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Liverpool 2-2 (5-4 p/k) Chelsea, UEFA Super Cup: Tactical Analysis

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An open, even game eventually decided on penalties

First half

Liverpool made the better start to the game. Their high and aggressive pressing pushed Chelsea back, won the ball in midfield and allowed them to maintain a high block.

Chelsea were able to play through on the ground or over the top of Liverpool’s pressing (long to Giroud) during buildup and counters, but when they arrived in midfield or the final third, they were unable to complete the final pass behind Liverpool’s backline to create chances from these opportunities or push Liverpool back.

Liverpool created mainly from the right and on set pieces. Salah receiving the ball wide or running behind during counters created a couple of opportunities, but otherwise Liverpool caused Chelsea’s backline few problems from open play — mainly midfield runs behind. Set pieces usually found Liverpool players with the first ball into the box, and were a problem for Chelsea to deal with throughout the match.

Chelsea’s counter threat was always present, and as the half went on, they also began to have much more success keeping the ball and moving forward as a team (playing high block), while still also creating chances from counters by getting behind Liverpool’s backline — and going on to take the lead.

Chelsea predominantly won the ball in midfield, where Liverpool had difficulties progressing with their possession centrally from the back. Chelsea achieved this by controlling Liverpool’s wide rotations between the fullbacks (advancing), wide central midfielders (dropping back) and wingers (moving inside), and waiting for Liverpool to play forward ground passes to feet centrally, where Liverpool lacked the capacity to hold on to the ball under pressure.

As Chelsea moved into the final third with the ball, they would open up a lot as a team, playing quickly and aggressively. Both fullbacks could be high and wide at the same time, while the wide central midfielders would move forward to make runs behind Liverpool’s backline and provide support to the wings at the same time — Kante creating from crosses and joining the box, or Kovacic joining the box for the 1-v-1 chance, for example.

Second half and extra time

Firmino replacing Chamberlain at half-time (and Mane moving to the left wing) made an instant impact, both in the scoreline and in the way Liverpool played with the ball. From the wing, Mane could now cause problems for Azpilicueta — both by running behind on the outside or by leaving the wing to join the box on the inside (switchover of defenders tracking him) — and could also drop back to receive the ball from Liverpool’s backline and hold on to it under pressure, solving the problem they had in the first half (Firmino could do that as well).

Liverpool created a few opportunities to take the lead after equalising, but continued to have problems from deep positions when they couldn’t find the front three to progress forward with the ball — which allowed Chelsea to push up, press high, force them into play backwards and long, and recover the ball high up to counter.

In extra time, Mane and Firmino continued to cause Chelsea problems, combining early on for Mane to score his and Liverpool’s second goal of the game. The game continued to be open, and Chelsea would score an equaliser through a penalty, but neither team could find a winner and the game would be decided by a penalty shootout.

Conclusion

Liverpool caused problems when they were able to press high and maintain that high block, and through counters. Chelsea held a deeper block and were pushed back from time to time, but had a lot of success recovering the ball from Liverpool’s buildup in their own half and possession in midfield. Firmino’s introduction and Mane moving to the wing made a big difference in the game, but Chelsea still found success pressing and recovering the ball in midfield to launch counters and sustain attacks — leaving the game to be decided on penalties.