- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 31, 2017

LIVERPOOL, England (AP) - Antonio Conte strode across the field moments after the final whistle, punching the air with joy as Chelsea fans celebrated in one corner of Anfield.

Chelsea had just missed a great chance to beat Liverpool and strike another huge blow in the Premier League title race, but it was hard to tell by the post-match reaction.

Diego Costa had a penalty saved by Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet in the 76th minute, leaving Chelsea to settle for a 1-1 draw at the home of one of its title rivals.

Still, given results elsewhere on Tuesday - second-place Arsenal lost at home to Watford and third-place Tottenham drew at lowly Sunderland - this was a hugely positive night for the league leaders, who extended their advantage to nine points with 15 matches remaining.

“We must be happy with the result and the performance,” Conte said.

Juergen Klopp had similar sentiments.

His Liverpool team avoided a fourth straight home defeat, which last happened in 1923, thanks to Georginio Wijnaldum’s headed equalizer in the 57th minute. That canceled out David Luiz’s goal from a free kick in the 24th minute, an opportunistic strike while Mignolet briefly switched off after organizing his defensive wall.

This was more like the dynamic Liverpool of the first half of the season, not the team that had won just one of its last eight games in a season-damaging start to 2017. Yet, the match ended with the Reds still 10 points behind Chelsea.

“I’m happy we could give a little sign we are part of the league,” said Klopp, whose team had been heavily criticized during its slump in form over January.

Klopp was so animated after Mignolet’s penalty save that he screamed in the face of the fourth official, saying: “Nobody can beat us!” before quickly apologizing.

“I said, ‘Sorry, I was a little bit excited,’” Klopp said. “He said, ‘No problem, I like your passion.”

Liverpool’s electric start was brought to a shuddering halt by Luiz’s piece of ingenuity and another moment to forget from Mignolet.

The error-prone goalkeeper had just lined up a four-man wall and walked from the post to the middle of the goal when he took his eye off the ball. Willian looked the most likely free-kick taker but Luiz, perhaps spotting Mignolet was off guard, quickly stepped up and punted a swerving shot from 25 meters in off the same post that Mignolet had been standing beside.

“I thought it was really smart, really clever and really well done,” Klopp said, preferring to praise Luiz than castigate Mignolet.

It was Luiz’s first goal since returning to Chelsea in August and he celebrated in front of the visiting fans while Klopp raged from his technical area.

The Liverpool manager started the season with Mignolet, switched to Loris Karius at the end of September, before restoring Mignolet in mid-December. With both goalkeepers continuing to make errors, it might be a position Klopp looks to strengthen in the summer.

That was virtually Chelsea’s first sight on goal, with the visitors having been penned back in their own half for the first quarter of the match.

Liverpool had to break down a defense that had kept 12 clean sheets in its previous 16 outings. Roberto Firmino wasted one great chance when he skied his shot from 10 meters with only goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois to beat, but Wijnaldum made no mistake nine minutes later.

Jordan Henderson’s cross to the back post found James Milner, whose header across goal deflected off Victor Moses and into the path of Wijnaldum. The Dutchman’s downward header from just outside the six-yard box beat Courtois.

The best chance in a tight final 30 minutes fell to Costa from the spot, after he was tripped by Joel Matip. Mignolet came to Liverpool’s rescue and ended a tough night by being mobbed by his teammates in front of the Kop.

___

Steve Douglas is at twitter.com/sdouglas80

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