Belfast Telegraph

Christian Benteke hits late leveller as Liverpool avoid tricky Hazard to secure draw against Chelsea

Liverpool 1-1 Chelsea

By Robert Jones

This time next week, Liverpool might be a Champions League club once again, while this game will be forgotten about.

For that to happen, though, they will have to play a lot better than they did against a Chelsea team that contained John Obi Mikel as a makeshift central defender.

The Nigerian midfielder has never before appeared so comfortable in a Premier League game at Anfield.

Everything that Liverpool have been in European games on this ground in 2016, they were not here. Chelsea, decimated by absentees, were seconds away from victory.

Liverpool's push for an equaliser had been gentle rather than forceful. Chelsea's lead could have been greater had Pedro released a more convincing finish from Eden Hazard's wonderful defence-splitting pass with minutes to go.

In injury time, however, just as it seemed as though Jurgen Klopp might spend the next few days concerned about momentum being lost with a European final looming, Christian Benteke capitalised on Asmir Begovic's mistake from Sheyi Ojo's cross to steal a point.

There was more riding on this for Liverpool than there was for Chelsea, who would finish in their lowest league position in 20 years regardless of the result here. Theirs was a skeleton side, with John Terry suspended, Branislav Ivanovi and Diego Costa injured and Thibaut Courtois sitting in the directors' box because of sickness.

Liverpool's team, meanwhile, reflected Klopp's likely selection policy in next week's Europa League final against Sevilla, with the same XI that started against Villarreal last Thursday in the semi-final featuring again.

There was no sense, however, that this was a full scale-drill. The pace was of a testimonial standard.

It would be tempting to describe Hazard's opener, indeed, as a thing of beauty.

Neither Emre Can nor James Milner were able to regulate the Belgian's movement from a central position. His goal came from Chelsea's left: slaloming, skipping and accelerating past four opponents before easing a shot past Simon Mignolet from the edge of the box.

Yet at no point did a Liverpool player apply necessary pressure to prevent the run and it reinforced the idea that Liverpool were preoccupied by other challenges.

The pattern did not change a great deal in the second half. When Adam Lallana found Sturridge, it seemed as though Liverpool might equalise in front of the Kop but Begovic was there to deny him. When Joe Allen swung in a deep cross, Sturridge was there at the back post and again his finishing failed him.

This was Klopp's 50th game in charge of Liverpool. That it came just 217 days since his appointment last October meant that he had reached the landmark quicker than any Liverpool manager in history.

Having played so much, especially since Christmas, it seemed as though it might have been up to Klopp to determine whether this performance was a consequence of diverted attentions and players being afraid to commit to the high intensity levels that he usually demands, or, in fact whether Liverpool are getting tired at exactly the wrong time.

Perhaps Benteke's late intervention will stop that inquest happening.

Liverpool: Mignolet, Clyne, Lovren, Toure (Ojo 88), Moreno, Lallana (Benteke 75), Milner (Allen 75), Can, Coutinho, Firmino, Sturridge. Subs not used: Lucas, Bogdan, Skrtel, Smith.

Booked: Can, Toure, Milner.

Goals: Benteke 90.

Chelsea: Begovic, Azpilicueta, Cahill, Mikel, Baba, Fabregas, Matic, Willian (Kenedy 57), Hazard, Pedro (Loftus-Cheek 90), Traore (Abraham 74). Subs not used: Alexandre Pato, Amelia, Palmer, Tomori.

Booked: Azpilicueta.

Goals: Hazard 32.

Att: 43,210

Referee: Michael Oliver (Northumberland).

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