Liverpool took control of the game during the opening stages through their physical dominance and intensity, while Chelsea couldn’t establish possession through their technical qualities, and didn’t attempt to push up high to press. Instead, Chelsea defended deep, looking to use the spaces behind Liverpool’s backline for counters, and continued to play from the back with the ball, waiting for moments later on in the half where Liverpool’s defensive intensity would drop, to progress with more consistency.
With control of the game, Liverpool played high up, had time on the ball to move into the final third, and flooded the boxes to try to find space at the far post to create chances from crosses. Early on, Jordan Henderson joining the box at the far side (inside of Emerson) would draw Chelsea’s left-back narrow to open the space behind him for Mohamed Salah to have an early chance — a situation which Liverpool would capitalise upon in the second half.
As the half went on, Chelsea did find more spaces to advance with the ball and then enter the final third with the fullbacks in deeper areas — Liverpool making it very difficult to play directly through the midfielders — before playing inside to the advanced midfielders to progress, including long passes behind for Willian.
Short building going back to Kepa would also create some opportunities for long play to Ruben Loftus-Cheek (N’Golo Kanté dropping deep and Loftus-Cheek moving higher up) to provide some variation to Chelsea’s play, but doing this too often would suit Liverpool by making the game stretched and setting up competition for the second ball in midfield.
Even when able to advance, Chelsea once again had difficulties creating chances in the final third — Chelsea usually rely upon the individual talents of Eden Hazard, who as a striker is less involved in the game than in his natural position on the left wing. From the right, Chelsea were able to create some crossing opportunities, but the options (or lack thereof) inside the box would see them wasted. On the left, a few good combinations and chances to take on defenders were found, but usually only when Hazard floated wide as well.
Liverpool started the second half with the same high intensity they started the first, this time taking full advantage of the far post crossing situation that they missed in the first half to take the lead. Liverpool continued to push aggressively after scoring and were rewarded by Salah’s tremendous goal.
After going two goals down, Chelsea brought on Gonzalo Higuaín for Callum Hudson-Odoi, and moved Hazard out to the left wing where he would have a much greater influence on the game. Liverpool continued to try to press high and quickly counter when they won the ball in a push for another goal. But now Chelsea were able to hold onto the ball and push Liverpool back to their own half consistently — something Chelseaa weren’t able to do in the first half.
Higuaín as striker provided a different option to Hazard, finding space by dropping for the ball to feet, allowing runners to go past him, and playing simple passes to keep the ball and allow the team to move forward to attack in the final third. This was different to Hazard who played more directly and made runs behind Liverpool’s backline, which could create chances — but when those weren’t converted, Hazard’s centre-forward experiment would instead give the ball back to Liverpool and lose Chelsea’s position (without high pressing). With Higuaín, Chelsea moved as a team into the final third and then were in positions to press high and recover the ball in midfield — although with the added risk of leaving spaces on the wings for Liverpool to exploit.
From the wing, Hazard would also be much more influential to receive and keep the ball to again push Liverpool back to deep positions. With that, Chelsea moved higher up to attack as a team, while also still counting on Hazard’s runs behind and individual quality to create chances.
These changes would see Chelsea create a number of chances to get back into the game almost immediately, but without converting any of them. After conceding these opportunities and almost seeing a 2-0 lead turn into a 3-2 comeback, Liverpool started managing the game better by holding possession a little more to push Chelsea back deeper into their own half, rather than always playing to extend their lead and giving Chelsea the ball back quickly. Having survived Chelsea’s briefly dominant period, Liverpool would see the game out to secure the win.
xG map for Liverpool - Chelsea— Caley Graphics (@Caley_graphics) April 14, 2019
a fantastic, close-fought match in which finishing made the difference pic.twitter.com/agAIVETbbc
Liverpool dominated the start of both halves with their intensity, but were unable to take advantage in the first-half as Chelsea defended deep and improved with the ball as the half progressed and Liverpool’s intensity dropped — though Chelsea still had difficulties in sustaining a high position and were unable to take control of the game.
Liverpool took advantage of their intensity at the start of the second half, with two quick goals. Chelsea’s reaction (with Hazard moving to the wing) was great, creating a number of chances to score, but were unable to take any of them.
Liverpool regained control of the match for good afterwards and pushed Chelsea back deep, which allowed Liverpool to continue causing problems in attack while preventing Chelsea from pushing back as often as they did earlier in the half.