Liverpool v Chelsea – How Both Teams Set-Ups Saw A Stalemate At Anfield
Posted by Featured Articles | Published on February 1, 2017
On a cold, wet, Tuesday night in the North West of England, Liverpool hosted Chelsea in a battle which, had it not been for Mignolet’s penalty save to keep the teams level, would have seen the latter edge three points closer to Antonio Conte’s third league title in as many seasons.
Recent form suggests that the intensity of Jürgen Klopp’s philosophy may be catching up with the Liverpool squad, who have managed just one win in their last five. Having crashed out of both the FA Cup and EFL Cup within a matter of days, Tuesday’s game was set to be a pivotal moment in Liverpool’s season. A Chelsea win would’ve meant that Conte’s men would be thirteen points clear of the Reds with just sixteen games left.
In contrast, Chelsea’s recent form has seen them concede just six goals in sixteen games since switching to Conte’s disciplined 3-4-3 system, which allows his team to switch effortlessly to a more defensive 5-4-1 or an attacking 3-3-4 at any given time. This flexibility and defensive focus has propelled Chelsea to the top of the table without any signs of slowing down.
Liverpool lined up in a familiar 4-3-3 shape with Firmino, Lallana, and Coutinho leading the line, with the two wider players opting to cut inside and overload Chelsea in the centre. Can and Wijnaldum played more advanced roles in the centre, offering support via late runs into the area and beyond Chelsea’s line of defence. Henderson anchored the midfield just in front of the back line, given space to dictate the game by Chelsea’s unwilling to press. Clyne and Milner played almost as wing backs yet again, offering width to a narrow-minded Liverpool side while Matip and Lovren sat comfortably ahead of Mignolet in goal.
Diego Costa started up front for Chelsea in 3-4-3 shape as Conte made just one change going into Tuesday’s game, bringing Willian out onto the right wing to exploit Milner’s lack of pace at left back. Hazard was quiet on the left and cut inside to link up with Matic and Kanté who sat in the centre of midfield ahead of Azpilicueta, Luiz, and Cahill at centre-back. The impressive Alonso and Moses once again made the role of wing-back look easy, tirelessly running up and down each wing to offer width to Chelsea’s attack.
Chelsea remain disciplined
Chelsea, as we’ve seen so often this season, were happy to sit back and allow Liverpool to dictate the game early on. The two wing backs, Alonso and Moses, dropped back and formed a back five while Kanté and Matic sat in front of the three centre backs, negating all efforts from Liverpool’s inside forwards. This block proved near-impossible to break down as Liverpool managed just one shot in the first half alone.
Chelsea’s primary focus in defence was to slow down Liverpool’s attack. This allowed them time to cover all passing lanes and to get ten, sometimes eleven men behind the ball. If a player was dragged out of their marking zone, his teammate would come across and cover the space, making the team not only narrower but less open to overloads in one position. Both wingbacks were key in these situations, dropping inside and covering either the central midfielder or wide centre back by standing Liverpool up on the ball and buying his teammate time to get back into position.
Despite their defensive setup, Chelsea were not afraid to attack knowing their transition from defence to attack and vice-versa had to be perfect against a quick Liverpool front three. With possession, Chelsea remained vertically compact, they attacked as a unit. Moses and Alonso offered width up the field and the two wide centre backs pushed into full back positions. With Hazard cutting inside as he likes to do, and Willian pushing into the space between Milner and Lovren, Chelsea’s shape allowed them to open up passing lanes further down the field. The midfield “triangle” gave them a continuous outlet against the Liverpool press, and short, sharp passes between the three drew Liverpool out of position in the centre of the field. One pass back to either centre back or wing back and Chelsea had space in between Liverpool’s lines. This left Liverpool’s back line unprotected, and allowed Hazard and Costa to run directly at defenders with Willian offering himself in the wide areas. Ultimately, this chain of events led to the free-kick which David Luiz scored with a sensational strike.
Liverpool press in key areas
As ever, Liverpool’s pressing game was a joy to watch, despite it being much less intense than their usual showing. Rather than chase the ball across the field for 70 minutes, Liverpool chose their moments to press well and they won the ball in dangerous areas behind Chelsea’s midfield line more often than not. The key to their success was where they pressed the ball. In the centre of the field, Can and Wijnaldum worked tirelessly ahead of Henderson to close down Matic and Kanté as soon as they received the ball, in an attempt to cut Chelsea’s link between midfield and attack. Firmino, Lallana, and Coutinho worked in Unison with their central midfielders to outnumber the Chelsea midfield and attack from their blindside, cutting them off in the centre of the field and winning possession in a key area.
Despite their dominance in possession, Liverpool’s best chances came from long balls toward a disjointed and out of position Chelsea defence. As Chelsea attacked, Moses and Alonso pushed further forward to offer width and to keep the pressure in Liverpool’s final third. A successful interception meant that Liverpool had the numerical and positional advantage as Chelsea rushed back into their defensive shape. As the ball was played to Henderson, the pivot in Liverpool’s attacks, Lallana and Coutinho pushed wide and stretched Chelsea’s back three, creating favourable one-on-one matchups in Chelsea’s defensive third. In turn, Can and Wijnaldum looked to push forward, particularly in the second half, to occupy Kanté and/or Matic as they transitioned. This meant that should the ball be lost, Liverpool were in a prime position to win the second ball and keep the pressure on Chelsea’s stretch back line.
In the second half, Can and Wijnaldum’s forward movement caused all kinds of problems for Chelsea’s defence. In attack, as opposed to sitting in front of Chelsea as they did in the first half, both looked to run beyond the defence into the half-space, dragging a central midfielder with them and forcing the wide centre back to push inside and close down the space, this created holes in Chelsea’s structure both ahead of their defensive line and between the centre back and wing back. Liverpool’s goal came from the latter scenario, with Can running between the centre back and wing back, drawing Azpilicueta out of position and leaving Milner with a free header at the back post. An excellent cut back was met by the head of an onrushing Wijnaldum who had entered the box late and therefore found himself unmarked in Chelsea’s 18-yard box.
Chelsea were uninspiring in attack, seeming to rely on the individual brilliance of Costa, Willian, and Hazard to create anything going forward. Though, they were excellent in defence. Their level of discipline is seldom seen in the free-flowing, attacking Premier League and their style of play draws similarities to that of Leicester’s last season. On the other hand, Liverpool impressed once again with their tireless efforts and domination of the ball. Though Chelsea’s impenetrable wall proved too much for the out-of-form Reds and they struggled to create any meaningful chances yet again. When they did, their lack of confidence in front of goal shone through.
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