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Chelsea and Liverpool are testing football without defensive midfielders

If only there were two Moises Caicedos. Chelsea and Liverpool are jointly willing to pay more than £100m and if the battle for his services is fought off the field, his admirers showed why they both want him by sharing a glimpse of the gaps in their midfields. But while the expensive Ecuadorian remained in limbo, the lack of a specialized defensive midfielder on either side added to the entertainment. In a match where Claude Makelele and Javier Mascherano roamed and averted danger, 1-1 seemed like a deceptive result in a clash between sides whose previous four meetings had ended goalless. Each had a goal disallowed for the slightest offside. It could have been 2-2, maybe 3-3.

None of this produced the result needed to make last season's underperformance – which was painful in the case of Chelsea and mitigated in the case of Liverpool – a thing of the past. But Mauricio Pochettino's reign at Stamford Bridge began with early signs that it would be better than Graham Potter's failed project and Frank Lampard's second coming, and not just because it could hardly be worse. Chelsea lacked panache last season and could find an answer here. They were too sluggish last year and played with more speed now.

Chelsea have rediscovered some ambition and excitement, their costly hodgepodge of a side that sometimes look like strangers but are sometimes still a work in progress. After a disastrous season comes one with Disasi and if Axel Disasi's surname was too hard on the bone for Chelsea in the Todd Boehly era and the French defender was perhaps responsible for Luis Diaz's opener, then he scored Equalization and the first goal of Pochettino tenure.

The Argentine nominated four debutants for the starting XI, which was felt to be a small number given the speed of the revolving door at Stamford Bridge and only three summer signings, although perhaps the more telling stat was that only three of his substitutes had previously had Premier League contracts league experience. But the novelty goes beyond the names and faces: new vice-captain Ben Chilwell has been assigned a more senior role on the left wing. Within two minutes he set up Disasi's goal and celebrated what he felt was a quick second: like Mohamed Salah ten minutes earlier, he was thwarted by VAR.

Luis Diaz celebrates scoring the opener for Liverpool

(Liverpool FC via Getty Images)

Nicolas Jackson's attack was eclectic and electric, containing a warning, a moment where he could have conceded a penalty and a miss, but also a burst of pace and a low drive that could have resulted in a winner. Robert Sanchez, who came on because Kepa Arrizabalaga was curiously available on loan, was at least innocent in his defeat. However, Levi Colwill, who was involved in a duel with Salah as he mostly played at left-back, was distressed.

For Liverpool, the signing element was limited to a midfield lacking the goals of Caicedo and Romeo Lavia – and Chelsea – as well as the six summer departures. The new owner of the number 10 shirt was at the bottom of midfield. Alexis Mac Allister provided constructive passing, flanked by Dominik Szoboszlai and Cody Gakpo in an attacking formation. With the Dutchman in a deeper role, Jurgen Klopp lined up four players who are strikers by trade.

In the second half, his side reacted cautiously as only Virgil van Dijk came close to winning with a daring curler, but threatened to dominate for 20 minutes before the break when outnumbered attackers caused them to rage. They led after a quick, devastating break; Mac Allister's incisive pass showed the creativity he displays at the base of midfield, Salah deflected a retreating Colwill and deflected a pass. Luis Diaz pushed in and scored.

Despite sacrificing his record of scoring for Liverpool in every opening weekend of the Premier League season, Salah was on the verge of building on it. The Egyptian deflected his shot off the bar and swept it over Sánchez; The finish was as accurate as Trent Alexander-Arnold's pass which split the defense, a goal was awarded and replays showed Salah just barely offside.

Axel Disasi celebrates Chelsea's equalizer

(Chelsea FC via Getty Images)

Chelsea took advantage of the grace period. Disasi reacted quicker than Alexander-Arnold as Chilwell headed the ball back into the box after Liverpool cleared a corner. Chilwell thought he added a goal to his assist and turned Alisson around to bring him on, but a second goal was ruled for offside. But Liverpool's new vice-captain was again surprised: Alexander-Arnold's defensive deficiencies remain a problem.

But there was a point where they were camouflaged as Liverpool had the cohesion and chemistry. However, Chelsea had an answer. They were inspired by Enzo Fernandez – although he looked like the £107million defensive midfielder when he signed, the Argentine excelled as an instigator and passer, while Conor Gallagher, playing out of position, did some of the donkey work behind him. Pochettino gave Klopp a big hug before and after, the second perhaps marked by relief that Chelsea had shown more courage than most seasons. But there is still a glaring gap at both sides: while the points have been shared, Caicedo cannot feature and a defensive midfielder is needed at both London and Liverpool.

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