Jürgen Klopp predicted that this showdown with a Chelsea team brimming with confidence thanks to their exploits since Thomas Tuchel’s appointment at the start of the year would be a major barometer of his team’s ambitions this season.
But after Chelsea threatened to run away with the points after Kai Havertz’s brilliant header had given the visitors the lead, the Liverpool manager will be grateful for the incident just before half-time that resulted in Reece James being shown a straight red card for handballing Sadio Mané’s goalbound shot on the line and Mohamed Salah’s equaliser from the penalty spot that completely changed the complexion of the game.
What will be hugely frustrating for Klopp is that his side then failed to break down a stubborn Chelsea defence in the second half despite playing against 10 men, with Chelsea showing once more that they have plenty of stomach for a fight under their German manager that should serve them well for what lies ahead.
The huge anticipation surrounding this match could be felt on the streets before kick-off and judging by the intensity Liverpool started with here, they had clearly been looking forward to facing the European champions as well.
After Mané snapped into a challenge on Reece James straight from kick-off, Harvey Elliott had the first sight of goal in the fourth minute when his shot from outside the area fizzed a yard wide.
The 18-year-old was called into England’s Under-21 and retained his place in Liverpool’s midfield, with Fabinho returning and Andy Robertson back after injury.
The one surprise in Klopp’s starting lineup was a first Premier League start of the season for Roberto Firmino, while Tuchel opted to make one change as N’Golo Kanté came in for Mateo Kovacic.
For the opening 20 minutes, it seemed inevitable Liverpool would find a breakthrough as Trent Alexander-Arnold weaved his magic from right-back.
An inch-perfect pass had Chelsea’s defence back-pedalling desperately and landed in the path of Jordan Henderson, only for the England midfielder to volley horribly wide.
Having made mincemeat of Arsenal’s Pablo Mari last week, Romelu Lukaku was up against a more formidable opponent in Virgil van Dijk as he attempted to end a run of six matches without scoring at Anfield since his first visit back in August 2012 while on loan at West Brom.
Aside from one moment midway through the first half when he briefly escaped the attentions of the Netherlands defender down the right flank to deliver a cross that was cleared to safety, the £97.5m signing took time to find his feet.
Instead, it was Kai Havertz who stole the show in the 21st minute for Chelsea with a beautifully cushioned header from a James corner that always seemed destined for the net despite Alisson’s delay to react.
An excellent block from Van Dijk then denied a goalbound shot from Lukaku before Mason Mount shot wide from a tight angle with Liverpool’s defence floundering. But having seen Elliott fire embarrassingly off target and Firmino replaced by Diogo Jota after the Brazilian suffered a suspected hamstring injury, the home side’s luck turned in first-half injury time.
Édouard Mendy’s brilliant save to deny Joël Matip following a corner was the cue for a goalmouth scramble that ended with James blocking the ball on the line at least partially with his arm from Mané’s shot.
Anthony Taylor initially waved play on but was asked to watch the incident again by VAR and then showed James a straight red, with Salah eventually stroking home from the spot after Antonio Rüdiger was booked for trying to scuff it up with his boot.
Tuchel reacted by withdrawing the unfortunate Havertz and Kanté at half-time after the France midfielder had hobbled away from a challenge with Mané before the break, with Thiago Silva and Mateo Kovacic introduced.
The pattern for the second half was set early on as Chelsea retreated into their defensive shape and challenged Liverpool to break them down, with Jota seeing his header from Salah’s sumptuous cross with the outside of his boot sail over. A curling effort from Henderson had Mendy well beaten but just eluded the target before the Senegal international did well to deny Fabinho and then Robertson in quick succession.
In a rare Chelsea attack that involved Marcos Alonso and Mount, Liverpool needed Matip to be at his best to block Lukaku’s effort, although that was only a brief respite for the visitors as they were pinned back again.
Yet despite dominating possession in the dying stages, a tame shot by Salah with his right foot that dribbled towards Mendy’s goal with five minutes remaining summed up a frustrating day for Klopp. But it could have been much worse.