Tactical Review – Liverpool At Anfield

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Updated: November 9, 2014

Top of the table, Chelsea travelled to Anfield yesterday in an upbeat mood, unbeaten so far across all competitions. They were to face a Liverpool side which has been struggling for form so far in the season. The game was to be played in the backdrop of the comments made by Luis Suarez regarding the tactics used by Mourinho’s team last time the two teams faced off. Apparently, Suarez and the rest of the Liverpool fraternity felt ‘aggrieved’ that Chelsea refused to be steamrolled by their attacking prowess and nicked a 2-0 win that effectively handed the title over to Manchester City.

Therefore this time around, irony was pretty much in play as it is Chelsea who have been playing swashbuckling, attacking football, with Liverpool playing with ‘two buses’ firmly parked at the Santiago Bernabeu in midweek. Liverpool, having lost the ‘bite’ in their attack this season having sold Luis Suarez, were coming on the back of a loss to Newcastle United. Thus, with the maverick Uruguayan out of the picture, all eyes were on Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard, who was under extreme pressure to not let his concentration ‘slip’ yesterday.

Chelsea played true to their style, playing fluent attacking football, but fell behind to a deflected Emre Can goal before hitting back with goals from Gary Cahill and Diego Costa to make it another memorable win at Anfield. While Mourinho was effusively praising his side for a complete display, instead of accepting his side’s general incompetence, Brendan Rodgers was blaming the refereeing, claiming that his side deserved a point out of the fixture. A wonderful evening for the Blues was capped off by a favour by their local neighbours QPR, who managed to hold Manchester City in an entertaining 2-2 draw.

 

PRE-MATCH:

Lineups

Liverpool had rested seven players for the midweek clash against Real Madrid, having thrown the white towel before the game began, in Gary Lineker’s words. Six out of those seven returned to the starting eleven with Joe Allen missing out, Emre Can having taken his place. Not unlike last season, this Liverpool side too loves to play with the ball on the ground and attack with pace whenever an opportunity presents. Man-in-form Raheem Sterling took his usual place on the left side of Liverpool’s attack, in support of Mario Balotelli who was playing as Liverpool’s scapegoat lone striker.

To counter the influence of the impressive Sterling, Mourinho fielded Ramires on the right for Chelsea, instead of Willian, for Ramires’ tenacity, stamina and work rate would be crucial in locking Sterling down. That aside, there were no other changes to the side that faced off against QPR.

 

MATCH SUMMARY:

 

FIRST HALF:

 


Liverpool started brightly, with Emre Can taking a pop at goal from 30 yards in the very first minute. It looped over the net harmlessly having been deflected off John Terry. It was a defensively shaky start by Chelsea, who failed to charge at the Bayern Munich academy graduate when he was lining his shot up. Little would Chelsea know that a similar routine would come back to hurt them minutes later. Having been behind for a total of nearly 37 minutes over the ten games in the Premier League, Chelsea decided to add a few more minutes to the tally as Emre Can drove a shot into Cahill’s back from a similar position a few minutes later, and this time the ball went past the wrong-footed Courtois.

As stated earlier, Chelsea simply do not like being behind, and the goal came as a wake-up kick in the rear. They came back to level terms as Cahill managed to bundle a shot over the line after impressive work by Costa and Terry. Goal line technology was used to clear the moment of indecision and Chelsea were awarded a goal. Chelsea fans worldwide were unable to suppress a smug smile as right in front of the same Kop end where Luis Garcia’s ghost goal went in, Chelsea had a contentious goal given in their favour.

The game had the “Gary Cahill” stamp at just about all times as the Englishman blocked a Sterling shot with his chest/shoulder, amid penalty appeals. Meanwhile, Mario Balotelli, having been played in by Sterling, strayed offside and his goal was disallowed. Liverpool’s liveliest player Coutinho tested Courtois with a shot from a similar position to where Can scored from, but the Belgian was up to it. Chelsea were playing a high pressure game and it caused various Liverpool turnovers in attacking zones. On one such turnover, Oscar played Ramires in down the right with a sumptuous back-heel pass and Ramires squared it for Hazard. The Belgian went for finesse over power and his shot did not make its way past former-Blue Glen Johnson.

All the while, Costa and Skrtel were having a different match of their own. A rivalry that started in a Spain vs Slovakia match carried on here as well as Costa was being a constant pain in the Slovak’s rear, with Skrtel too up to the challenge. Though the feud was fun to watch for a neutral, either player committed bookable offences that the referee overlooked.

During the quarter of an hour before the half time whistle, there was only one team in the game. Chelsea were pressing so incessantly that Liverpool’s passing touch had gone missing. It was during this period that Chelsea were causing many turnovers in the Liverpool half but failed to apply the finishing touch so that they could enter the break with a goal advantage. One such moment was another chance for Hazard, who had the opportunity to cut inside and shoot, but just like his previous attempt, the Belgian hit the defender.

