It was hardly an occasion to rival some of the classic encounters between these bitter rivals, especially with Bruno Saltor doing his best to step into the void left by Graham Potter’s departure, although in the end it was difficult not to feel that it was not Chelsea’s interim head coach who was having trouble recognising his own team.
Bruno – more bewildered than anyone that he was chosen to hold the fort until Todd Boehly and Behdad Eghbali can convince Julian Nagelsmann, Mauricio Pochettino or Luis Enrique to take over – could hold his head up high. Whether the Spaniard is still here by the time Chelsea visit Real Madrid next week remains to be seen, but at least his players listened to him. At least there was no mutiny, on or off the pitch.
The applause at the end was respectful enough and, while another draw keeps Chelsea in the bottom half, victory would have been theirs if they had anyone capable of putting the ball in the back of the net by legal means.
Liverpool were lucky. Jürgen Klopp had tried some shock therapy, dropping some of his biggest players, but his side’s identity has disappeared. Ultimately these sloppy, stodgy away performances from Liverpool are no longer a surprise and, with the gap to fourth place now seven points, it is going to take something special for them to qualify for the Champions League.
Not that Klopp, who argued that Liverpool had done the ugly things well, is writing off his side’s top-four hopes before they host Arsenal. “I don’t know if there’s any opportunity for that,” he said. “We must win all our games. The next is Arsenal. If we are difficult to beat we can win. If not Arsenal will just run over us. We want to be as successful as possible.”.
So do Chelsea, though positives are hard to find. The disastrous Potter experiment is over and the man asked to pick up the pieces had never picked a team before facing Liverpool. It is hardly an ideal situation for Bruno, whose long-term future is surely linked to Potter, and he cannot even be sure if he will be in charge when Chelsea visit Wolves on Saturday. “As it stands I expect to go home and rest,” the 42-year-old said.
Bruno kept it simple – two centre‑backs in the team, a packed midfield, N’Golo Kanté making his first start since sustaining a hamstring injury last August – but Klopp made six changes after his side’s collapse against Manchester City. Out went Mohamed Salah, Trent Alexander‑Arnold and Andy Robertson; in came a group of players who looked as if they had only met each other on the journey to London.
The first wobble came in the fourth minute, a mistake from Kostas Tsimikas sending Chelsea away, Joël Matip just halting João Félix. What passed for the Liverpool midfield was already being overrun. Moments later Kanté was motoring away and nobody was tracking Mateo Kovacic, who rounded Alisson and saw Ibrahima Konaté clear his shot off the line.
Chelsea, whose next manager must keep Kanté fit, were pressing hard. Ben Chilwell soon got behind Joe Gomez, who was unconvincing at right-back, and delivered a cross that Kai Havertz failed to turn past Alisson.
Liverpool, weak without the unwell Virgil van Dijk, toiled. This was only the third time their back four of Gomez, Matip, Konaté and Tsimikas had played together and it showed. It was not long before Klopp was tearing into Matip.
As ever, though, Chelsea’s problem was the lack of a reliable finisher. Reece James had a goal disallowed after Enzo Fernández strayed offside, while Félix and Havertz wasted the kind of openings that Frank Lampard, who was watching his old side from a seat in Eghbali’s box, would have gobbled up during his pomp.
No doubt Lampard would have recognised the profligacy from his time in charge of Chelsea. It encouraged Liverpool. Jordan Henderson almost punished a poor clearance from Kepa Arrizabalaga, only for Kalidou Koulibaly to rescue Chelsea’s goalkeeper. Diogo Jota also threatened and the half ended with Liverpool on top. Darwin Núñez and Gomez tested Arrizabalaga and Wesley Fofana diverted an attempt from Fabinho.
Chelsea, who would apologise for some tasteless chants from their fans, needed to regroup. They hope to have a permanent manager delivering the half-time message soon. Contact has already been made with Luis Enrique and Nagelsmann. But why take over this mess of a squad now? Chelsea are short of goalscorers and they were at it again at the start of the second half, Kovacic blazing over.
Was it going to be one of those nights? It felt that way when Kanté spotted a gaping hole in Liverpool’s defence, Havertz saw his initial effort saved by Alisson and the Germany forward’s celebrations were cut short after a VAR review confirmed the rebound had gone in off his arm.
Conviction eluded Chelsea. A tiring Kanté came off, Bruno made some attacking changes and Liverpool introduced Salah. Yet both sides were blunt. Their fourth consecutive goalless draw will not live long in the memory.