Chelsea draws 1-1 with Liverpool on Pochettino’s debut in high-octane Premier League opener

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LONDON (AP) — Chelsea came from behind to earn a 1-1 draw against Liverpool on Sunday in a Premier League opener that showed the Blues have already made progress under new manager Mauricio Pochettino.

In the marquee matchup of the Premier League’s opening round, Luis Diaz put Liverpool ahead after a lightning counterattack in the 18th minute and defender Axel Disasi marked his Chelsea debut by scoring the equalizer from close range in the 37th.

“It was difficult from the beginning but how we grew in the game and how we found the way to play and how we started to dominate and push Liverpool deeper and deeper, I am very pleased about everything,” Pochettino said after his return to management, having sat out a year after being fired by Paris Saint-Germain.

Both teams also had goals disallowed by VAR checks in an open and chance-filled first half that highlighted just why the two rivals are trying to spend more than 110 million pounds ($140 million) on bringing in defensive midfielder Moises Caicedo from Brighton.

Chelsea already looked a different team under Pochettino, though, playing with a level of intensity rarely seen at Stamford Bridge last season, when the club went through three managers.

The hosts dominated possession and pegged Liverpool back for large parts of the game, although new striker Nicolas Jackson struggled to get involved.

His best chance came in the 71st when he burst through on goal but had his shot saved by Alisson Becker.

Meanwhile, Liverpool’s new-look midfield with summer signings Alexis Mac Allister and Dominik Szoboszlai struggled to control the game, showing that Jurgen Klopp’s team might miss the experience of Fabinho and Jordan Henderson.

Klopp insisted that his newcomers are up to the task.

“Our defensive problems today had nothing to do with characteristics of the midfielders, they are a bit more offensive but all of these boys can do what we want them to do,” Klopp said. “We were too deep as a formation and gave the half spaces away. It’s really OK, today didn’t decide where our season will go. Let’s be positive.”

Chelsea always looked vulnerable to counterattacks, though, and Mohamed Salah had already hit the crossbar by the time Liverpool took the lead.

Salah burst forward and squared the ball for Diaz to slide in and sidefoot home past new Chelsea goalkeeper Robert Sanchez.

Salah thought he had doubled the lead with a clinical finish in the 29th, but replays showed he was just offside when making his run into the area.

Instead, Chelsea drew level through an unlikely source. After Liverpool had cleared the ball twice following a corner, it was headed straight back into the area by Ben Chilwell, where Disasi was left alone to poke the ball past Alisson.

Chelsea then thought it had taken the lead just minutes later, but this time it was Chilwell who was narrowly offside when he was played through on goal.

Liverpool substitute Darwin Nunez came the closest to a late winner, when his long-range strike in injury time was deflected narrowly wide for a corner.

That corner only led to a dangerous-looking counter for Chelsea, but substitute Mykhailo Mudryk couldn’t control the ball after rounding Alisson. ___