Benteke saves Reds after Hazard issues a Euros warning
Liverpool 1 Chelsea 1
Published 12/05/2016 | 02:30
Most players are thinking of their holidays at this time of the year. Eden Hazard appears to have just ended his. It's taken eight months but Chelsea's superstar winger belatedly decided to do a fair impression of a world class player at Anfield.
Hazard's first-half strike was a work of art, but what would have been a match-winning contribution was cancelled out in injury-time by Christian Benteke's header.
The result suited no-one. Jurgen Klopp may yet end the season with a trophy but the draw means the prospect of matching the club's worst league placing of the Premier League era - eighth - is a real one.
For 90 minutes Chelsea gave the impression the season was ending too soon.
They were resolute in defence until the last act, while Hazard wreaked havoc whenever the mood took him, which was often. It was the formula that made most of us think Chelsea would retain their crown when battle commenced last August.
If both clubs were hunting for clues as to what is needed next season, we also saw what's gone wrong in this one.
While Chelsea succumbed in a game they thought was won, Liverpool lost composure too soon once the momentum shifted against them. However they found a late reward when substitute Sheyi Ojo's cross evaded Asmir Begovic and Benteke pounced.
For Liverpool this was all about keeping the rhythm and maintaining form before the trip to Basel. There was even an outside chance of finishing in fifth if West Ham and Manchester United slipped up.
There was plenty of tempo in Liverpool's opening. Philippe Coutinho, Adam Lallana, Roberto Firmino and Dejan Lovren were all came close to scoring before Chelsea had even settled. John Obi Mikel looked nervous and Bertrand Traore was wondering when he'd get his first kick as the game played out in the visitors' half.
However, once Guus Hiddink's side adjusted, the game became an exhibition involving Hazard taunting Liverpool midfielders and defenders.
There is no finer sight than the Belgian mesmerising markers and the only lament was the question where has he been all season?
He must have been enjoying the longest pre-season in memory, opting to wake-up only when it looked like Tottenham might win the league. It bodes well for Belgium, but Hazard's goal-of-the-season contender 32 minutes into this game must have been bittersweet for all Chelsea fans.
Hazard evaded the challenges of four Liverpool players, slalomed to the edge of the penalty area then picked his spot beyond Simon Mignolet.
Liverpool couldn't get near enough to Hazard to trip him up, let alone stop him weaving extravagant patterns. Emre Can was eventually cautioned for using illegal means and Kolo Toure followed.
All the verve of Liverpool's start was memory, Sturridge opting to try to silence the taunts he was receiving from Chelsea fans with too many individual efforts from distance. Lallana, Coutinho and Firmino's magic was 40 yards from goal rather than areas to inflict damage.
Liverpool were seeking their first win at home over Chelsea since 2012, a game which had just followed an FA Cup final defeat. The Londoners are starting to enjoy their trips to Merseyside too much, and there was much to contemplate for Klopp the more his side toiled.
One quality Klopp has added to this team is stamina so there was plenty of optimism the latter stages would end in a siege.
The first threat of that came on the hour when Lallana set Sturridge free in the area, but the striker's shot was too close to Begovic. Toure then misdirected a header from close range as finally some home pressure intensified.
Chelsea remained as dangerous. There was a suspicion Liverpool's players were willing to give their all with the ball, but were less inclined to risk injury in trying to retrieve it. Pedro forced Mignolet into action on 63 minutes as the Liverpool defenders once more backed off.
Traore made Mignolet work again just before he was replaced on 73 minutes.
Klopp decided he had to make his own changes with 15 minutes remaining, summoning Joe Allen and Benteke in a final effort to end his home campaign with at least a point.
Benteke obliged with the last meaningful contribution after Begovic's error. (© Daily Telegraph, London)