Liverpool stopped the rot after three home defeats in the space of a week, while results elsewhere meant Chelsea kept up their nine-point lead from second-placed Tottenham, who were held at Sunderland.
“I’m happy with how we got back into the game, a difficult game against Chelsea. We started well, playing our football in their half, and their biggest chance was the free-kick,” Wijnaldum said.
“In the second half we went again, gave everything, scored and were lucky that Simon saved that penalty.
“We are a little disappointed not to win and get all three points. We could have had more, could have had less.”
Diego Costa cut a lone figure up front, with no team-mates able to get forward to support him, such was Liverpool’s dominance in the opening 15 minutes or so.
For all their possession, the only time Thibaut Courtois was stretched in the first half was when Wijnaldum struck a firm shot from outside the penalty area. The Belgian keeper dived to his left save.
Just as importantly for Chelsea, Antonio Conte’s back three stood firm, with Cesar Azpilicueta, Gary Cahill and Luiz all making important interventions in the opening stages.
Since his expensive sojourn at Paris St Germain, Luiz has become a much better defender than he was in his first, error-prone, period with the Blues. What he has always possessed is a threat from free-kicks, and is always willing to step up when the goal is within range.
But Liverpool’s defence, and Mignolet in particular, were clearly caught napping when Luiz opened the scoring with a trademark free-kick in the 25th minute. Adam Lallana was perhaps unlucky, perhaps clumsy when he bundled over the previously anonymous Eden Hazard 25 yards from goal.
Mark Clattenburg blew for a free-kick, however, and moments later, as Mignolet was still trying to organise his defensive wall, the referee blew his whistle again to indicate the kick could be taken. As Willian stood over the ball, most spectators expected him to take it. But his fellow Brazilian appeared from seemingly nowhere to curl a perfect shot over the wall and in off the inside of the post, with Mignolet stranded in no-man’s land.
Liverpool’s complained to Clattenburg, not just that they were unprepared, but also about the award of the free-kick. But television replays exonerated the referee on both counts, and most importantly, Chelsea were ahead.
The goal clearly knocked the wind out of Liverpool’s sails. Chelsea began to enjoy their fair share of possession at last, and almost doubled their lead from another free-kick, when Willian’s curled effort flew just past the outstretched boot of Luiz in front of goal.
Klopp clearly fired up his players for the second-half, and the Reds should have equalised three minutes after the break. Coutinho and Lallana combined on the edge of the Chelsea penalty area, and when the ball fell at the feet of the unmarked Roberto Firmino 15 yards out, a goal looked inevitable. But instead of controlling the ball and his shot, the Brazilian snatched at it and his shot was high, wide and far from handsome.
It looked to be an expensive miss when Milner’s mistake let in Willian, but the Chelsea midfielder shot against the outside of the near post from an angle.
And Wijnaldum made Chelsea pay when he equalised in the 57th minute. There was an element of good fortune about his goal, with two deflections off visiting players in the build up. The second was the most important, as Milner’s header back across goal flew up off the shoulder of Moses at a perfect height for Wijnaldum to send a powerful header into the net.
The game was finely poised now, with neither side able to dominate or create clear openings. But Chelsea really should have regained the initiative when Costa went down under Joel Matip’s challenge and Clattenburg pointed to the penalty spot. The Brazilian dusted himself down to take the penalty, and although his shot was low, it was too close to Mignolet’s right, and the big Belgian goalkeeper pounced to keep the ball out of his net.
Emboldened by their great escape, the Reds almost scored a winner of their own when substitute Sadio Mane, back from the African Cup of Nations, floated a teasing cross towards Firmino. But the Brazilian missed again, this time sending his header on target but straight into the arms of Courtois.
Mignolet 6; Clyne 6, Matip 7, Lovren 6, Milner 6; Can 6, Henderson 7, Wijnaldum 7 (Origi 89); Lallana 7, Firmino 5, Coutinho 7 (Mane 75).
Courtois 6; Azplilcueta 6, Luiz 8, Cahill 6; Moses 6, Kante 7, Matic 6, Alonso 6; Willian 6 (Fabregas 86), Costa 7 (Batshuayi 90+3), Hazard 5 (Pedro 71)
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