Liverpool 1 Chelsea 1: Eden Hazard may finally have rediscovered the form that has deserted him for virtually the entire season, but the one player foremost on Chelsea’s minds at Anfield was John Terry.
Hazard’s fourth goal in four league matches brought a reminder of the talent that inspired his club to last season’s Premier League title, and earned him a clean sweep of England’s player of the year awards.
Not every Chelsea supporter who travelled to Anfield saw it, however, as it came moments after at least a couple of their number had been ejected by stewards for taking a touch too far their pleas to the club’s management to save their captain.
Terry’s future has dominated the conversation at Stamford Bridge this season even more than the reasons for Hazard’s plummeting form.
His contract expires at the end of the season, and the general consensus after his sending off at Sunderland on Saturday was that his Chelsea career was at an end after 18 years and 703 appearances.
The suspended captain, unavailable for either of his side’s final two games of a desperately poor season, did not travel to Merseyside last night, but his presence was still felt.
Chelsea’s support chanted his name, and held up a banner depicting the glut of trophies that the club have won under his leadership, complete with the message “Sign him up”.
Rumours of a planned walkout in the 26th minute, to match the centre-back’s squad number, came to nothing; but a couple of fans did let off smoke bombs, and were promptly thrown out.
It meant they missed Hazard’s goal six minutes later; a combination of impudence and lax defending, and a sign the winger can still turn on the style.
The Belgium international has hankered very publicly after a move away this season, and it remains to be seen whether he will still be around when Antonio Conte takes the manager’s chair this summer.
If he is to find another club, Hazard has hit form at a very good time.
He had gone almost 12 months without a league goal before scoring twice at Bournemouth two-and-a-half weeks ago; then struck a spectacular effort against Tottenham that ensured Leicester would be champions.
There appeared relatively little danger when he collected possession 30 yards from Liverpool’s goal just after the half-hour mark.
However, a burst of speed saw off a couple of weak challenges from Adam Lallana and Roberto Firmino, before he stroked a shot past Simon Mignolet to leave the Kop silent.
It was a significant blow to a strong Liverpool side; the team who, all things being equal, is likely to start next Wednesday’s Europa League final against Sevilla in Basel.
Yet they have developed a resilience under Jurgen Klopp. It was in evidence when they produced that remarkable comeback against Borussia Dortmund last month; and although this comeback was nowhere near as dramatic, they proved yet again that they do not know when they are beaten.
Christian Benteke has endured a season every bit as miserable as Hazard’s. He has struggled to justify the £32.5m (€41m) that Liverpool paid Aston Villa for him at the start of the season, and his long-term future at Anfield looks bleak.
Yet he had the final word last night, heading in from close range after Asmir Begovic had flapped at Sheyi Ojo’s cross, palming the ball into his path.
In truth, Liverpool were a little fortunate to get a point, even though they had started with plenty of energy. Chelsea, also missing the injured Diego Costa and Branislav Ivanovic, rode that tricky start and began to create chances. Bertrand Traore tested Mignolet, and Pedro was denied only by an excellent challenge from Kolo Toure. Hazard’s goal was not a surprise.
Liverpool, for the most part, were not clinical enough. Firmino wasted one great first-half chance when a poor touch forced him wide as he raced clear of Nemanja Matic. Begovic saved well from Coutinho as the interval approached, but got lucky as Sturridge steered a second-half shot against the goalkeeper’s knees when put through.
Chelsea might have won by more, as Mignolet saved from Hazard and Traore; yet Sturridge still had one more chance, volleying across goal as Joe Allen’s deep cross left Begovic scrambling. The visitors looked to have escaped with a clean sheet, but it was not to be. Perhaps they needed Terry’s influence after all.
Mignolet; Clyne, Toure (Ojo 88), Lovren, Moreno; Can, Milner (Allen 75); Lallana (Benteke 75), Coutinho, Firmino; Sturridge.
Subs not used:
Bogdan, Skrtel, Smith, Lucas.
Begovic; Azpilicueta, Mikel, Cahill, Rahman; Fabregas, Matic; Pedro, Willian (Kenedy 57), Hazard; Traore (Abraham 73).
Subs not used:
Amelia, Tomori, Loftus-Cheek, Palmer, Pato.
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