Liverpool substitute strikes late to deny Chelsea
They booed Daniel Sturridge when he came on with four minutes remaining, more out of a sense of tradition than any real contempt for their former Chelsea forward who is an afterthought for the home fans at Stamford Bridge these days, although, it should be said, not on this occasion.
His equaliser was a magnificent goal, the kind of strike from distance of a still ball that would have been impossible for any goalkeeper to save, even Kepa Arrizabalaga, the world’s most expensive, and after an evening of nearmisses Liverpool finally had their goal. Sturridge was the club’s leading striker when Jurgen Klopp arrived at Anfield and while these days he is not even in the top four, there are times when he can still make his presence felt.
His previous outing at Stamford Bridge was on loan at West Bromwich Albion in February, when he lasted just four minutes before being substituted with an injury that would keep him out for another month. This time he was on the same pitch for four of the regulation 90 minutes and ended up stealing the show, even from Eden Hazard, the little maestro who scored his sixth league goal of the season.
This was Sturridge’s second league goal of the season, and while he has been well and truly eclipsed by the famous front three of Liverpool who have come to prominence in the last 12 months, this was a glimmer of what he could once do and may yet do again. He has lost his place in the England team in the four years since his best season in a Liverpool shirt, and perhaps it is the quality of moments like these that just add to the frustration of what might have been.
About 20 minutes earlier, Mohamed Salah had been summoned to the bench to be replaced by Xherdan Shaqiri and last season’s Premier League top goalscorer did not look happy about it. Klopp was clear that he was glad his striker was still being decisive, but also that Salah had to accept these difficult games when the ball would not go in.
“It was not the best game of Mo’s career – that’s 100 per cent,” Klopp said. “But coming into a game like this, constantly being into the kind of situations he comes into – that makes a worldclass player. You fail, you miss – that happens. You could see the first one he missed was not in the right position – ball, foot – and that’s why he passed. Why? He could have finished again. These things happen. It is like riding a bike. It is not like you wake up and cannot ride a bike any more. You need to work for these moments when it is clicking. And that is the moment he is in, no problem with that.”
In the first half Salah was eclipsed by Hazard, who scored another fine goal, albeit not quite of the same level as the one he got at Anfield in Wednesday’s Carabao Cup tie. He is now the Premier League’s top goalscorer and Maurizio Sarri still maintains that Hazard can score 40 in all competitions this season. Certainly he is playing so well that the question is more what his team would be like without him.
Sarri still refuses to consider his team as contenders for the Premier League title, even though they remain unbeaten in third place. They played their part in a wonderful game in which both sides attacked in the first half until Liverpool, chasing Hazard’s 25th-minute strike, took over after the break. In the end, the draw felt about right and both managers embraced after the final whistle with genuine warmth and, perhaps, a little relief on both sides.
Hazard’s first-half finish was a bit of a mis-hit, but when the ball was in the net and Liverpool’s defenders were looking reproachfully at one another there was no surprise that he had found a way through. There had been a rapid exchange of passes in the midfield involving Hazard and then he was off, running into the left channel on to Jorginho’s pass and striking a left-foot shot into the ground that bounced past Alisson and inside the far post.
Sarri said that he expected Willian, Pedro and Alvaro Morata to reach double figures this season, but much more from Hazard. “I think he [Hazard] is able to score 40 goals. So he has to score another 33 – 40 in a season, not just in the Premier League. I think so and he’s trying to do it. I’m really very happy with the defensive performance of Hazard today, especially in the second half.”
One first-half shot from Salah that he tried to shape into the top corner of Arrizabalaga’s goal went horribly awry. Another, when he went through, was kicked off the line by Antonio Rudiger and by the time Klopp made the decision to bring him off, Salah was struggling to have any impact. David Luiz kicked a header from Roberto Firmino off the line and Shaqiri found his legs just too short to get a good connection on an Andy Robertson cross.
When he came on, Sturridge scored with his second touch of the game, a shot similar to the one that rattled the Chelsea bar at Anfield on Wednesday.
“It’s that tight sometimes,” Klopp said. “Three days ago he had a similar situation and he hit the crossbar. He is a fantastic footballer. He had a full preseason and is in the best shape since I have known him. Simple as that. I am really happy for him. He works hard. He’s just a good lad. When he came in the dressing room 20 minutes later it was pretty loud. The boys were happy for him. He is really in a good moment.”
If Hazard had scored a second on the hour then it would have been a very different game, but Alisson saved when N’Golo Kante’s quick free-kick opened up Liverpool. Sarri’s decision to bring on Ross Barkley for Mateo Kovacic in the closing stages was an unusual one and the Englishman struggled in possession, although there were no such problems for Sturridge. There is, of course, an England squad announced this week and Sturridge has not played for his country in 12 months – he has not scored in almost two years.
His most recent injury problems began on England duty in 2014 but when he scores goals like this one, he will be hard to ignore.
‘I think Hazard is able to score 40 goals. So he has to score another 33’
Fan-tastic: A Liverpool supporter rushes to celebrate with Daniel Sturridge, far right, and team-mates after the striker’s stunning equalising goal against Chelsea