Unbeaten Liverpool may be feeling good about their title potential after earning a vital point at Chelsea but the real message from Saturday’s match was that there may well be three - and not two - teams in the race to Daniel Sturridge has rightly dominated the headlines but as Liverpool prepare for a trip to Napoli on Wednesday and then a six-pointer against Manchester City at Anfield on Sunday, they must also come to terms with the realisation that is not only Pep Guardiola’s side they need to finish ahead of to be champions
Chelsea’s confident and vibrant performance, together with another masterclass from Eden Hazard who scored the opening goal, suggests the London side are further on in their development than anyone could have thought possible.
Even manager Maurizio Sarri, who has been very quiet about his team’s title potential, and has prepared fans instead for a period of adaptation, suggested afterwards that Chelsea are ‘nearer to Liverpool’ than he had thought. On this performance, in fact, there appears to be very little between two excellent sides, especially with seven-goal Hazard in such spectacular form.
It isn’t only in attack where Chelsea were impressive, either.
With Jorginho running midfield and David Luiz back to his best, even in defence Chelsea look much improved now that veteran Gary Cahill has been jettisoned and the formation has been tweaked. After early-season wobbles – a 20-minute home spell against Arsenal in which the Gunners created six or seven big goal chances springs to mind – Chelsea have only conceded two Premier League goals in September and look steady and settled.
They went confidently toe-to-toe with Jurgen Klopp’s side at Stamford Bridge, coping admirably with Liverpool’s front three until Sturridge produced a moment of absolute magic to earn the visitors a point they just about deserved on the balance of an entertaining game.
It’s a good point for Liverpool, make no mistake, but it also strengthens the argument that Chelsea – who also won at Anfield in the League Cup in midweek – are becoming serious challengers at least a year before anyone expected them to do so.
“It’s early in the season but we have good momentum,” Hazard said. “We have the same target every year - to win titles and trophies.
I think we can challenge against Liverpool and with City, too. These are the best teams in the country. We are not far, we are winning games and confidence is high.
When you consider the trauma Chelsea went through last season under Antonio Conte with a never-ending row over transfer policy, fallings-out with both players and rival managers, plus accusations of negative tactics then it’s remarkable to see them flourish so soon under Sarri with a very different philosophy. The expectation – which even Sarri hinted was fair – was that there could be a slow start to the season and a long period of transition before fans could even consider judging their team’s title potential.
“We didn’t accept this,” Hazard insisted. “People arrived after the World Cup and we changed manager and sometimes when you change manager you need time to do everything at your best.
But to be fair we have done pretty well. We signed good players and we lost some players as well but the ones who are here are top players. We can play good football and that’s why we are winning games. We just want to keep this momentum.”
For Chelsea to do that then Hazard certainly needs to stay fit. But the way he instigated and finished Saturday’s opening goal at Stamford Bridge suggests he can finally fulfil his potential.
The Belgian, however, has sought to calm down the hype. He said: “I am not looking at the stats for goals or assists. I want to feel good when I am playing, and that’s it. I just want to enjoy playing. Then, if the goals are coming - great. But the most important thing is to win games. I can score but I am not a striker. I am more like a winger where I can create a lot of chances. Of course I can score 20 or 25 goals - maybe 40 is a bit too much but I will try! When I have a chance to score, I will try to make the right decision. If this is to shoot, I will shoot but if it is to pass, I will pass.“
That last comment may well interest Mo Salah, who passed the 40-goal mark last season but who has looked slightly short of his best this campaign and who was substituted, in favour of Shaqiri, in west London with Klopp urging the Egyptian to be more selfish and shoot more often.
Fortunately for Liverpool, Salah is far from their only attacking talent. Firmino and Mane were impressive yet again at the Bridge while Sturridge continued his recent revival with an equaliser that sent Liverpool fans home happy.
However, the striker played down his own part in rescuing a point and instead placed the focus on new goalkeeper Alisson, who produced a string of excellent saves to prevent Chelsea ever going 2-0 ahead.
He was top drawer, he had a great game,” Sturridge said. “He was unfortunate not to get a clean sheet but he’s a world-class goalkeeper.
“We deserved a draw, the bare minimum because we played well. Every point counts in the Premier League so this is a good one. It’s a long season so we just have to stay focused.”
: Arrizabalaga 8, Azpilicueta 7, Rudiger 8, Luiz 8, Alonso 6, Kante 7, Jorginho 8, Kovacic 8 (Barkley 80; 6), Giroud 6 ( Morata 65; 6), Willian 7 (Moses 73; 6), Hazard 9.
: Alisson 8, Alexander-Arnold 7, Gomez 7, Van Dijk 7, Robertson 6, Milner 7 (Sturridge 86; 7), Henderson 6 (Keita 78; 7), Wijnaldum 7, Salah 6 (Shaqiri 86; 6), Firmino 8, Mane 7.
: Andre Marriner