Liverpool 1-1 Chelsea: Last-gasp Benteke header earns Reds a point in final home game

Christian Benteke's 92nd-minute header earned Liverpool a point in a 1-1 draw with Chelsea on their final Barclays Premier League home game of the season on Wednesday evening.

The Reds substitute profited from Asmir Begović's costly error, the goalkeeper spilling Sheyi Ojo's cross straight into the path of Benteke - who headed home his 10th goal of the season to cancel out Eden Hazard's solo opener and salvage a point.

The hosts started well and threatened regularly, but failed to take their opportunities and defended weakly as an almost unstoppable Hazard danced through the defence and picked out the bottom corner after half-an-hour.

Little changed after the break, Daniel Sturridge going closest from 12-yards on the hour mark as the hosts were frequently left frustrated by Chelsea's rigid defensive organisation.

But they also had themselves to blame, constantly conceding possession with wayward passing and a lack of tempo to open the game up, as well as passing up on a number of decent chances to get on the scoresheet.

The home side's substitutions didn't look to have made the telling contribution that Jürgen Klopp hoped they might, but that all changed when Begović failed to collect Ojo's cross and Benteke bundled the ball over the line.

The result means Liverpool can still finish sixth and secure at least Europa League football next season on Sunday, provided they beat West Bromwich Albion and results elsewhere go their way.

Much-changed side from Klopp as Reds make eight changes

Having utilised a second-string starting eleven in last weekend's home victory over Watford, Reds boss Klopp returned to a more familiar full-strength side - making a total of eight changes for the visit of the 2014-15 champions.

The Liverpool squad in front of the Kop before kick-off. (Picture: Getty Images)
The Liverpool squad in front of the Kop before kick-off. (Picture: Getty Images)

Going for the same team which brushed Villarreal aside to reach the UEFA Europa League final less than a week ago, Daniel Sturridge led the line, supported by the likes of Adam Lallana, Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino.

Only Coutinho, Alberto Moreno and Simon Mignolet kept their places from Sunday as James Milner captained the side, joined by Emre Can in midfield and ahead of a centre-back partnership of Kolo Touré and Dejan Lovren, with Mamadou Sakho still unavailable for selection.

In the opposite dug-out, Guus Hiddink made four changes himself, Asmir Begović taking the place of Thibaut Courtois in goal after the Belgian succumbed to a virus despite travelling to Merseyside.

Elsewhere, Diego Costa's absence from the match-day 18 meant Bertrand Traoré stepped in up top, with Pedro and Baba Rahman replacing the suspended John Terry and the injured Branislav Ivanović. Defensive midfielder Mikel was the man chosen to take up Terry's place in central defence.

Strong start from lively hosts on final home game

Those two starting teams, brimming with attacking firepower, hinted at an entertaining end-to-end affair, and the game looked likely to live up to its billing in the early stages.

The Reds, debuting their new home kit for the 2016-17 campaign, started positively with Mikel forced to bring down Sturridge just outside the edge of the box after 30 seconds, but the striker could only curl hugh over the crossbar from the resulting free-kick.

Hazard was back closer to his scintillating best under the Anfield floodlights. (Picture: Getty Images)
Hazard was back closer to his scintillating best under the Anfield floodlights. (Picture: Getty Images)

Klopp tasted his first victory over Chelsea in the previous meeting between the two sides, earning a 3-1 success at Stamford Bridge back in October, and with this his 50th game in charge of the Reds, his side looked sharper and hungrier in the first 10 minutes as Coutinho saw a shot blocked only by Baba Rahman with Begović scrambling across his line.

Continuing to apply some early pressure, Begović parried Lallana's long-range drive away from goal before rising to deny Coutinho with a simple stop after the Brazilian looked to bend a shot into the bottom corner.

Up the other end, Mignolet was called into action for the first time after nine minutes when Traoré got the better of both Touré and Lallana with good footwork inside the Reds' box, but he could only scuff a shot straight into the Belgium 'keeper's grasp.

Both sides displayed plenty of promise in the search for an opening goal, but let themselves down with their respective final balls. Firmino's poor touch forced him wide from a promising position and he could only hit a shot into the side netting after he had been sent through on goal by Sturridge.

Chances came and went for both sides, Mignolet making his first meaningful contribution of the evening as he denied Hazard's strike from range on 22 minutes, but neither side could quite muster enough for the breakthrough. 

Hazard takes advantage of poor Liverpool defending

As the pace of the game gradually slowed, Klopp's charges were guilty of picking the wrong passes - struggling with the speed and accuracy of them - and they were deservedly punished for their lackadaisical possession play in the 31st minute.

Hazard, having only scored his first goal of the season a few weeks ago, weaved his way through a number of red shirts before reaching the edge of the box and curling a perfectly-placed shot inside the far post and into the bottom corner at the Kop end.

