It’s all very midtable-ish, isn’t it? was the immediate cry of many, including this writer, as this contest drew closer to the halftime break that was so desperately required. However, a quick glance at the Premier League bundle tends to dispel that idea. When was the last time Brentford or Brighton fed the audience such wimpy fare?
Eighth and tenth, the positions these two global powers of football find themselves in following a dreary 0-0 draw at Anfield, are no longer acceptable due to the high standards of English football’s top division. Stuttering build up, heavy legged pressing, and basic technical errors are also no longer acceptable. Although neither team is destined to spend all of time in the Premier League’s cellar, neither Jurgen Klopp nor Graham Potter managed a performance that would have you believe they are anywhere close to Arsenal or Manchester City’s caliber, let alone Manchester United and Newcastle’s.
Tommy Wiseau directed a huge six fight that was rife with grammatical mistakes, logical fallacies, and perplexing decision-making. Mason Mount played that pass for Lewis Hall, but why exactly? When the ball didn’t come anywhere near him, the Mohamed Salah impersonator manning Liverpool’s right wing looked the part, swishing at nothing when it temptedly dropped towards him in the box.
It is simple, if time-consuming, to point out the absentees as a mitigating circumstance for the caliber of this match and assert that Virgil van Dijk, N’Golo Kante, and Luis Diaz’s presence alone would make it a match deserving of its billing. Can you really expect Stefan Bajcetic and Lewis Hall to produce work of a similar caliber? Maybe so, but these were teams who had front lines that cost a fortune to assemble, midfielders that cost £50 million to dictate terms, and a who’s who of famous names on the bench. The Brightons, Brentfords, and Fulhams that were placed above these two could never justify Chelsea’s level of spending, yet their roster is almost entirely free of waste. It is inconceivable that they would have a striker they signed for a manager they fired weeks later warming the bench alongside a 31-year-old they had just signed for £33 million.
There were players in this game who formerly shone in midtable but now appeared to be a shell of their former selves. Conor Gallagher may push aggressively, but far too frequently he plays with his head down in challenging situations. Marc Cucurella has been given the perfect opportunity to advance—he even has the same manager who got the best out of him at Brighton—yet he doesn’t seem to be able to connect with a football successfully.
Some appeared to be above the crowd. Kai Havertz, who was frequently a timid line leader, embodied the industry; his height and quickness of foot made him ideal for a game of hit-and-run. Though his work could have been a little harder if any Liverpool defender had moved after the corner had came into the box, he was denied the game’s opening goal by the narrowest of margins when he turned in the rebound from Thiago Silva’s shot that hit the post.
It also turned out that a top player for an Ajax team that advanced to the Champions League semifinals is a capable footballer. Given how he has been handled throughout his Chelsea career thus far, you would not have known that Hakim Ziyech was such a talent; but, tonight he dazzled with drops of the shoulder and free kicks laid on a dime. He clearly represented a minority. The intense rivalry between these two was not reflected in this game. These two teams may have set the bar low enough for a child’s high jump if they improved in the second half.
Mykhailo Mudryk at least had a chance to catch up as a result. A dart past two defenders and a shot into the sidenetting was far more stunning than his first touch in a risky area, which appeared to be the £100 million man playing down the occasion. Alisson was given freedom to attack after the heavy touch with his right foot. He injected life into a lifeless game, forcing Jurgen Klopp to substitute Trent Alexander-Arnold for James Milner. It may not have come as a surprise that the seasoned Milner found it difficult to keep up with a new acquisition who had just turned one when he made his Premier League debut.
Having the afterburners to blow past Ibrahima Konate is entirely another from making Milner appear clumsy. This season, a Chelsea forward caused the opposition to appear nervous for the first time. But the sad fact is that the cavalry has probably come too late. Newcastle will finish the weekend at least nine points in front of these other two groups, who don’t seem capable of stringing together the kind of winning streak that would allow them to move up the standings.
As the injuries heal, assistance will arrive. Todd Boehly will likely invest an additional £300 million in the issue. However, based on these 90 minutes, these two sides belong right in the midst of the pack.