Heavyweights Chelsea and Liverpool share epic - but Man City are real winners

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·4-min read
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  • Chelsea
    Chelsea
    LiveTodayTomorrowvs--|
  • Thomas Tuchel
    German association football manager and former player
 (Chelsea FC via Getty Images)
(Chelsea FC via Getty Images)

Perhaps the biggest positive for Thomas Tuchel after 90 pulsating minutes at Stamford Bridge was the fact that Romelu Lukaku was briefly put to the back of the mind.

There is still time for that situation to play out in full – but this clash of heavyweights demanded the full attention of everyone watching.

Ultimately, Manchester City were the only winners, with a 2-2 draw meaning Chelsea and Liverpool will surely now be left to battle it out for the title of best of the rest.

If that sounds harsh, it is the brutal reality of trying to keep pace with Pep Guardiola’s relentless Premier League champions.

Whereas City were able to come from behind a claim a last gasp win against Arsenal on Saturday, their closest contenders merely succeeded in punching each other out.

It was utterly thrilling. It further confirmed Mo Salah’s status as one of the finest players to grace these shores.

And for Tuchel, it suggested there is still some fight left in his team that has gone into free-fall over the past month or so.

But it also represented two lost points for both teams, who have seen City open up a 10-point lead at the top to effectively extinguish any hope of a title race in 2022.

It will take collapse of monumental proportions from Guardiola’s team to give Chelsea or Liverpool any hope of mounting a meaningful challenge. And that would also assume that two teams who have won three of their last 10 games combined could find the sort of consistency to punish any unlikely slump from City.

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

The reality for Tuchel is that he will not follow up last season’s Champions League triumph with the title.

On top of that, he has a major issue with the club record signing, who was dropped from the squad entirely after declaring he was unhappy at Stamford Bridge in an interview broadcast in the week.

Tuchel needed three points to justify that bold decision – and even then, he must have known it would be a story that threatens to define the start of a new year.

He claimed beforehand that Lukaku’s comments to Sky Italia were “too big” ignore ahead of such crucial game, the thinking being that he did not want the Belgian to become a distraction.

While it could be argued his absence was not overly felt during the 90 minutes, he provided plenty in the way of distraction ahead of kick-off.

Had Liverpool gone on run riot – as they looked capable of doing when opening up a 2-0 first half lead through Sadio Mane and Salah, Tuchel could well have come to rue his decision.

Instead, his team produced the type of spirit that suggests the players are on his side of this particular argument, with Mateo Kovacic and Christian Pulisic mounting a rousing fightback to level the scores before the break.

 (Chelsea FC via Getty Images)
(Chelsea FC via Getty Images)

It was sensational entertainment and a spectacular way to start the New Year.

When Pulisic burst through on the stroke of half time to fire into the roof of the net, Tuchel celebrated as if he’d won the title. Stamford Bridge erupted. Liverpool looked shell-shocked.

But it was City who put the champagne on ice as a result.

They had the luxury of watching on and knowing that at least one of their rivals was likely to drop away come full time. In the end, it was both.

In a game of such importance for both teams there was no shortage of intensity from the very first minute when Mane was fortunate not to receive a red when catching Cesar Azpilicueta in the face with his elbow.

He escaped with a yellow, but the tone was set before a minute had even been played.

Salah might have fired Liverpool in front when forcing an early save from Mendy before Pulisic was one-on-one with Caoimhin Kelleher – but elected to try to round the goalkeeper, rather than shooting and the chance was beaten away.

Kelleher was in because Alisson was one of three Liverpool players missing with Covid, along with Joel Matip and Roberto Firmino. Perhaps even more important was the absence of Jurgen Klopp due to a suspected positive test.

Liverpool were ahead after Trevoh Chalobah’s mistake when trying to clear Diogo Jota’s cross – allowing Mane through on goal to open the scoring after nine minutes.

It was 2-0 in the 26th minute when Salah skipped past Marcos Alonso and beat Edouard Mendy at his near post.

Liverpool looked like adding to their lead, but Chelsea were given a lifeline three minutes before the break when Kelleher beat away Alonso’s free kick. As the ball looped to the edge of the area, Kovacic back-pedalled before volleying into the top corner.

The scores were level in first-half stoppage time when N’Golo Kante played through Pulisic, who made no mistake on this occasion when firing into the roof of the net.

Mason Mount was centimetres away from giving Chelsea the lead before the half was even over.

Both sides had their chances to score a winner after the break – but it could not live up to the white-knuckle ride of the first 45 minutes, leaving Tuchel and Klopp to reassess their priorities over the next five months.

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