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Liverpool 5-3 Chelsea, Premier League: Tactical Analysis

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Breaking down Chelsea’s dramatic game at Anfield

First half

During the early stages of the half, Liverpool pressed aggressively from the front: the most intense pressure in their own half Chelsea had faced since the restart.

Liverpool closed down from the outside-in, surrounding the player on the ball (especially if playing into a central midfielder) and being very compact in that area of the pitch. In theory, Kovačić had the ability to dribble through this pressure, while Jorginho receiving the ball on the half turn could also allow Chelsea some possibility to play through the middle (Giroud the more direct option moving onto Gomez). But Chelsea found most success playing through Liverpool’s pressure on the wings, finding the wing-backs advancing and making a number of switches from side to side.

When reaching midfield, Chelsea’s wing-backs would find space to receive the ball, while the front three would look to attack spaces between Liverpool’s backline. An early switch from Alonso to James would see a cross into the box find Mount to head the ball, while Alonso’s pass behind Liverpool’s high backline would find Willian in a lot of space between Van Dijk and Robertson (both focusing on players either side of them), but Willian was unable to control the ball to take advantage.

Liverpool vs. Chelsea attack sides
WhoScored

Chelsea pressed high up in the final third on a few occasions and won the ball (pressing with five, Liverpool pressed with six), but the wing-backs held back more with their pressing. Chelsea dropping back to midfield and their own half would see the wing-backs stay back as part of a defensive back five, and wait for the wingers to move across to protect them.

Liverpool were composed on the ball, moving it to the sides to try to progress on the wings (wide rotations) or long from Van Dijk (diagonals to wings or wingers running behind from central areas). Liverpool became much more aggressive and intense with their ball possession as they reached the final third (by possession or via turnover), with the wingers moving inside with the ball to combine with Firmino and attack the box at speed. Chelsea used blocks well to prevent or slow down the speed of the attacks.

Although Chelsea were coping well even when losing the ball deep against Liverpool’s frontline trying to break behind them into the box, the changing point in the half would come from Keïta instead taking advantage of the space ahead of Chelsea’s backline. Liverpool recovered the ball high up after a second bad touch by Willian (fine margins), which Keïta would take up to the edge of Chelsea’s box before hitting a long shot in off the crossbar.

Chelsea continued to find good positions to get behind Liverpool’s backline from switches to the wing-back’s before passes behind for the wingers running behind from the inside, but didn’t create anything from their subsequent attacks. Now playing higher up for longer, the spaces behind Chelsea’s backline would make Liverpool’s wingers much more dangerous with runs behind Chelsea’s backline, which would again require good recovery from Chelsea to prevent giving away clear chances.

Liverpool were clinical before halftime, going on to score from a free kick (Chelsea have conceded so many seemingly impossible-to-save goals this season that they have to ask themselves the question if there is something more to it) and a corner, before Giroud pulled one back before halftime to give Chelsea hope for the second half.

Second half

Chelsea came out very aggressive and intense in the second half, with determination to make a difference early on. Liverpool managed this stage of the game well to slow down the game and let Chelsea waste their own energy.

Once Chelsea were again trying to play higher up defensively, Salah combining with Firmino would again see him get behind Rüdiger with ease, but wasting a 1v1 on goal. Soon after, Liverpool did re-extend their lead, after holding possession in Chelsea’s half and again taking advantage of the space behind Chelsea’s higher backline, with Alexander-Arnold’s early ball into the box finding Firmino.

Chelsea’s triple-change to replace the entire front three would go on to make a big impact and bring a fresh intensity to Chelsea’s attacks. Pulisic’s dribble past multiple defenders before finding Abraham to tap the ball into the net would restore Chelsea’s hope and belief to make a comeback. Chelsea used the speed of the front three to look to attack the space behind Liverpool’s high backline, and Pulisic would go on to score Chelsea’s third goal of the game.

Liverpool dropped back to defend deeper as the game went on, with the wingers now deep early to reduce the space allowed to Chelsea’s wing-backs. Chelsea still advanced up the wings, but would have to play against multiple Liverpool defenders and without the spaces open behind Liverpool’s backline to exploit.

Liverpool regained control of the game during this period defensively, and would go on to set up counters from deep that would see them kill the game through Oxlade-Chamberlain restoring the final two-goal advantage.

Liverpool vs. Chelsea xG timing chart
Understat

Conclusion

Chelsea were able to find spaces on the wings with their wing-back’s, but were not clinical in the first half to take advantage of these opportunities. Liverpool, on the other hand, were clinical and scored with two shots from outside the box and a corner. Giroud’s goal before half-time gave Chelsea hope for the second half, but trying to play higher up only saw Liverpool’s frontline exposing the spaces behind and scoring their fourth goal of the game early on in the second half. Chelsea’s triple change made an impact on the game, with Pulisic going on to score and assist to pull Chelsea back to within a goal, but Liverpool reacted by dropping back, defending deep and cutting off the spaces on the wings and behind their backline, which Chelsea had been exploiting up until then.