Liverpool and Chelsea laid their respective Premier League struggles bare for all to see in a bitterly disappointing stalemate at Anfield as both team ended in 0-0.
The two giants, who have been in constant pursuit of major prizes in recent seasons, are currently locked well outside the top four – and how it showed in a dismal game almost devoid of entertainment and quality.
Chelsea had an early Kai Havertz strike ruled out for offside by VAR and there was also a lively debut as a second-half substitute for £89m new boy Mykhailo Mudryk, while Liverpool keeper Alisson saved well from another new Chelsea signing, defender Benoit Badiashile.
Liverpool’s own £45m recruit Cody Gakpo was quiet – he did force one save from Kepa, but otherwise there was little to warm a capacity crowd at a freezing Anfield.
The quality of this game was reflected in the subdued atmosphere at Anfield, with the final whistle greeted with near silence apart from some very mild applause.
Liverpool have made their reputation and based their success under manager Jurgen Klopp not simply on world-class talent but on a searing intensity that has seen teams simply blown away.
They currently look a shadow of that side in every respect – admittedly deprived of attacking talent such as Luis Diaz, Diogo Jota and Roberto Firmino – and there were very few alarms for Chelsea and no serious work for keeper Kepa.
“We had good spells but couldn’t keep it up,” Klopp told BT Sport.
“We have to be ready for little steps and this is a little step. A clean sheet against Chelsea, we didn’t create a lot of chances and they had some as well.
“In the end, I’m OK with 0-0 because you have to accept these steps. We can build on that.”
Liverpool’s new signing Gakpo seems to be in a settling-in period, which is perfectly understandable, and he struggled to make an impact apart from one shot on the turn that brought a comfortable save from Kepa in front of The Kop.
Klopp’s side are now nine points off the Champions League places and it is clear they need to find that missing spark – and quickly – if they are to get anywhere near the top four.
Chelsea’s new manager Graham Potter has had a tough start to life at Stamford Bridge, with poor results coming as the club continue to embark on a remarkable transfer spree.
And this is why Potter and Chelsea will take this point, even though they will know they had chances to make it three against a Liverpool defence that continues to look vulnerable, especially without Virgil van Dijk.
“I thought the performance was good,” Potter told BT Sport. “Happy with the team, the energy, what we tried to do. At Anfield, it is always tough. It is a clean sheet and a point, we move forward.
“Overall, a positive day, apart from the fact we wanted three points.”
There was a big bright spot for Chelsea in the cameo from Mudryk, newly arrived from Shakhtar Donetsk but very quick – literally – to adjust to life in the Premier League when he was introduced after 55 minutes.
He provoked panic instantly in the veteran James Milner, who was clearly unable to cope with his pace and received a yellow card for a desperate foul before he was substituted.
Mudryk had a weaving run into the penalty area which ended with a shot into the side-netting and he was unlucky on two occasions when he stole in unnoticed at the far post.
Potter added: “He’s not played football for a while, he’s been on a mid-season break. We had to manage his minutes, but you can see his quality.”
New defender Badiashile also created a good impression although he should have scored with a first-half header that was saved by Liverpool keeper Alisson.
Chelsea will regret not taking some of the opportunities they had when Liverpool’s defence was stretched, but this is a time when they will accept small mercies and a point at Anfield – even with their opponents in their current reduced state – is always acceptable.