Eden Hazard reaching peak form and other Chelsea talking points from Liverpool draw

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A late equaliser from Willian rescued a point for Chelsea at Anfield after Mohamed Salah opened the scoring for Liverpool.

The hosts looked set for three points after the Egyptian buried his 10th Premier League of the campaign but were pegged back in the 85th minute.

Here’s what we learned from the encounter.

HAZARDOUS CONDITIONS AHEAD

It didn’t quite happen for him at Anfield but the signs are ominous, Eden Hazard is reaching peak form and defenders everywhere should be concerned. Despite Salah’s excellent display and goal, the Belgian was the best player on the pitch and did eventually manage an assist off Willian’s goal.

With Antonio Conte opting for legs in midfield, Danny Drinkwater replaced Cesc Fabregas in the starting line-up to operate alongside Tiemoue Bakayoko and N’golo Kante. As a result, the bulk of the creative responsibility was laid at Hazard’s feet and he certainly did his fair share.

The Chelsea star made five key passes, more than any other player in the game and completed a remarkable nine dribbles, the most by any player in a single Premier League match this season.

He was the one who constantly looked like making something happen and had Liverpool scrambling every time he received the ball. Chelsea had to settle for a draw on Saturday but with a run of good fixtures to come, Hazard is set to run riot.

CHRISTENSEN SETS THE BAR FOR ACADEMY HOPEFULS

Conte has put faith in Andreas Christensen, preferring him to the more seasoned David Luiz or new signing Antonio Rudiger. It’s paid off for the Italian with the young Dane impressing of late, slotting into Chelsea’s three-man central defence with ease.

Against Liverpool, Christensen had his hands full with the likes of Salah, Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho to deal with but passed the test, largely managing the threat posed by the trio where possible.

The 21-year-old’s successful run in the team is also a sign of hope for Chelsea academy stars vying to establish themselves in the first team. With John Terry being the last academy product to do so though, there prospects would have seemed bleak but Christensen’s emergence proves not only that it is possible but that the club’s loan policy can work.

WILLIAN OUT WITH A POINT TO PROVE

Of late, Conte has preferred a 3-5-1-1 system with Hazard operating in behind Alvaro Morata and Fabregas linking up with the duo when possible. Willian and Pedro have been subjected to the bench as a result, even with Drinkwater replacing Fabregas for the clash with Liverpool.

However, Willian seems determined to win his place back. The Brazilian scored a brace in midweek against Qarabag in the Champions League and was by far the best player.

With Liverpool looking to see out a 1-0 win at Anfield on Saturday, he came off the bench to score a crucial equaliser even if the manner of it was suspect as he seemed to try to hang a ball up at the far post for Morata to attack but miscued it and ended up chipping Simon Mignolet from outside the box instead.

Nevertheless, Willian continues to remain a threat and will give Conte a selection headache. With the busy December fixtures to come though, the Italian tactician may welcome such a problem as he looks to rotate his squad.

Willian (C)

Willian (C)

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Mata suffers Mkhitaryan form and other things learned from Man United's win over Brighton

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Manchester United edged a narrow 1-0 win at Old Trafford against Brighton on Sunday.

Ashley Young‘s shot from distance deflected off Lewis Dunk and looped into the back of the net to decide the encounter.

Here’s what we learned from the encounter.

MATA PERFORMS MKHITARYAN DISAPPEARING ACT

Jose Mourinho finally decided to drop Henrikh Mkhitaryan over the past couple of games given his poor form, choosing to play Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial together instead. He may need to find an alternative for Juan Mata now. It’s a shame Andreas Pereira is on loan to Valencia and in fine form too.

Mata was completely ineffective against Brighton. Despite playing in his favoured attacking midfield role with United enjoying the lion’s share of possession, he was unable to influence the game in the final third.

He spent most of his time on the pitch fluttering around, struggling to find space between the lines and ending up playing too high or dropping too deep.

It’s surprising from the Spaniard as well, who normally provides a steady flow of goals and assists regardless of the playing time he is afforded.

Mata is one of the more honest footballers you will find though and wasn’t lacking in effort but the fact that Zlatan Ibrahimovic looked far more threatening for United when he replaced him in the 62nd minute does speak volumes.

Reports of Mourinho swooping for Mesut Ozil in January have been doing the rounds and if things keep going the way they are with Mata and Mkhitaryan, that may well be on the cards.

NOT AN EASY CLEAN SHEET

David de Gea went the whole game without having a real save to make but that doesn’t mean United’s defence didn’t get stretched on occasion.

