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Liverpool blew a big chance to send out an early-season warning...and they've handed the advantage to Manchester

Chelsea's Cesar Azpilicueta and Liverpool's Jordan Henderson clash following Liverpool's equaliser

John Aldridge

CHELSEA were delighted to escape with a point from Anfield last night as Liverpool blew a great chance to claim a massive early season win.

When Blues defender Reece James was correctly sent off for handball on the stroke of half-time and Mohamed Salah drew Liverpool level at 1-1, the game was there for the taking for Liverpool.

But Chelsea went into defensive mode in the second half and pulled out every trick in the book to try to make sure Liverpool couldn’t get the goal they craved.

It was frustrating to Jurgen Klopp and his players as Chelsea fell over and did everything they could to break up the game, but they did it very well and they claimed the draw.

While this was a missed chance for Liverpool, it was also a night that confirmed Klopp’s side are a match for the current European champions and after all the big-money signings at other clubs this summer, that has to be positive.

I was working for Liverpool’s online radio last night and from my position high in the stand, it came as a surprise when the team news came through and Diogo Jota was on the bench.

We all know that Klopp is very loyal to Roberto Firmino and he has served him well down the years, but Jota has been the form player in the opening weeks of the season and deserved to keep his place. He scored important goals in the wins against Norwich and Burnley, but Klopp went back to Firmino in this massive game and it was a bold decision.

Chelsea's Reece James handles the ball on the goal line for the Liverpool penalty

Another big decision was whether Klopp would stick with young Harvey

Elliott in midfield and he had no hesitation in making that call.

If you look at Elliott’s performance in comparison with Naby Keita in the game against Burnley last week, the young man came out on top and he deserved to keep his place.

As soon as the fixtures came out back in June, this was the fixture that always looked like it would give us a gauge of where Liverpool are in their battle with the title challenges.

Virgil van Dijk’s battle with Chelsea striker Romelu Lukaku was always likely to be crucial to the outcome and while the Belgian striker is a real handful, he is a player who needs service to thrive.

As we saw in his days at Everton and Manchester United, Lukaku can go missing in matches if you cut off his supply line and teams taking on Chelsea this season need to stop him getting into positions where he can hurt you.

That means stopping Chelsea’s midfielders giving him the ammunition he is looking for and what we saw last night is they have the ability to bully teams with a powerful midfield.

Mason Mount and Jorginho are fine players and they disrupted Liverpool’s attacking ambitions time and again in what was a fantastic first half at Anfield.

It was 100 mile-an-hour stuff and you have to say, it was a high-quality Premier League game, with Chelsea getting their noses in front courtesy of a well-directed header from Kai Havertz in the 22nd minute.

While Liverpool were a match for the reigning European champions, these high-quality games between top sides are decided by fine margins and Chelsea did well to try to nullify the attacking threat of Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson.

Chelsea’s back three quickly became a back five when Liverpool got into attacking positions and the home side gave the ball away too often to put pressure on the visitors. Another issue Liverpool needed to overcome yesterday was referee Anthony Taylor (inset), who has a track record of giving dodgy decisions against the Reds and he did that again at times last night.

Yet Taylor had no choice other than to send of Reece James when he handled the ball on the line in the final seconds of the first half, with Salah drawing Liverpool level with the penalty that followed.

It was all Liverpool after the break as they pinned Chelsea back, but they went into a defensive mode that made them tough to break down.

They were trying to get free kicks at every opportunity to break up the play, pulling out every trick in the book to break the game up and while it wasn’t great to watch, they did it very well and soaked all the pressure up.

In the end, Liverpool ran out of ideas and the only winners from this fantastic game turned out to be the two title contenders from Manchester.

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