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Chelsea vs. Liverpool, Premier League: Opposition Analysis

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Stamford Bridge's first Friday night fixture of 2016-17 comes against the Premier League's most spectacularly Jekyll and Hyde team. What can they expect?

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The Season Just Gone

Liverpool’s 2015-16 looked so promising and ended up being incredibly frustrating. Every high was swiftly followed by a low and every low was as depressing as each high was electrifying. Brendan Rodgers’ reign came to an unceremonious end in October and the arrival of Jürgen ‘Charisma’ Klopp supposedly signalled the beginning of a new era: finally, the Reds were going back to the top of English football. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t quite work out like that.

The much maligned Rodgers left Liverpool 10th in the Premier League, having finished 6th in 2014-15, and the much heralded Klopp eventually finished 8th. This is not to say that Klopp is to blame, or that he should have done better: more that the expectations placed upon him from the beginning were way too high. He is still suffering now for the fact that people seem to think he can literally turn water into wine.

Comparing Liverpool’s squad to that of their rivals – and factoring in the incredible fixture congestion they had throughout the entirety of last season, as they reached two cup finals – it’s hardly surprising that Liverpool ultimately ran out of steam. The question is: will they avoid the same fate this time?

The Season Ahead

Even now, a month into the new season, every reason to believe in Klopp’s Anfield revolution comes accompanied by a significant caveat. Although many Liverpool fans would love to think they have every tool required to mount a title challenge, they remain as far as ever from being considered genuine contenders.

At their best, they can wipe the floor with any team in the division, as they showed by thwacking four past Arsenal at the Emirates. At their worst, they can be totally outplayed by all comers, as they showed by slumping to a miserable defeat to Burnley the following weekend. Their biggest problem is simple inconsistency: they play to their worst just as often as they do to their best.

Klopp’s mission is to find some level of consistency and make this Liverpool team more than the sum of its parts, for the first time in his tenure. It says it all that the Guardian recently published a ‘How long will Liverpool stick with Klopp?’ article. Admittedly, it is as much about the knee-jerk hire-and-fire culture of our times as it is about Klopp’s failure to push Liverpool on, but it remains true that Liverpool were expected to be better than this by now.

Tactics

Klopp’s teams’ attributes are well-known now: constant explosive energy across the pitch, loads of intensity with and without the ball, lots of fast breaks with quick, selfless passing and positional interchanges. Klopp almost exclusively used a 4-2-3-1 formation at Borussia Dortmund but has more typically favoured a 4-3-3 since moving to Liverpool, presumably reasoning that his defence is too fragile to play without a tight three in midfield and a dedicated holder in front of them.

If there can be a criticism levelled at Klopp based on his Anfield tenure to date, it’s that he hasn’t balanced defence and attack adequately: too often Liverpool appear irresponsibly attacking, their weak points at the back hopelessly exposed; on the rare occasions they’ve looked defensively solid, it’s been at the expense of all attacking threat. Most truly elite managers wouldn’t be having these problems 10 months after arriving – although it must be conceded that most truly elite managers wouldn’t be wasting their time working with the likes of Simon Mignolet, Alberto Moreno and Jordan Henderson.

Strengths

They can be brilliantly incisive on the break, with the movement and passing of Roberto Firmino – ably supported by Adam Lallana, Philippe Coutinho and now Sadio Mané too – key to their strength at transitions. Almost all of their attackers are quick to burst in behind the defence and selfless when through on goal, qualities always associated with Klopp’s iconic Dortmund team. With this being David Luiz’s debut and the madcap Brazilian all-but certain to go on insane charges up the field, there will surely be space to exploit and countless dangerous turnovers in midfield.

At the other end of the pitch, only Chelsea have conceded fewer shots on their goal so far this season. That said, it’s a bit of a mystery how: 18.8 tackles per game is a middling figure, 9 interceptions per game is the division’s lowest figure, while 10.8 fouls per game is also on the low side. One explanation is that they simply have the ball too much for the other side to shoot: 58.4% is the Premier League’s second-highest possession average, and 18 shots taken per game is also the second highest amount. Regardless of how they do it, they’re not giving much away.

Also, if Daniel Sturridge plays, it’s worth remembering that he’s really, really, really good. And the law of the ex and all that.

Weaknesses

The obvious, even glaring, weakness is that they have so many individuals who just aren’t up to scratch. Mignolet remains absolutely hopeless, with a 50% save percentage for the season (again); Dejan Lovren is little better; Alberto Moreno has been dropped in favour of an out-of-position James Milner. Jordan Henderson is somehow still club captain, but any more performances like his 0/10 showing at Burnley and he’ll be struggling to get on the pitch for Tranmere Rovers, let alone leading out Merseyside’s most famous club.

As previously stated, the tactical balance remains to be found by Klopp and Liverpool usually look lopsided and somewhat clumsy as a team, as demonstrated by their previously cited off-the-ball stats, which show that they’re seemingly not doing anything to win the ball back. If Chelsea simply move the ball quickly from front to back, they should get through.

Also, Daniel Sturridge basically never plays. Also also, Coutinho wastes so many promising positions by shooting from distance that it’s laughable.

Likely XIs

Chelsea will probably be at full strength bar the injured John Terry, while Liverpool should stick with their familiar recent eleven.

CHELIV

Prediction

This is just bound to be insane. 3-3?