The more Pascal Gross got on the ball, the more likely United were to be carved open. He was excellent on the night, as he has been all season, completing 90.5% of his passes and making three key passes, more than any other player in the game.

It’s another clean sheet for United, who continue to boast the league’s best defensive record but the fact of the matter is that they were more than a little suspect on the break, particularly without their first-choice centre-backs in Eric Bailly and Phil Jones.

Brighton were very much the better side in the closing stages and United ended up holding on to a slender one-goal advantage.

Pascal Gross (L)

Pascal Gross (L)

UNITED OVER-RELIANT ON POGBA

There’s no doubt that Paul Pogba was a big miss for United in the last month or so. His return to action last week against Newcastle was indicative of that. He made them tick and team suddenly had a bit of swagger about them.

Against FC Basel in midweek, they created chance after chance in the opening hour under his influence and were quickly rendered second best once he was substituted.

On Saturday at Old Trafford, there was a sense of the United players looking to him to make something happen.

He had 129 touches in the game, 34 more than Nemanja Matic and made 110 passes 24 more than the Serbian.

Though while he did well to spread play and orchestrate the game when deeper, he was usually crowded out in the final third and sometimes tried to force the issue to no effect.

Paul Pogba (C)

Paul Pogba (C)

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Chelsea boss wary of threat posed by Liverpool's Salah

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Has been among the goals: Mohamed Salah

Antonio Conte believes Chelsea face a “very dangerous” Mohamed Salah and Liverpool on Saturday but warned they can have no excuses if they do not perform despite a trying week of travel.

Salah joined Chelsea in January 2014, having impressed playing against them for Swiss side Basel.

But the Egypt forward was soon loaned out to Fiorentina and Roma, making the latter move permanent in 2016 before joining Liverpool last summer.

Conte declined to discuss the reasons for Salah’s unsuccessful Chelsea spell, because it was before his time at the club. But the Italian did praise the Premier League‘s top scorer.

“He was very young and I think now he developed a lot,” Conte said.

“Salah is a good player and is very dangerous. He’s a technical player, but at the same time is very fast, very strong, very good in one v one.

“Also he’s very good to finish. We must pay great attention, but not only to Salah, also to (Sadio) Mane, (Roberto) Firmino, Philippe Coutinho, (Daniel) Sturridge.

“They have a good coach (Jurgen Klopp), they have a good identity. Great organisation, especially offensively. They are very dangerous.”

Cruised to a comfortable win against Qarabag: Chelsea

Cruised to a comfortable win against Qarabag: Chelsea

The Blues won 4-0 against Qarabag to qualify from Champions League Group C on Wednesday night, returning to London following the 2,500-mile flight from Baku, Azerbaijan early on Thursday morning.

Conte has continually bemoaned the fixture scheduling which sees his side go to Anfield following limited recovery and one day’s preparation, 24 hours less than that afforded to Liverpool, who drew at Sevilla on Tuesday.

Chelsea’s return was complicated as the aeroplane landed at the second attempt – the first was aborted due to strong winds at Gatwick – and Conte says he and his players finally got to their beds at 6am.

“It was a problem to land. In these circumstances you feel a bit afraid, a bit scared,” Conte added.

“To get to your house at 6am is not simple. To have only one day to prepare a big game, especially to have only one day to rest, is not right.

“But at the same time we must be focused on the game, a big game against Liverpool. Don’t find excuses.”

Conte appeared fresh faced after shaving the beard he grew during the international break, having valued the opinions of his daughter Vittoria over those of his wife Elisabetta, who had encouraged him to grow it.

With his beard grown: Antonio Conte

With his beard grown: Antonio Conte

He added: “I wanted to try a new look, but yesterday my daughter killed me. She said to me ‘Daddy, your look is older with the beard’.

“My daughter is more important than my wife.”

His side go in search of a fifth straight league win, but trail leaders Manchester City by nine points entering this weekend’s fixtures.

Victor Moses, a key component of Chelsea’s title win last season, is available after a six-week absence with a hamstring injury.

Moses, who spent the 2013-14 season on loan at Liverpool, is expected to be among the substitutes alongside David Luiz and Willian. Andreas Christensen and Alvaro Morata are likely to start.

Conte has adjusted his favoured 3-4-3 formation following some inconsistent displays, fielding an additional midfielder.

He said: “We are trying to find different solutions compared to last season.”

Provided by Press Association Sport

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