 

SECOND HALF:

Minutes into the second half, Hazard played in a lofted through pass to Costa. Though Lovren got there first and headed the ball up, Costa still made an acrobatic attempt at scoring, which only led to his shirt getting torn thanks to a Moreno tug in the box, giving a whole new meaning to Adidas’ ClimaCool technology. Unwilling to leave the pitch to change, Costa played on with the torn shirt until a replacement was brought on to the pitch for him. This is what further endears the maverick forward to the Blues faithful, he fights tooth and nail for the team and doesn’t care if he’s wearing a torn shirt, he’ll carry on playing as he always does.

Hazard soon had his third glorious chance of the game, cutting inside and his shot this time evading all defenders, but nestling tamely in Mignolet’s hands. Willian, who was brought on for Ramires, found Azpilicueta on the left wing, barely onside, with a wonderful long ball. The Spaniard did well to keep the ball in play and a clever turn later, he was past Coutinho and running into the box, from where he put in a low cross from the outside of his boot aimed at Oscar. Alert to the danger, Mignolet parried the cross, but as his luck would have it, it went off Moreno to Costa, who didn’t need an invitation to thump the ball into the net to give the Blues a well-deserved lead.

Liverpool brought on former Blue Fabio Borini and Rickie Lambert in an attempt to get back to level terms. They then began playing route one football, thumping balls into the box in the hope that one of the many bodies thrown up-field would connect their heads to it. On a rebound off one such cross, Steven Gerrard struck a fine shot goal-wards that was blocked by the arm of a diving Gary Cahill. While it would not have been a harsh penalty, what worked in Cahill’s favour is that his arm’s position wasn’t unnatural relative to the position and posture of his body. That was their last threatening move as Chelsea effectively nullified their game by bringing on Drogba who held the ball up in positions from where Liverpool couldn’t have threatened Chelsea.

 

KEY STATISTICS:

 

Possession:

Possession

Chelsea were content with Liverpool having the ball, as long as it was in the areas that could bring them no threat. This was classic Chelsea where the Blues waited on the Reds to make mistakes, which were many due to their high pressing, and then pounce. Chelsea employed a similar philosophy in their other big games as well, having little of the ball, but still managing to threaten more.

 

Chances Created:

Chances Created

Chelsea, as shown above, had much lesser time on the ball than Liverpool did, but when they did, they were quick to move it upfield and hurt the Merseysiders with fast counters. In a game which Chelsea should have won by a fairly bigger margin, Chelsea unsurprisingly managed to create more chances than Liverpool.

 

TACTICAL NOTES:

 

WHERE DID CHELSEA WIN IT?

High Pressing:

Recoveries. Note how many occur high up the pitch

Recoveries. Note how many occur high up the pitch

 

From the word go, Chelsea were pressing really high up the pitch. The way they were forcing turnovers by Liverpool so high up the pitch was reminiscent of Borussia Dortmund in their better days. This was very crucial as it ensured that Liverpool did not have hold of the ball for long periods at a stretch. The boys would charge at the ball whenever a Liverpool player received it, unsettling him and forcing a poor pass. This would turn out to be so effective that around the hour mark Liverpool were unsure where to play the ball whence it reached Mignolet. The best moment of our high pressing game was when both Henderson and Gerrard were funnelled into the same position, leading to ball being kicked into Henderson by none other than Steven Gerrard, a gift that keeps on giving.

Pressing Gerrard

The world’s best coach at high pressing football, Pep Guardiola had a brilliant pressing plan during his time with Barcelona. Whenever the ball was lost, the three nearest players were to energetically press the opponent for no more than five seconds, which was enough to unsettle the player. And then, just take up good positions to block the passing lanes and the ball will make its way to you. Though the exact system might not work in the high octane Premier League, Mourinho surely has taken some notes off his former adversary’s plan and implemented them here, as Chelsea looked to do the same to Liverpool, and with plenty success.

Liverpool’s Midfield Nullified:

As a result of the aforementioned high pressing game, Liverpool’s midfield was not having the control of the tempo as the Merseysiders usually do. Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard, who once submitted a transfer request to move to Chelsea, has been off the boil this season. He has not looked the player he once was. A player with a natural instinct to attack, holding midfield is simply not where he feels at home. Alongside him was Jordan Henderson, who has been a revelation in the Reds’ midfield with his energy, drive and tenacity. But Nemanja Matic put in one of his assuring displays at the heart of midfield once again.

As Joe Tweeds pointed out, Chelsea have looked a whole new side when the Serbian is at his marauding best. He is probably the only midfielder in the league who can take the fight to Yaya Toure when the Ivorian is at his best. And Gerrard and Hendo, a piece of cake for him. He was indecisive with his passing when he was found in promising positions, but he sure looks the buy of the decade for Chelsea with the way he suffocated the midfield yesterday. Many point out to the fact that he only had 2 successful tackles out of 7 attempts, but it was his pressing and occupying the Liverpool passing lanes that was his main contribution of the day.

