If it was to be the winning goal then it was certainly worthy. It was a memorable goal in a rather forgettable match. In the 85th minute with the score tied at one goal apiece, Eden Hazard showed one of the true moments of quality that a game, which had offered so little, seemed impossible to provide. This is Hazard, however, and even a brief cameo was enough for him to turn the tide in this match in Chelsea's favour.
He dribbled past two Liverpool players, laid the ball off, then weaved his way beyond Naby Keita and Alberto Moreno to drive a fierce cross-shot past Simon Mignolet. It was a goal worthy of deciding something more emphatic than a rather low-quality League Cup 3rd round tie. The turnaround, however, was complete and the Belgian had played his part.
In spite of the late drama, there was no denying that this was very much the starter prior to Saturday evening’s main course. For most of the night the Anfield crowd did not wholly enjoy what was served up in front of them. Eight changes to either side ensured that fluidity and aggression were lacking in the main; there were mistakes and sloppy passes and the spectacle was a tough watch during the first-half.
Despite the changes, there were still plenty of big names – only highlighting the strength in depth that both clubs can call upon. Liverpool with a completely changed defence coped reasonably well, albeit there was a clear lack of chemistry between them. Alvaro Morata – struggling for form, and confidence – had the games first two chances.
For the first he was picked out by Cesc Fabregas with a trademark wedged pass that he has made his own, it dropped perfectly for Morata who tried to lift it over Mignolet. The goalkeeper managed to paw the ball away but, still, it fell to Morata who from an acute angle sent his shot across goal and wide. He had to do better.
And he did moments later when he combined with Willian and easily turned Joel Matip, who was slow to react, before forcing a sharp post save from Mignolet who was making his first start of the season. He performed admirably even if one single 90-minutes is difficult to take too much from.
The game certainly wasn’t lacking in incident and referee Kevin Friend tended to be at the centre. Liverpool thought they ought to have been awarded a penalty when Sadio Mane juggled with the ball and it struck Fabregas’s hand, but Friend waved away the appeals. It stemmed Liverpool’s growing influence in the game, which was being run through James Milner who often bailed out the pedestrian Fabinho alongside him.
Chelsea did gel more quickly than their hosts and had a clear advantage on the right where Victor Moses beat Moreno time and time again. The central areas, however, was where much of the game was taking place and for the most part featured a fair amount of stodge. Numerous contentious refereeing decisions riled Liverpool; Keita went down under Gary Cahill’s challenge but neither the referee on the pitch or the one behind a screen were moved.
Keita was the dynamic force in Liverpool’s team, he constantly cut inside and forced a fine flying save from Willy Caballero who also did well to block, and then collect, Mane’s header after a scampering run and cross from Xherdan Shaqiri. Just before half-time, Shaqiri picked out Daniel Sturridge but his first touch was heavy. Otherwise, he was clear on goal. It kind of summed up the entire half.
Shaqiri began to really show his worth as the second-half got underway, Liverpool began with more aggression and the pressure was starting to tell. Fabregas and Cesar Azpilicueta both failed to clear their lines on the edge of the penalty area and Mane picked up possession. He released Keita on the edge of the area and though Caballero parried the midfielder’s shot the ball dropped for the unmarked Sturridge who leapt and swept a left-footed volley into an unguarded net.
Maurizio Sarri’s side had barely troubled Mignolet’s goal, and it was looking like the single goal could well settle the encounter. Chelsea did surge back though, and took advantage of a dangerous free-kick that was once again sloppily conceded on Liverpool’s part. Hazard’s delivery was met by a glancing header from Ross Barkley and, though it was pushed out by Mignolet, Emerson stabbed the ball into the net. This time there was a long pause as VAR checked – Morata had been in an offside position but the ball went over him – and the goal was given.
Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah were now on the pitch and Liverpool looked to respond and ensure that they were not about to suffer their first defeat of the season. Firmino teed up Sturridge whose dipping shot from 25-yards struck the top of the crossbar and bounced over. A game that had shuffled and slouched was now ebbing and flowing; in such circumstances, one man tends to deliver. Up stepped Hazard to provide the winner.