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Chelsea 0-2 Liverpool, Premier League: Tactical Analysis

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Breaking down Chelsea’s failed attempt to get a result against the defending champions

First half

Liverpool dominated the ball during the first half, with Chelsea keeping bad distances to Liverpool’s players and the ball. Chelsea players were caught in two minds far too often, between pressing high or dropping deep, resulting in them not being tight enough to defend in a compact block — pushing them to drop back to defend deep or have their lines broken with the ball.

Liverpool looked to play long and direct behind the opposition backline as often as possible (or find the frontline to feet to move into the final third). Although many of Liverpool’s long passes didn’t find their intended targets for the majority of the first half, they created a situation where Chelsea’s backline was constantly stretched, and provided a platform for Liverpool to press high up the field constantly — playing for territory and to their strengths.

With the ball starting from Kepa quite regularly, Chelsea played both short and long. Their short-building required either Kovačić to break pressure with his dribbling, or to work the ball to draw Liverpool’s wingers narrow to get it to the fullbacks free in space. The problem for Chelsea from here however was the next pass, forward from the fullbacks. With Mount and Werner on the wings, Chelsea could only really look to play fast with few touches and movements off them (they weren’t going to hold onto the ball consistently under pressure from Liverpool’s defenders), while the option to Havertz moving in the middle was often the same story. The distances were also too long and thus they were not able to find combinations. There was some success when Havertz moved to the left and combined with Werner early to get the latter running behind, but Chelsea couldn’t make use of Werner’s runs as in the Brighton game — Fabinho also doing a great job defensively.

Long play from Kepa had its own problems, where the first ball was easily won by Liverpool (often Van Dijk against Havertz in the air). Competing for the second ball was one of the few occasions where Chelsea’s midfield was higher up and closer to pressure the ball in numbers (Liverpool’s back four becoming disconnected from the midfield).

Giroud as striker would have been an obvious solution to help out for both of these problems, building from the back and playing long as he did during the second half of last season, not to mention taking advantage of a midfielder as center back in Fabinho (playing well against fast and technical players, but probably having more trouble against crosses and physical target men). The reason for Havertz at striker and Werner on the wing was probably to reduce the defensive responsibility on Havertz (play with freedom) and for Werner to find the spaces behind Alexander-Arnold for counters.

The decisive moment of the half came during the final stages where Chelsea were in their best period with the ball. Henderson, again looking to play long and behind immediately, led to Christensen fouling Mane and receiving a red card, which would require Chelsea to make adjustments at half time.

Chelsea vs. Liverpool xG Timing Chart

Second half

Both Chelsea and Liverpool made changes at halftime. Chelsea took off Havertz and brought on Tomori to take the place of Christensen, leaving Werner and Mount in a front two — I always think that the best option with a man down is to go for the most talented attackers when leaving just two up front — while Liverpool brought on Thiago for Henderson.

With Chelsea in a 4-3-2 (dropping back to 4-5-0 defending deep at times), Liverpool’s fullbacks didn’t need to stay back to cover the winger as they had in the first half. So when Chelsea were building deep and working the ball out to the fullbacks, who were free to break pressure in first half, they were now met by Liverpool’s fullbacks high up to press and win the ball.

It didn’t take Liverpool long to get behind on the wings through the movements of their front three, and in doing so taking the lead within the first five minutes of the half. Mane got his and Liverpool’s second soon after, where he lost the ball and reacted with determination to press high and try to recover it — for which he was richly rewarded.

Chelsea had an opportunity to come back into the game later on in the half with Werner winning a penalty, but Alisson kept out Jorginho’s attempt to ensure Liverpool finished the game with a clean sheet.

Conclusion

Liverpool came in with a very clear way of playing, as they have been doing for a long time now, while Chelsea were caught between wanting to push up and press or drop off and counter. Chelsea found success competing for the second ball after long play from the back, and got behind Liverpool’s backline on a few occasions through Werner’s speed, but the decisive moment of the game came with Christensen’s red card just before halftime. Liverpool could press higher up from the fullbacks against Chelsea’s ten men in the second half, and would quickly go on to take a two-goal lead, while Alisson’s penalty save killed any hope of a late comeback for Chelsea.