Chelsea – Liverpool: Chelsea Game Plan Ruined By Costly Red Card (0-2)
The first half saw Liverpool on top but Chelsea were able to hold on with their passive 4-5-1 defensive shape and occasional transition attacks through Timo Werner. Andreas Christensen’s sending off just before half-time changed the game though, as ten-man Chelsea were unable to cover space defensively. Two Sadio Mané goals wrapped the game up for Liverpool before the hour mark.
Tactical analysis and match report by Josh Manley.
Both teams began the season with victories, although without being completely convincing. Chelsea were threatened by an impressive Brighton side but eventually secured the 3-1 win. Liverpool looked a bit shaky in defense at times against Leeds, although they also created plenty of chances as the sides played out a 4-3 thriller including a standout Mohamed Salah performance. The last match played between these two sides had plenty of goals too, as Liverpool eventually ran out 5-3 winners in a game of defensive errors.
Chelsea have made headlines this transfer window with their high-profile signings. The trio of Thiago Silva, Ben Chilwell and Hakim Ziyech were still not ready for selection, but Frank Lampard once again started Kai Havertz and Timo Werner in this game. Alongside them in the forward line of their 4-3-3 shape was Mason Mount, and in midfield Mateo Kovačić returned to the lineup to complete the midfield with Jorginho and N’Golo Kanté.
With Joe Gomez unavailable, Jürgen Klopp was forced to use Fabinho to partner Virgil van Dijk at center-back. Ahead of them, a midfield of Jordan Henderson, Naby Keïta and Georginio Wijnaldum and the usual front three of Salah, Firmino and Sadio Mané in their trademark 4-3-3 system. Star signing Thiago Alcântara was included in the squad for the first time.
Chelsea defend passively
Lampard’s side seemed relatively happy for Liverpool to have more of the ball as they defended in a 4-5-1 shape within their own half of the pitch for much of the first half. This was perhaps preferable anyway, as their rare forays into higher pressing saw them being played through relatively easily.
Liverpool in possession.
The midfield line was often fairly flat, as Jorginho often stepped up alongside Kanté and Kovačić. The wide players Mount and Werner also fell back, although in the aforementioned attempts to go into higher pressing, they would try to attack the Liverpool center-backs from outside.
Liverpool were in a familiar attacking system. Much play went through the fullbacks, while the wingers tried to exploit the channels between Chelsea’s fullbacks and center-backs. In midfield, Keïta played on the right of the three and attempted to balance out Trent Alexander-Arnold’s movements by pushing up between the lines or dropping deeper in the halfspace. If you divide the field in five vertical lanes, the halfspaces are the lanes that are not on the wing and not in the center. Because there is no touchline like on the wing, players have the freedom to go everywhere. But this zone often is not as well-defended as the very center. This makes it a very valuable offensive zone to play in and a lot of chances are created by passes or dribbles from the halfspace. Wijnaldum did the same on the left. Henderson then played as the deepest midfielder, dropping between the center-backs or off to their right to help ball circulation.
Overall, Chelsea’s shape was not easy to break down for Liverpool once the home side got settled. They gave up relatively little space in behind, and were also able to control the threat Liverpool posed in wide areas.
The one time where Chelsea did give Liverpool space to exploit in behind, they were punished for it when Henderson’s long ball over the top got Mané into a foot race with Christensen late in the first half. The defender brought Mané to the ground, and was subsequently red carded.
Liverpool aggressive without the ball
While Chelsea still had eleven players on the pitch, they also tried to build up from the back against the famous high pressing of Liverpool. The away side were relentless in pushing up the pitch, and did not give Chelsea space to consolidate long spells of ball possession.
Against Chelsea’s buildup from the goalkeeper, Liverpool pressed with their usual narrow front three. Chelsea started with Jorginho as the lone defensive midfielder, but Kovačić would often drop from the left central midfield position to provide extra presence and receive through the passing lane between Salah and Firmino.
Chelsea building up against Liverpool pressure.
Kovačić was usually pursued by Keïta when dropping into these zones, so it was difficult to get free on the ball, but his presence in this zone alongside Jorginho did give Chelsea an extra connection to help them circulate the ball.
Often the fullbacks would have the most space for Chelsea, so they could attempt to build attacks from wide, and were a couple of promising moves down the left side early on where they were able to get Werner and Havertz involved.
The threat of Werner in behind was the main outlet for Chelsea going forward. Havertz usually dropped off as the false nine A striker that constantly drops deep and plays like a number ten. and tried to link play. Werner meanwhile attacked the left channel, trying to isolate himself against Fabinho. Despite the potential mismatch between the two, Fabinho overall did very well in the dribbling duels between the two, helping to neutralise Chelsea’s key threat.
Red card ruins Lampard’s plans
The aforementioned dismissal of Christensen in the last minute before half time naturally swung the balance of the game strongly in Liverpool’s favour. Chelsea came out in the second half with a 4-3-2 shape. Lampard elected to sacrifice Havertz in order to bring in another center-back to fill the gap left by Christensen. Klopp also made a move, bringing in Thiago at the base of Liverpool’s midfield in place of Henderson.
Chelsea now had their previous midfield three, now with just Mount and Werner in front of them. Occasionally one of the front two would drop off to the side of the midfield to offer some extra help, but for the ten minutes after half-time it was a very difficult shift for Chelsea’s midfield.
The lack of coverage of wide areas in this formation made it extremely easy for Liverpool to gain territory in these areas and push Chelsea back into their own box. With the spaces Liverpool had, it was almost impossible that Chelsea could hold out for long.
This was indeed the case, as Mané headed home from Firmino’s cross after a well-worked move down the right for Chelsea. A few minutes later, Mané once again showed great desire to pounce on Kepa’s mistake on the ball, diverting the ball into the net to make it 2-0.
Ten minutes into the second half, Lampard looked to stem the flow somewhat by switching to a 4-4-1 shape, with Mount moving to the left, Kanté on the right and Werner alone up front. To some extent, this had the desired effect, as the midfield line of four gave better defensive coverage in wide areas.
However, it was a lost cause in the sense that Liverpool effectively played keep-ball for the last half an hour. The introduction of Thiago was very well-placed. His ability to switch the play helped them move the Chelsea defense from side to side and find gaps. Once they were ahead, he had an easy time retaining the ball, especially since it was hard for Werner to pressure Liverpool’s center-backs and Thiago on his own.
It wasn’t quite smooth sailing for Thiago defensively however, as he did give away a penalty from Werner’s determined dribble in one of Chelsea’s rare attacks in the second half with just under twenty minutes left. Fortunately for Liverpool, Alisson saved Jorginho’s penalty, and they went on to see out a 2-0 in a relaxed manner.
Chelsea were always second best in the game, but Lampard’s plan in the first half was having some moderate success. Liverpool created more shots but did not look overly dangerous against Chelsea’s deep defending. Chelsea found it hard against Liverpool’s aggressive defending, although perhaps could have exploited Liverpool’s high defensive line with more intention. In the second half they always had an uphill task with ten men and were never really competitive. The real judgement for Chelsea will come when the new signings are able to be integrated. In particular, the defense looks like one which will benefit from the composed presence of Thiago Silva when he is eventually up to speed, and Ben Chilwell will be a big improvement on the current options at left back.
Liverpool were not that impressive in the first half although they were still the better team. Once Christensen was sent off, they sensed that the game was there for them and were ruthless in dispatching Chelsea within ten minutes of the restart. After that, the game was easier, and Liverpool were able to exert relatively little effort. The situation was a perfect one for Klopp to introduce Thiago into, and his playmaking presence in the center will add another dimension to their attack.
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