Chelsea wheel away back to their half after Hazard opens the scoring. (Picture: Getty Images)
Chelsea wheel away back to their half after Hazard opens the scoring. (Picture: Getty Images)

They struggled to break their deep-defending opponents down  in their immediate attempts to respond, Coutinho trying another shot from 20-yards which was beaten away by Begović before Sturridge fired low into the goalkeeper's arms with a harmless effort from distance.

With the Anfield backdrop set to be significantly different for its next fixture, this the final game before an extra 8,000-seater expansion is completed on the Main Stand, the performance from the home side petered out disappointingly towards the end of the first-half.

Chelsea almost went 2-0 up after 38 minutes, when Mignolet came out to meet a through ball but did not commit to the decision, allowing Traoré to beat him to it. With the 'keeper caught off his line, the 20-year-old attempted to curl into the far corner but fortunately, could only fire over the angle after Mignolet closed him out.

A seething Klopp roared his side on from the touchline, but he could do little until half-time - Chelsea getting back in numbers defensively every time the hosts looked like opening them up. 

No changes in personnel, no changes in play

But despite what was undountedly an aggressive and dissatisfied half-time team talk from Klopp, little changed after the break with Liverpool largely restricted to potshots from distance.

Their hopeful attempts did little, Sturridge missing the mark after spotting Begović a few yards off his line from the halfway line and Firmino's 25-yard attempt always rising into the Kop.

Klopp switched to a diamond formation in order to try and swing the pendulum in their favour, but still the Reds found themselves outnumbered and unable to find openings in a stubborn back-line.

Sturridge was continually frustrated by his former employers. (Picture: Getty Images)
Sturridge was continually left frustrated by his former employers. (Picture: Getty Images)

Consequently, they were frustrated as the visitors stuck to their task and dug deep. Liverpool's set-piece deliveries were equally as poor, James Milner's deep free-kick drifting over everyone inside the box and out for a goal kick just before the hour.

Chelsea then almost put the game out of reach and it was that man once again causing them problems. Hazard picking up a loose ball, driving beyond Can and Touré and looking to fire a low shot beyond Mignolet, but the Reds No.22 managed to get a strong enough hand to it before reacting well to prevent Traoré stealing in to score the rebound. 

Reds throw everything at Blues but struggle for end product

Liverpool's best move of the game came on 60 minutes when Lallana found space between the lines of defence and midfield and spotted a great run by Sturridge. He slipped the striker through perfectly, but Begović was equal to his shot to force a corner.

That set-piece was taken short and led to Sturridge chopping onto his left foot and picking out Touré at the back post, but he couldn't get enough power on his close-range header to beat the 'keeper.

Meanwhile, Chelsea looked much more capable of creating chances up the other end as Pedro cut inside on to his left foot and struck a shot which Mignolet punched to safety.

In the final 20 minutes, Liverpool looked desperate to get back on level terms - Lallana somehow not managing a shot on target from Moreno's excellent cross in to the back post.

Still, though, Chelsea retained a threat on the counter-attack - Mignolet saving from a vicious Traoré shot after making space for himself on the edge of the Liverpool area.

Chelsea handed England Under-19 international Tammy Abraham his first-team debut with 17 minutes to go, the prolific young forward giving Lovren and Touré something extra to think about in the final stages.

Klopp responded with his own substitution, bringing on Joe Allen and Christian Benteke in place of Milner and Lallana with the idea of adding a focal point up front. 

At first, it did little to stir the Reds from their slumber. Time and time again, Chelsea denied them the chance to level as Begović saved comfortably from Can's attempt to place it into the bottom corner in the 79th minute.

Chelsea had opportunities to wrap it up, Abraham almost running clear on goal had it not been for Touré's excellent recovery - bursting his lungs to get across and shut the door on the youngster.

Klopp's side controlled possession in the dying stages and substitute Sheyi Ojo almost forced an equaliser just 20 seconds after coming off the bench, latching on to Allen's floated cross at the byline and sending it across the face of goal, but no-one was on hand to connect.

With a minute of normal time to go, Pedro could and should have sealed the three points after Hazard's sensational long ball sliced through the Reds' defence, but Mignolet saved well after Moreno sprinted back to close down the winger's space.

Benteke heads home from just a few yards out to salvage a late point. (Picture: Getty Images)
Benteke heads home from just a few yards out to salvage a late point. (Picture: Getty Images)

And Benteke made the visitors regret their wasted chances when Ojo whipped a ball that should have been an easy catch for Begović, but the Bosnian spilled straight into the path of Benteke who only needed to make contact to dramatically rescue a point and stretch the Reds' unbeaten Anfield run in all competitions to 13 games.