Still there, from a goal out of nowhere. Liverpool’s winning run might have ended, but the spark charging this title challenge is still there, and may now be even stronger. That is the wider benefit from spectacular late goals like that from the redeemed Daniel Sturridge, and why the manner of it can mean so much more than the point that came from this 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge. That the move brought the substitute’s only touches of the game only added to it. One contribution, one point but so much more.
It cancelled out Eden Hazard’s supreme opener and if that was yet another moment to show he is now definitively the best player in the Premier League at present, the equaliser was one to show how Chelsea are still someway off the best team. Liverpool, however, can only further fire such beliefs; such hopes.
Had Sturridge not delivered it, after all, the discussion would have been about bubbles bursting, and a side running at full pelt so deliciously ambushed by a Chelsea. It would have been about a Chelsea who themselves could no longer lurk in the background, who had to proclaim themselves as challengers.
As it was, the match ultimately illustrated why Maurizio Sarri is playing down his side’s chances, but also why Liverpool may have something different about them.
Both are still undefeated, but it is a joyous Jurgen Klopp who that will mean so much more to.
There is admittedly the lingering feeling that this match proved Manchester City remain the best side in the division, but the enticing scenario is that they travel to Liverpool next Sunday, for a match that already means so much.
This was similarly one of those games between the big teams of such an extreme that it finally made concrete a lot of truths that games against lesser sides couldn’t.
Liverpool, as against Tottenham Hotspur and Paris Saint-Germain, are still a bit too open at the back; still not quite as assured as wins against more moderate opposition have made out. Chelsea – funnily enough – meanwhile look much more like a Sarri team when they actually have space to play into; when they aren’t trying to prise open a massed defence.
It wasn’t just about the space, though. It was as if the very stakes and intensity of the game energised Chelsea, too, bringing a greater pace that hasn’t been there of late.
That could be seen as soon as the game started, with Hazard and Kovacic exchanging flicks.
It was a sign of what was to come.
Chelsea are still a great deal off the finished article, but their opening goal was as complete a Sarri goal as you’ll see. It had everything: the intricate close-quarters passing at pace to set it off, the divine through ball from Kovacic, an exhilarating run to stretch the pitch and then Hazard – of course – putting it in really the only place that he could.
It was divine, a rare moment of perfection in a game mostly characterised by the chaotic.
This is one flipside of matches played at such speed, that are otherwise pretty much as entertaining as you can get. That pace brings error rather than efficiency – and none were more guilty of that than the fastest player on the pitch, and one who wasn’t so much efficient but effervescently exceptional last season: Salah.
His contributions to this match were just far below what we’ve come to expect, at a time when Hazard seems to have definitively surpassed the Egyptian – and the injured Kevin De Bruyne – as the Premier League’s outstanding player.
They were: one blazed shot wide when the Chelsea box opened up for him; a bad heavy touch that took him too far wide for his best opportunity of the game, as Antonio Rudiger cleared off the line in a move that sounds much more dramatic than it was; and then an overhit pass intended for Roberto Firmino when the Brazilian was in space.
This was the greater frustration.
Although most of Salah’s play outside the box was still fine, and productive, it never looked like he was going to suddenly here transform into last season’s prolific forward.
It was then no surprise when Klopp hauled him off – something that would really have been remarkable in a game like this at a stage like this last season. The only problem was replacement Xherdan Shaqiri was guilty of even greater profligacy, badly skewing a chance wide after a fine ball across from Andy Robertson.
The game had by then evolved into a defined pattern: Liverpool looking to build the siege, Chelsea looking to catch them on the break, and defensive players at both ends attempting to provide moments of defiance.
Alisson brilliantly saved from another Hazard break, before David Luiz turned a Virgil van Dijk header off the line in what was a moment as dramatic as it sounds.
Then came the moment that warranted so many views, that was a moment of brilliance. With Liverpool still struggling to open Chelsea, Klopp introduced Sturridge – and he brought something special.
From an improbable angle and distance, he offered an improbably impressive shot into the top corner, that left Kepa Arrizabalaga flailing and Sturridge’s old club deflated.
Liverpool have still not been defeated, after what was arguably their second most difficult way game of the season, but look likelier than ever – and likelier that Chelsea – to finally win this title.
That is the real power of a moment like that. It took imagination, and only further fires the imagination.