LIVERPOOL, England -- Three points from Anfield as Liverpool halted a three-game losing streak to grab a 1-1 draw vs. league leaders Chelsea.
1. Honours even as Chelsea edge closer to title
In one sense, nothing changed. In another, much did. On a night of fluctuating emotions, Liverpool ended their slump, ensuring they did not lose four consecutive games at Anfield for the first time since 1923. They also saw Simon Mignolet make the clichéd journey from zero to hero.
Liverpool even inflicted Chelsea's first draw in almost five months, becoming only the second team in 17 games to take points off them and giving Antonio Conte's team an awkward evening. Yet the gap between the clubs remains 10 points; equally, Liverpool have still only beaten one side in 2017, League Two side Plymouth in the FA Cup.
The status quo after Tuesday's draw will suit Chelsea, who still boast a nine-point advantage at the top of the table thanks to Arsenal's home defeat vs. Watford and Tottenham's draw at Sunderland. It is still likelier they will be champions for a second time in three years, and if this week represented the greatest threat to their chances, they now have only Saturday's meeting with Arsenal to negotiate.
Conte's team prospered without playing particularly well, avoiding defeat in a game when they were often on the back foot. They could cite this as proof of character and resolve, but their regret could be that they twice had chances to win it. Victor Moses clipped the outside of the post, albeit from an acute angle, six minutes before Georginio Wijnaldum scored. Then Joel Matip caught Diego Costa, even if the contact was slight and the tumbling striker made the most of it.
Mignolet hadn't even attempted to save David Luiz's free kick when Chelsea took a surprising lead. But he threw himself to his right to make a terrific save from Costa's penalty -- his fifth from 10 top-flight spot kicks he has faced -- to end Liverpool's losing run and preserve their unbeaten record against the rest of the top six.
2. Luiz's brilliance shows how far he's come
It seemed like a case of spontaneous, opportunistic brilliance. Perhaps even Willian was taken aback. One Brazilian, Chelsea's set-piece specialist last season, appeared ready to take the free kick. Instead his compatriot, taking his usual longer run-up, accelerated past him, striking the ball with Cristiano Ronaldo-esque swerve.
Luiz's shot flew in off the near post; Mignolet was motionless. He had been too busy trying to organise his wall to realise the free kick was ready to be taken. Then he walked in the wrong direction, left to watch the ball beat him. The sight of the Belgian goalkeeper complaining ineffectually as the ball went in has been all too familiar at Anfield in recent years, but on this occasion, the blame should rest with the Belgian. Had he been in position, dived and still been beaten, he could have used the taker's brilliance in mitigation, but he didn't.
Redemption came later for Mignolet, yet it was a moment that pointed to Luiz's rare ability. Not too many centre-backs are capable of scoring free kicks, let alone with such technique and in games of such magnitude. It pointed to his outrageous self-belief, another aspect that sets him apart.
Of course, he has particular strengths and certain weaknesses, and Liverpool had set about trying to exploit them. They had pressed him from the start, Adam Lallana in particular forcing some hurried clearances and threatening to make this another unhappy outing against the Reds.
Luiz has made two debuts for Chelsea. Both came against Liverpool and both resulted in defeat. Instead this fixture produced another first for him, the opening goal of his second spell at Stamford Bridge. It then threatened to be a painful evening in a different respect, as Luiz seemed to twist his knee when he caught his studs in the turf. John Terry went to warm up, but the starter was able to complete the game.
3. Liverpool end slump thanks to hard work
For much of the match, Liverpool resembled Jurgen Klopp's usual "big game hunters," the team that would run further and faster than anyone else. They sought to gegenpress another top team to distraction; in the process, they looked to turn the clock back a few weeks by dint of effort alone as though they could sprint their way back into form.
There were no surprises in their game plan, but there were welcome signs of life after the Reds' sterile displays of late. Chelsea were pinned back for the first quarter-hour, the league leaders struggling to even reach the halfway line. There is something about facing Chelsea that rouses players and crowd alike. The Kop predictably told the visitors "you ain't got no history" as players set about making the present more unpleasant.
Klopp cheered on the touchline when an agitated Nemanja Matic passed the ball straight into the Liverpool dugout, reacting as though his side had scored rather than inducing an ultimately inconsequential error. Then Luiz scored, the volume reduced and Liverpool regressed into the floundering team of recent weeks, short of both ideas and incision.
The second half brought another fine start and added invention, as Liverpool redoubled their efforts. After Lallana's back-heel, Roberto Firmino skied a glorious chance. After Jordan Henderson chipped the ball to the far post, James Milner headed it back across goal and Wijnaldum was on hand to redirect it into the net.
Buoyant after the well-worked goal, Liverpool were given a further cause of optimism. Sadio Mane's name was cheered loudest when the teams were read out before kick-off. It felt like a boost to team morale simply to see him back again. When he took the field, it came as a relief to most. Mane had pulled up while warming up, with strapping and an ice pack quickly applied to his knee, but he was able to enter the game, making his first appearance since the African Nations Cup when replacing Philippe Coutinho.
The swap meant that the attacking quartet who had terrorised the Premier League have still not played together since Watford were thrashed 6-1 on Nov. 6. The chances are that each of them will start at Hull on Saturday. Perhaps Liverpool will resemble the free-scoring side of autumn again then, but for now, the 1-1 draw was a step in the right direction.