Liverpool salvage a late draw as Chelsea stumble yet again
Benteke equalises is stoppage time as the Blues are undone once again by their reliance on Hazard
Liverpool 1 Chelsea 1
Not so long ago an end of season clash between two of the giants of English football would have set the pulses a racing. A title decider, perhaps, or at the very least a tussle for a place in the Champions League the following season.
But Wednesday night's showdown between Liverpool and Chelsea was a low-key affair. True, the Reds have got next week's Europa League final to look forward, but as far as the Premier League goes this season has been a write-off for both clubs.
The best that can be said about the 1-1 draw is that it keeps alive Liverpool's slim hopes of a top seven finish - and possible qualification for next season's Europa League should they lose to Sevilla in next week's final and miss out on the Champions League as a consequence.
Jurgen Klopp's side lie eighth, a point behind Southampton and three shy of West Ham, who are sixth ahead of Sunday's final round of matches. A win would have left the Reds in seventh, and in position to claim a European place if Man United win the FA Cup.
Chelsea's point keeps them in ninth, ten points behind Liverpool and a staggering 31 short of Leicester's tally of 80, and Wednesday's display summed up the Blues' season. Apart from the performance of Eden Hazard, who scored the opening goal of the game, there was little quality from the visitors.
Last season's PFA Player of the Year has had a poor season, but Hazard has come good at the end, and his first-half goal against Liverpool was his fourth in four matches. He also contributed with 96 touches in all, proof that the Belgian had rediscovered his appetite after a season in which rumours have linked him with a move away from Stamford Bridge.
But that also illustrated Chelsea's reliance on Hazard. Without him at his best they have been awful and when he has shown form he has carried the rest of the team.
Incoming manager Antonio Conte must ensure that Hazard remains at the club next season - and that he gets the best out of him - if the Blues are to once more become title contenders. "Hazard was terrific and has been growing in fitness for some weeks," said Guus Hiddink. "It's good to see. He had to suffer a lot with injuries this year but I'm very happy he's back."
Liverpool left it late for their equaliser, substitute Christian Benteke getting the goal in the second minute of stoppage time after Asmir Begovic, stepping in for the mysteriously incapacitated Thibaut Courtois, made a hash of a cross.
Afterwards manager Jurgen Klopp admitted it hadn't been the best display from his side. "We lost patience, we lost formation," he said, in what was his 50th match in charge of the Reds. "We had a lot of moments around the box when we shot when we should have passed."
But the German added that the game was more useful in terms of preparation for next week showdown with Sevilla. "The result wasn't important," he said. "That we take the right information out of this game, that's important."