Saturday 29 April 2017

Mignolet denies Costa but Chelsea make point

Liverpool 1 Chelsea 1

Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet gets down to save Diego Costa’s penalty. Photo: Reuters
Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet gets down to save Diego Costa’s penalty. Photo: Reuters
Chelsea's goalscorer David Luiz celebrates. Photo: Reuters

Sam Wallace

Simon Mignolet is not everyone's idea of a first-choice goalkeeper, not even Jurgen Klopp's for periods of this season, but you could say that the Liverpool man has, at the very least, kept the Premier League title race interesting for another day.

Without his penalty save from Diego Costa with 13 minutes of this relentlessly intense contest left, this would have been Chelsea's victory No 19 of the season and the great blue juggernaut would have been a speck on the horizon for the rest. As it is they dropped points for only the second time in the league since that defeat to Arsenal on September 24, and yet still Antonio Conte's team ended the night having extended their lead at the top to nine.

That was the consequence of the night's biggest shock, Arsenal's home defeat to Watford, as well as Tottenham Hotspur's draw at Sunderland which meant that the Premier League leaders could afford the two points. Had Costa been more assertive from the spot then it would have been all three yet again, although that would have been very hard on Liverpool who fought back from David Luiz's equaliser.

Organised

So many sides are simply held at arm's length by Conte's magnificently organised winning machine, but Liverpool succeeded in striking a blow and Georgino Wijnaldum's second-half header reflected their ambition in coming back into this match.

There was no questioning the grip that Liverpool had on the first half's flow of possession, it was just the challenge of getting a grip on the game that eluded them. This is what Antonio Conte's Chelsea can do: allow an opponent to dominate the possession while leaving them wondering why the game will not bend to their control.

The absorption of Conte in the game is complete and it seems to go for his players too, who barely put a foot wrong in the whole first half. They did not create much going forward but they converted their one promising free-kick into a goal that shocked Anfield.

There was more argument about the award of the free-kick itself, which was given away by Adam Lallana who fouled Eden Hazard after he had lost control of the ball in the left channel. Mignolet only had three men in his wall and was shouting at persons unknown when Luiz took a run at the ball and curved it with his instep over the inadequate defences and into the left side of the goal.

It was unfortunate for the Belgian goalkeeper that he did not even move in the direction of Luiz's free-kick, let alone get a hand on it. Clattenburg, who never has any doubt in these moments, was sure that the goal was good.

If the Chelsea system had worked just about as perfectly as Conte might have hoped in the first half then after the break it seemed to flatten out.

Klopp's team were back in it. Roberto Firmino should have scored four minutes after the break when, unmarked on the left side of the area, he swung wildly and cleared the bar with his shot. It might have been the moment when faith started to ebb but Liverpool had the equaliser before the hour. It came from a cross from the right from Jordan Henderson, another moment when you wondered why there was not more pressure applied by Chelsea on the man with the ball. James Milner headed the ball back across and it took a bounce off Victor Moses before Wijnaldum nodded in.

The penalty came when Costa stepped back inside Joel Matip and went over his leg and the award if it looked harsh. Mignolet saved to his right side. There was a gripping encore to the game in which both sides tried to win it and Sadio Mane came on, but when it ended Chelsea were even further ahead of the rest. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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