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Liverpool 1-2 Chelsea, Carabao Cup: Tactical Analysis

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Breaking down Chelsea’s rousing, come-from-behind victory at Anfield

First half

Chelsea held good positions and maintained good distances and thus could use their possession in a useful way, to prevent Liverpool from causing problems with their pressing and move up the pitch. Liverpool struggled to shorten those distances to be tight to the receiving players upon their first touch, before seeing improvement in this regard later on in the half.

The key difficulty Liverpool had was in controlling Fabregas from the base of Chelsea’s midfield. Liverpool (especially Fabinho) moving up to press him would open spaces behind them or allow Fabregas enough space and time to play long passes behind Liverpool’s backline.

In a typical example, Sturridge would close down Caballero, which would leave Fabregas free to receive in the middle. Fabinho would attempt to move up to pressure him, but the distance is too great and Fabregas finds Azpilicueta (consistently throughout the half) from where Chelsea can then get behind Liverpool’s midfield with Barkley.

If Fabinho remained deep and Sturridge moved onto Chelsea’s central defenders or stayed on Fabregas instead, Chelsea again found solutions to progress. Kovacic and Barkley would move back to receive and keep the ball, drawing Liverpool’s wide central midfielders forward and narrow (opening up space for Chelsea’s fullbacks); Chelsea used Caballero on the ball when needed to create the extra man with the ball; Fabregas was still able to find space between players to make passes; and when the central midfielders had the opportunity with the ball they could then play out to the fullbacks in space to advance forward.

Upon receiving the the ball, Emerson could dribble forward and had support of Willian and Kovacic on the inside, while on the right, Azpilicueta would look for passes to Barkley moving behind Keita again (although with this approach Fabinho remained in a deep position so he was able to provide protection ahead of Liverpool's backline) or for Moses to take on Moreno.

Further solutions to move forward would see Kovacic use his ability to dribble quickly with the ball past opponents, while Willian moving inside and receiving the ball behind Milner would see him find space to receive the ball, with Emerson moving up on the wing to pin Clyne back.

By moving into midfield and the final third with the ball, Chelsea created a few opportunities. Moses taking on Moreno on the wing (with Azpilicueta in support) was a position where they could cross the ball into the box or win set pieces; Fabregas finding space in midfield saw him playing over the top to Morata for a 1v1; and when Fabinho was again trying to close him down in midfield, he could find Barkley in space behind Liverpool’s midfield, where he attempted a shot from distance — but, no goals.

Towards the end of the half Chelsea made a few mistakes with the ball, which provided Liverpool with momentum and belief. They then began to close down the distances to cause Chelsea problems with the ball. Sturridge getting back and winning the ball from Fabregas set up the counter for Mane’s chance inside the box, and being able to press higher up and isolate the Chelsea players in wide areas would see them recover the ball for more attacks—such as forcing the mistake from Christensen.

Liverpool also had success through longer passes behind Chelsea’s backline from the right (by Milner or Clyne) where Shaqiri could get behind Emerson and move back inside onto his left foot to create, or long diagonal passes to the left for Mane to use his speed to get behind Azpilicueta.

Second half

Two Chelsea mistakes gave Liverpool 1v1’s with Caballero in the second half, but they were unable to finish either of them. Chelsea had a chance soon after giving the first 1v1 away, with Willian’s outside of the foot ball into the box for Morata, but it was Liverpool who were having much more success.

Liverpool used more long passes behind Chelsea’s defence with the ball. This worked especially well after drawing the initial pressure on their backline from Chelsea’s midfielders, since they would leave space behind them for Liverpool’s midfielders to compete for the second ball and were higher up early to shorten the distances to press Chelsea when they had the ball.

Winning free kicks in midfield also provided another platform for Liverpool to attack from and to push Chelsea back around their own box. By pushing Chelsea back deep into their own half, Liverpool wouldn’t have the problems of distances from Fabregas if Chelsea were to recover the ball, and they could isolate and press intensely on the wings to again cause problems and force mistakes.

Liverpool took advantage of playing higher up to score their goal, where they flooded the box with the ball for crosses and then counter pressed to recover it and sustain attacks. Chelsea couldn’t open up quickly enough to establish possession and the distances which they had in the first half, as well as not having enough success from Moses or Morata to draw fouls to allow Chelsea to get out. This is where Liverpool are dangerous, since they can use their speed and technical qualities on the left to quickly find space and create chances while Chelsea would still just be trying to reorganise themselves after attempting to open up and counter.

Liverpool then had Chelsea pinned back too deep in their own half to maintain control of the game. Chelsea didn’t have success through short building from goal kicks and had to switch to playing long, where they could win the initial ball but couldn’t consistently create a platform to attack from.

The substitutes made by either side mostly helped Chelsea. Liverpool took away their own main attacking threat in Mane’s speed and replaced him with Firmino on the wing, who didn’t cause Azpilicueta any problems. Hazard replaced Willian early in the half, but his influence on the game was little until the later stages. David Luiz did make an initial impact however, where he immediately started commanding the team to push up higher to regain the position they had in the first half. Once Chelsea pressed high and the backline moved up to play Shaqiri offside, the platform was there for Chelsea to recover the ball and start attacks once again.

Chelsea managed to score an equaliser from a wide free kick, before Hazard did his magic trick:

Conclusion

Chelsea had good control of the game for most of the first half as Liverpool couldn’t close the distances enough to press Chelsea high. In the second half, Liverpool played more long passes behind, pushed Chelsea back, and closed the distances to press Chelsea high, causing problems and taking the lead. Chelsea had few chances until David Luiz came on, after which the backline pushed up high again to close the distances and re-establish the position they had in the first half, though it still took a set piece and individual brilliance by Hazard to win the game.