At the end of this Premier League classic, Maurizio Sarri and Jurgen Klopp just embrace and smile, both content with the fact their teams have pummelled each other for ninety breathless minutes. If there’s still rancour between our end and Chelsea’s endlessly vacuous supporters who taunt and gloat from the moment they take the lead, the stain has been washed away by a great game of football.
And a Liverpool goal for all the ages.
The Red legions tucked away in a corner of Stamford Bridge are in tumult. When we won the league here in 1986 with Kenny Dalglish’s majestic volley it was at the same end of this much-changed ground. The let-off for tonight’s Liverpool equalizer is on par with the scenes 32 years ago because the context is the same – winning the title.
The old Chelsea songs that rain down haven’t changed. Ten men are still mowing the meadow and the blue flag is still flying high. But here, perhaps more than anywhere, the social make-up has altered beyond recognition. Middle England and the London outskirts have replaced areas like Battersea and Hammersmith as Chelsea strongholds.
Liverpool start well but Mohammed Salah is still off colour. The instinctive movement and touch are still there, and he fashions two shooting opportunities at the far end, but his sights are well off. His eyes are sunken and a frustrated ruffle of his curly mop is becoming a symbol of Salah’s struggle to regain last season’s form. To compound his misery he rounds the keeper only to see his attempt cleared off the line.
Chelsea are giving as good as they get. For the first time we get to see the worth of Alisson Becker who is a vision in pink advancing from his line to deny Willian from David Luiz’s raking pass. When Eden Hazard scores it is a crushing feeling; we’ve forgotten what it feels like to fall behind.
His left foot finish across the keeper evokes memories of Michael Owen’s cup final winner against Arsenal but with contrasting emotions.
The pace, intensity and skill – from both sides – have me absorbed in this game of football. Half-time comes; time for a pint and a mental reset. We’ll do well to take a point here.
When you’re losing, you can’t stop looking at your watch, as though consumed by a nervous tic. Throughout the second period, you’re constantly giving yourself hope. Still half an hour, still a quarter of the game to go, still ten minutes, then five plus a few more if the ref is generous. It’s almost a metaphor for life as you get older and wonder how long you’ve got left. What’s the rest of the weekend going to feel like if we get beat? Saturday night ruined and definitely no Match of the Day. Sunday, a day for moping.
It’s a valiant effort from the Reds. Kepa’s save from Sadio Mane at the near post is agonising and Xherdan Shaqiri – on for a crestfallen Salah – misses one of those chances that sees the hands cover the eyes wishing it all away. Roberto Firmino’s header is repelled by an outstretched leg on the line. It feels like it’s gone; the taste of defeat on the lips and it’s a bitter pill.
Then Daniel Sturridge. There’s a lot to be said for this powerful, effervescent Liverpool team but Sturridge is one of a dying breed. A true artist; his left foot a wand. He only gets a few minutes; a last throw of the dice and he rolls a six. As he wraps a florescent yellow boot round the ball and whips it with dip and venom beyond the flailing arms of Kepa he makes a nonsense of the whole match. Eighty-nine minutes of speed, power and toil are trumped by the single brush stroke of a genius.
It’s more than a goal. It is a work of art but, as he trots nonchalantly towards a Liverpool end which has gone off its collective head, to him it’s just all in a days work. When we reflect in May, we hope this thing of beauty reaps its full reward.
*all odds are subject to change
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