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    Liverpool 1-1 Chelsea Match Report

    Christian Benteke scored his 10th goal of the season to rescue a late point for Liverpool against a Chelsea side who were inspired by a virtuoso performance by Eden Hazard. The dazzling winger, who recently ended a Premier League goal-scoring drought of 29 matches, had given his side a 32nd-minute lead with a superlative solo effort before the visitors were denied the victory by his fellow Belgian's stoppage-time header.

    The hosts named a full-strength side, just seven days before the Europa League final against Sevilla on May 18, but were second-best for large spells of the match and struggled to make the breakthrough against a depleted Chelsea XI. Guud Hiddink's team did create several chances in the second half as they looked to seal the win but the likes of Bertrand Traore and Pedro proved particularly wasteful. Although the point does little to help Chelsea in a season where they have fallen woefully short tof achieving their objectives, it could be a useful one for Liverpool as they remain in the hunt for a top-six spot.

    Jurgen Klopp's side made eight changes from the team that beat Watford 2-0 just three days earlier, with only Simon Mignolet, Alberto Moreno and Philippe Coutinho retaining their places. It was, however, the same line-up to the one which triumphed in the Europa League semi-final second leg against Villarreal and is likely to be used again in the showpiece event at St. Jakob-Park, Switzerland, next Wednesday. Chelsea's starting XI was missing the likes of Thibaut Courtois, John Terry, Branislav Ivanovic and Diego Costa, while Hiddink overlooked the temptation of recalling Oscar in favour of including the Burkina Faso international Bertrand Traore.

    It was Liverpool who enjoyed the brighter start to proceedings and Adam Lallana had the first sighter of the match when he tested Asmir Begovic from 20 yards. Lallana found himself unmarked, from Alberto Moreno's lay-off, but his strike was saved low-down to his right by the former Stoke City goalkeeper Begovic. Philippe Coutinho also unleashed an effort from slightly closer-range after Chelsea failed to clear the danger but Begovic once again gathered comfortably.

    After Chelsea had weathered the home side's early storm, it was they who dominated the rest of the half and Eden Hazard in particular provided the kind of midfield masterclass that had earned him the PFA Player Of The Year award just 12 months earlier. The Belgian had warned Liverpool of the threat that he posed early on when he tested Simon Mignolet with a strike from 20 yards, which his Belgian international teammate saved low-down to his left. However, nothing could have prepared them for what was to come nine minutes later when he provided the kind of virtuoso goal that we were accustomed to seeing from him last season when he lit up the Premier League.

    Having played a give-and-go with Baba Rahman, Hazard picked up the ball on the left wing, some 35 yards from goal and with very little sign of the danger that was about to ensue. The 25-year-old's change of pace allowed him to beat Adam Lallana before he dribbled the ball around Roberto Firmino and James Milner with dazzling foot speed. Still with plenty to do, he slotted the ball nonchalantly into the bottom right-hand corner from just inside the penalty area, beating the dive of Mignolet to score one of the goals of the season.

    All Liverpool could offer in response for the remainder of the half was a speculative 20-yard strike from Philippe Coutinho, which found the target but was saved by Mignolet as he dived to his left. Chelsea came on strong once again as the half neared its conclusion and were unfortunate not to be heading into the interval with more than the slender one-goal lead given to them by Hazard. Bertrand Traore was cleverly picked out Pedro and with Mignolet not knowing whether to stick or twist, the Burkina Faso midfielder tried to pick out the top-left corner but agonisingly missed the target.

    The second half was a much more even affair, as Liverpool created several clear-cut chances to level but were always aware of Chelsea's threat to put the game to bed on the counter-attack. Eden Hazard nearly repeated his first half superlatives when his twinkling feet took him past Emre Can and Kolo Toure before his low strike, from just outside the penalty area, was saved diving to his right by Mignolet. Liverpool could have levelled proceedings though when Lallana's disguised pass took out three Chelsea defenders and played Daniel Sturridge through on goal, but Begovic saved low-down at his near-post.

    Liverpool had further chances to find a way back into the match but Kolo Toure, Adam Lallana and Sheyi Ojo were all unable to sufficiently test Begovic as the home side turned up the heat. Toure found himself unmarked just outside the six-yard box, but his header was saved comfortably by the Bosnian, while Lallana volleyed several yards wide after the ball had sat up invitingly for him to strike. Joe Allen's cross also created a chance for Ojo at the back-post later in the half, but the Liverpool youngster flashed his effort across goal from a fairly acute angle.

    Chelsea had several chances on the counter-attack to stave off any potential Liverpool fightback but Pedro, twice, and Traore were unable to put the finishing touches to promising moves. Pedro's initial effort from 20 yards was comfortably palmed away by Mignolet, while Traore's low strike from similar range forced a sterner examination of the Belgian's agility. The visitors' best chance of sealing the win fell to Spanish international Pedro, who was played in on goal by Hazard's 50-yard pass but, having checked back to beat Moreno, he was once again denied by Mignolet's diving save.

    The Blues were finally punished for their profligacy throughout the match when Christian Benteke equalized in the second minute of stoppage-time to earn Liverpool a share of the spoils. The goal owed much to the shortcomings of Asmir Begovic, who misjudged substitute Sheyi Ojo's cross and could only claw the ball straight into the path of the grateful Belgian. Benteke, who had been introduced for the final 15 minutes, was on hand to head home from three yards and ensure that he ended his first season at Anfield in double figures.

    While it felt at times that Liverpool had one eye firmly fixed on next Wednesday's Europa League final, the importance of the occasion was not lost on Jurgen Klopp who described the match as the club's most important of the season. In particular, he was impressed by his side's ability to overcome the loss of both patience and formation to eventually find the correct solution that his team had been lacking after a promising first 15 minutes. Despite being second-best for large spells, it was a positive way for the club to end their season at home and they will hope to take forward the momentum into the final seven days of their campaign.

    The match will long be remembered for the masterclass that Eden Hazard delivered from midfield but most Chelsea fans will be wondering where this level of performance was for the first 33 games of the season. Hazard made 60 successful passes out of a possible 63, while 45 passes were made in the opponents' half of the field and he touched the ball on 96 occasions. The Belgian has been linked with a move away from Stamford Bridge in the summer but if new boss Antonio Conte persuades him to stay beyond the end of the season, it will be unlikely that The Blues will have to endure another campaign stuck in mid-table.

    The draw keeps Liverpool in the hunt for a top-six finish as they narrow the gap to Southampton and West Ham United to one and three points respectively, with one game remaining. The final match in their league campaign is away to West Bromwich Albion on Sunday, which the club will need to win if they still harbour hopes of finishing in a Europa League qualifying position. Chelsea, who can realistically finish no lower than tenth, remain in ninth place ahead of a home match against Premier League winners Leicester on Sunday.
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    Item Reviewed: Liverpool 1-1 Chelsea Match Report Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Richard Tufft
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