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Chelsea 1-0 Liverpool, Premier League: Tactical Analysis

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The Blues successfully handle the Reds

First half

Liverpool had a high amount of possession in the opening stages, where they opened up and made it difficult for Chelsea to move up and pressure the ball without leaving spaces for Liverpool to exploit.

Liverpool’s width and rotations in possession were key aspects as to why they were able to keep possession. Rotations of positions differed on each side. On the left, Milner, Mane, and Robertson would rotate collectively (allowing Mane to drop deep and inside to receive the ball). On the right, Alexander-Arnold and Clyne would position themselves in relation to each other, so when Clyne was deep Alexander-Arnold would be higher up (usually on the inside) and when Alexander-Arnold dropped for the ball to the side of Lovren, Clyne would be high up on the wing. The three midfielders could switch positions, while ahead of them, Salah and Firmino would also switch positions centrally on Chelsea’s backline.

From the back, Liverpool’s central defenders splitting wide and Wijnaldum dropping back between them would allow them to free up a player in the backline to receive the ball to the side to play forward—with Giroud and Hazard outnumbered and narrow. With the central defenders narrow and Wijnaldum higher up, Liverpool could still play forward from wide through Clyne deep or Alexander-Arnold dropping back to collect the ball.

Upon moving the ball to create these situations, Chelsea would face the problem of deciding whether the distance to close the ball down was achievable, which player would move towards the ball, and the potential consequences of the player moving up to press them. If Hazard and Grioud didn’t make it across to pressure the ball, they would often have to wait for the forward pass since the nearest central midfielder could be too far away to press the ball, and would also have to cover Liverpool’s central midfielder to begin with (if it was the fullback or central defender on the ball). The wing-backs would also be pinned back by Liverpool’s advancing fullbacks, which would again contribute towards this space opening up on the sides.

Alexander-Arnold found space to play forward from these situations, which created more space when Bakayoko moved up to pressure him—opening space up behind. Alexander-Arnold could play both to feet between lines and passes over the top, which would lead to chances and allow for them to compete for the second ball. When Bakayoko was able to press aggressively in these situations however, he could win the ball and cause Liverpool’s possession problems.

The speed and high positioning of Liverpool’s front three also created opportunities to counter, which tested the speed of Chelsea’s back three and Kante in support. Having such recovery speed against Liverpool’s attackers was critical to delay the counters to get numbers back, prevent them from breaking away, and to recover the ball.

With the ball, Chelsea played long from goal kicks to prevent Liverpool from having the opportunity to press them (Chelsea successfully pressed Liverpool’s short building) and they were able to beat Liverpool’s attempts to press from midfield.

Liverpool’s front three matched Chelsea’s back three to pressure the ball, where Chelsea would push their wing-backs high and move Bakayoko and Fabregas wide. In doing so, they would leave Kante in the middle to receive the ball against both Milner and Alexander-Arnold pressuring him, move past the pressure and find Fabregas or Bakayoko free on the outsides to play forward. When going more direct from the backline to the wide central midfielders they were less successful, since Milner or Alexander-Arnold would make their first movements outside to pressure or intercept the first touch of the ball.

By being able to take the ball up to the final third, Chelsea could use the qualities of their attackers more effectively—crosses, switches, dribbling, rather than fast counter attacks from deep. Crosses and wide attacks saw Bakayoko and Fabregas joining the box, as well as having Giroud to be dominant in the air. Alonso could join the box and move inside from the left, while Moses would take Robertson on to create the opportunities to cross the ball into the box.

Second half

The second half saw Hazard becoming increasingly influential. In the final third he would use his body position to keep the ball from defenders and then either draw a number of them in towards him to open space elsewhere, or dribble past multiple opponents to create chances. He would also be pivotal for Chelsea getting out of their own half when they won the ball from Liverpool and tried to play forward with the ball against Liverpool’s high pressure. Using his body to shield the ball wold again be useful to both allow time for support to move forward and for him to draw fouls to move Chelsea up the pitch.

The changes in the second half saw Liverpool add more offensive players and switch to a 4231 where Firmino was playing freely behind Solanke, on as the target man. Henderson was able to find a number of situations on the right where he had space to play the ball into the box for runners on the far post, as well as Milner and Mane moving onto their right foot from the left to cross of carry the ball inside to create chances. Towards the end of the game Van Dijk would also move forward to compete for the ball in the air in Liverpool’s final attempts to score a late equaliser, but Chelsea’s defence held out once again.

Conclusion

Liverpool had good possession and some opportunities to score in the opening stages of the game, but Chelsea’s defence held strong once again to keep a clean sheet. The game was more about final third attacks and possession for both teams, which suited Chelsea’s attackers more due to their characteristics. Hazard became more influential in the second half, where he had more opportunities in the final third to create and keep the ball, as well as provide Chelsea with an outlet to keep the ball or draw fouls when they won the ball back deep in their own half against Liverpool’s pressing. Liverpool became more offensive as the second half went on in search of an equaliser, only for Chelsea to hold onto their one goal advantage and keep their third consecutive clean sheet.