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Chelsea 2-0 Liverpool, FA Cup: Tactical Analysis

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Breaking down Chelsea’s big win against the Premier League-leaders

Opening stages

Liverpool attempted to get behind Chelsea’s backline and create opportunities in the opening stages of the game. They would either try to play off the front three (drawing Chelsea’s backline forward) before playing quick passes outside to the overlapping fullbacks (followed by early crosses with numbers inside the box) or play more directly from Van Dijk through long diagonal passes into the corners to create 1v1’s with Chelsea’s fullbacks and again cross the ball into the box.

Chelsea made mistakes when building with the ball from the back, with both Zouma and Rudiger losing the ball and allowing Liverpool to recover the ball high and create opportunities to score. However, Liverpool didn’t capitalise upon these opportunities and Chelsea would improve as the half progressed.

Chelsea attacking Liverpool’s backline

Chelsea began to play more direct passes as the half went on with good success. Kepa started looking to play long directly from goal kicks and push the team up to compete for the second ball in midfield (a platform to attack from). When they did go short, he was usually pressured into clearing the ball long anyway, although with the team more stretched (longer distances between the deep backline and frontline in midfield). Diagonal passes from the fullbacks would also prove the be effective at reaching Giroud and Barkley up against Liverpool’s backline, constantly contesting for the ball.

When Chelsea recovered the second ball in midfield, they could then play quickly to go behind Liverpool’s backline or drive forward with the ball through the wingers and Barkley. Chelsea’s midfielders were very aggressive to win the 50-50 balls and would often come out on top, which would provide them with spaces to carry the ball into or to draw fouls that allow the team to push up higher. The switch from right to the left would also be effective to attack the space behind Williams through Pedro running behind to create opportunities.

When they didn’t recover the second ball, Chelsea would hold their defensive shape in midfield and look to pressure the ball in moments, which would again prove to be successful. Liverpool stopped playing as directly as they had in the opening stages, with more passes ahead of Chelsea’s defensive block and into the midfielders, which suited Chelsea’s pushing up and pressuring of the ball in midfield and allowed them to win the ball and start dangerous counters.

After attacks in the final third, Chelsea were much more aggressive in pressing Liverpool high up in the final third. In doing so they would recover the ball from Liverpool’s attempts to play through the midfielders again, and take the lead.

Second half

Chelsea continued to look to defend from midfield, push up given the opportunity to close down the spaces collectively, and recover the ball to counter-attack. Playing off Giroud’s flick-on’s from deep would allow for Barkley, Pedro and Mount to run behind and into spaces (as well as taking one of Liverpool’s backline out of the game), which would create opportunities to create chances in the final third. Barkley would take advantage of this when carrying the ball forward from midfield and would go on to extend Chelsea’s lead to two goals.

Chelsea continued to have a number of chances to extend their lead from counters as the half went on, but Adrian made a number of saves to deny Chelsea a third goal. Liverpool would switch to a 4-2-3-1 with Salah, Firmino and Milner going onto the pitch, but their attacks were unable to find their targets inside the box while Chelsea’s defence held out for a clean sheet.

Conclusion

After the initial errors with the ball from deep possession (and saves by Kepa), Chelsea’s more direct and counter-attacking approach ensured they caused Liverpool’s backline constant problems throughout and prevented them from getting behind on the wings where they can create chances. After taking the lead in the first half, Chelsea would continue to look for counter-attacking opportunities and would extend their lead to two goals — and waste a number of chances to extend their lead further — and advance into the next round.