Compensating For Fabregas’ Defensive Contribution:

Since signing for Chelsea, Fabregas has upped his defensive game by miles. However, this wasn’t one of the days where he was even mildly effective defensively. Liverpool were bypassing him with ease in the opening half an hour and it was a major concern as Liverpool were making inroads with threatening shots from near the box. Fabregas was also to blame for Liverpool’s goal as him being badly out of position led to the acres of space that Can found for his shot. Likewise, Coutinho went past him like a hot knife through butter before he took his shot.

But as has happened very often this season, Oscar dropped back and bailed Fabregas out with help from Matic. When Fabregas started to settle into the game, Chelsea had a genuine hold of proceedings, and it wouldn’t have happened had the other midfielders not come to the Spaniard’s rescue.

Ohh Diego, He’s Our Monster:

Adidas ClimaCoolTM

DIEGO MONSTAH!

Diego Costa put in a performance that Chelsea fans had been yearning to see from their striker the whole of last season. No he did not score a hat-trick or bite a defender, but he was a constant thorn for the Liverpool defence. He had Skrtel occupied and their mutual distaste even showed up on the set-piece from which Chelsea scored. The corner from Fabregas was swung in towards Costa and while Dejan Lovren was the man marking him, Skrtel too wanted a taste of him and rushed to head the ball. Costa managed to win the aerial duel and it resulted in four Chelsea players against Mignolet and Gerrard on the goal mouth.

Not only that, he showed the ruggedness that has been a hallmark of his time at the club while retrieving the ball as well. He was constantly running towards the ball, with not a care in the world for his battered hamstring. He is a warrior, he is a true striker. He is our monster.

 

WHERE DID LIVERPOOL LOSE IT?

Lack Of Plan-B:

Chelsea Def Dash

Chelsea won everything thrown at them in the box

As was the case last time out, Liverpool came out to play their usual brand of football. Rodgers, who used to be regarded very highly last season, has not yet devised a functional Plan-B for his side. When Liverpool found the midfield suffocated by Chelsea’s midfielders and their own midfielders not threatening much, they resorted to Route-One. Pinging balls into the Chelsea box which already boasts of the aerial prowess of John Terry, Gary Cahill and Branislav Ivanovic, is not exactly a great idea.

Instead of opting for an aerial approach, they should have worked in the space left by Ivanovic down Chelsea’s right. The Serbian was overly aggressive in his attacking play yesterday and he sold the defence out on numerous occasions. If this rampant Chelsea has a weakness, it is the right side of their defence, with the dynamic between Gary Cahill and Branislav Ivanovic being shaky at best.

Poor Substitutions:

Being a manager, you get three throws of the dice to alter your personnel in order to get your team performing back at its best, and it is surprising to see that Rodgers made changes that did nothing to alter the course of the game in their favour. Taking off their two markedly better performers, Can and Coutinho, a decision that was greeted with boos, was rather surprising. Similarly surprising was the decision to haul off Balotelli for Lambert. It has been established so far in the season that neither Balotelli nor Lambert can play as a lone striker in this system. Therefore, instead of forcibly filling the round holes with square pegs, Rodgers could have changed the system to suit his frontmen till Sturridge returns from injury. A backup plan really wouldn’t hurt in any case as Sturridge is known to have a shaky record with injuries.

Compare this with Chelsea’s substitutions. When Chelsea needed more guile in the box, they brought on Willian, who instantly had an impact stretching the left side of Liverpool’s defence, and when they needed to hold the ball up more, Drogba came on for Costa. Rodgers has to see the game as it unfolds and make changes suited to it. If you are being overrun, shore up your defence, if you have a window to dominate, bring on attack-minded players. As long as he keeps making like-for-like substitutions that Benitez is famous for, the apprentice will never reach the level of the master.

 

KEY TAKEAWAYS:

Chelsea remain undefeated after another big game, which is rather remarkable. As it stands, the Blues have travelled twice to both Merseyside and Manchester, and have had Arsenal visit them, and still have lost only four points, both in late draws in Manchester. Such a sterling run has sparked a debate on whether this team could emulate the ‘Invincibles’ of Arsenal or not. While I, like Jose, do not believe that this team can go unbeaten throughout the season, there is nothing wrong with living in the moment and cherishing it. It would be great if Chelsea could keep clean sheets though! So, the Blues go marching on!

 

Author’s Note: All dashboards and stats courtesy FourFourTwo Statzone and screen grabs courtesy BT Sport, with a special hat-tip to HooFoot.com

7 Comments

  1. Raghu

    November 10, 2014 at 2:42 AM

    Well written article..cheers. KTBFFH!!

    • RamStamford

      November 12, 2014 at 9:50 AM

      Thanks Raghu, cheers.

  2. Pingback: Is Azpilicueta Really The Premier League’s Best Defender? - Chelsea Index

  3. Henry Travis

    November 12, 2014 at 1:59 AM

    Excellent summary – spot on!

    • RamStamford

      November 12, 2014 at 10:21 AM

      Thank you, appreciated.

  4. David

    November 13, 2014 at 8:26 AM

    I absolutely love your analysis! Keep ’em coming!!

    • RamStamford

      November 13, 2014 at 9:06 AM

      Thanks David.

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