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Liverpool 1-1 Chelsea, Premier League: Tactical Analysis

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Chelsea go nine points ahead at the top of the table

Chelsea with the ball

As Liverpool tried to maintain a high block in with the ball while Chelsea kept their block closed, Chelsea’s possession mainly came from short building, counters from deep, and winning the ball high.

When Chelsea won the ball deep, they tried to hit the front three early, either directly to them or with passes behind Liverpool’s backline. The intent for both ways was to create separation between Liverpool’s backline and midfield (pressing) to either counter against few players, or to create pressure moments (after passes behind the defence) where Chelsea would press Liverpool’s defenders high and around their box. Chelsea were more successful in these pressure moments in the second half, winning the ball from Liverpool’s defenders and creating a few chances.

Advantages that Chelsea were able to gain from a closed block defensively was to prevent Liverpool from creating a fast game with the ball, and be able to quickly shift the speed of the game, through counters, after winning the ball from them.

With Courtois on the ball, Chelsea were selective in choosing to play short from the back, to avoid early pressure on the first pass, but long distribution was largely unsuccessful and they often lost the first ball. When Chelsea did go short, they often looked to find the front players through the wing-backs.

Drawing Liverpool pressure allowed Chelsea to create 1-v-1s on the last line. Hazard and Costa could receive and combine with the ball, holding and switching out to find the advancing Moses free on the right, and diagonals inside from Moses to Costa (especially in the second half) all created problems—such as the situation where Costa won the penalty.

Liverpool used a mixture of fouls, pressing from the front, continued and tight pressing from their backline, and shifting over to the side of the ball to control some of Chelsea’s attempts of short building. When Liverpool were then able to force an error (such as winning a throw-in), they would react quickly to try to attack Chelsea while they were disorganised.

One moment where Chelsea were able to bypass the Liverpool press is shown below. Here, Hazard holds the ball after dropping deep (with Henderson following him) before splitting the midfielders to find Matic who could then switch to Moses.

Firmino played a key role in the Liverpool press through the middle. When they initially set up to press the first pass from Courtois, Firmino would remain on Luiz, but he would on occasion leave and press either the goalkeeper on a pass back or Chelsea’s central midfielders from behind—such as when he won the ball from Matic.

Henderson keyed Liverpool’s press to side, moving up and wide to intercept or press Willian or Hazard dropping for the ball, while surrounding players further ahead blocked the lines of passing to the men they were initially pressing. When the block was central, without the shift, the central defenders could move up to follow Willian and Hazard, while Henderson would remain central in support.

The introduction of Pedro and Cesc saw Chelsea switch to a 352. Both players made an impact on the game, Pedro with his intensity and Cesc adding his creative passing. The speed of the game increased and Chelsea were able to create various chances while maintaining the ball through possession or through pressing when they lost it.

Liverpool with the ball

Liverpool’s high block was maintained through their numerical advantage at the base of their block (4-v-2 or 4-v-3), stable possession, the high press, and long play from goal kicks. While they were able to have a lot of possession, Chelsea’s defending (especially in the first half) prevented them from playing quickly with the ball and getting around their box.

The fullbacks could move up and down the line to support play, especially to help maintain the ball deep. Henderson moved up and down the line as a spare man centrally, while Wijnaldum and Can could move deep and narrow to support possession in midfield, or wide and on the outside of Chelsea’s midfield line, or onto the last line and into the box. Lallana and Coutinho were both able to leave the wings and be positioned inside, while Firmino moved both between lines and behind Chelsea’s backline.

Chelsea’s tight lines and high backline allowed them to stay high and compact enough to prevent consistent crosses into the box. The wing-backs could push up to press in wide areas, or the midfield line could move across to do the same if the wide players in the backline were occupied.

When Liverpool tried to find the front 3 between lines, Chelsea would have a player (David Luiz in this instance) in the backline step up and follow to pressure the first touch and not let them turn.

Liverpool were also unable to find passes behind Chelsea’s block, both along the ground and via long diagonal passes. In the following situation, Henderson finds himself spare centrally but Cahill is up and able to pressure any pass to Lallana between lines, while Luiz follows the diagonal run behind from Firmino.

In wide areas Liverpool were able to create some problems on the left by first drawing Chelsea’s midfield line narrow centrally or to the right, then switching out to the left—with Can wide. Such plays prevented Chelsea from pushing up in wide areas early on, as they were forced to keep the wing-backs deep and wait for the midfield line to move across. Again Liverpool couldn’t find the right weight on the pass to Firmino in the box in this instance either.

When Chelsea were able to push up in wide areas, either winning the ball or forcing a pass backward, they could move up as a team to press—often leading to Liverpool making passes back to Mignolet. Here, Chelsea are covering options (or closing down in the case of Hazard v. Matip) very well and force Lovren to play it safe to Mignolet.

In the second half, Liverpool were able to find a player facing play and between lines in the buildup to their goal, where Firmino was able to receive the ball without immediate pressure, while Wijnaldum made a run off the shoulder of Matic to receive the ball facing play.

After the goal there was a period where the game became more stretched, with Chelsea losing the ball in Liverpool’s half and not recovering as a full block, leaving spaces for Liverpool to exploit. Easier progression with the ball centrally allowed Liverpool to be in more positions to play balls into the box from deep. Like with the goal, balls in from the right to the left were met aggressively by Milner, while the central midfielders could join the box for the potential second ball back across.

Liverpool also created good situations from short free kicks and second balls into the box from corners. Milner would get the ball deep on the left to play quality passes into the box. They would have two players at the far post and wide of Chelsea’s last man: one would block the Chelsea player, while, as a result, the second man would have space to freely attack the ball.

Conclusion

Chelsea were able to control the speed of the game well, preventing Liverpool from creating consistent moments of fast possession. Liverpool were also able to prevent Chelsea from creating as many good situations as they normally do with the ball—especially against sides using a back four.

Both had chances to win the game in the second half, but, in the end, a draw is clearly a much better result for Chelsea than Liverpool.