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Liverpool 0-1 Chelsea, Premier League: Tactical Analysis

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Breaking down Chelsea’s win at Anfield

First half

Liverpool pressed aggressively from the front, with the wide players pressing inside from wide to block the passes out to the wing-backs (so their fullbacks didn’t need to be as aggressive as Manchester United’s in the previous game). Chelsea’s back three and sitting midfielders required a lot of composure to maintain the ball under such stress, playing into midfielders in direct pressure and making first-time pases while under pressure to break it.

Unlike the United game, Chelsea had two good outlets to play forward passes which would stretch Liverpool’s backline and create spaces. With Werner as striker, the threat of his speed behind was always apparent and balls would be played behind when Liverpool held a high line — often playing him offside. However, in the moments Liverpool dropped off to control the space behind, there would then be more spaces ahead for Chelsea to utilise.

When pressing, Liverpool would often have Jones higher up to join the frontline and leave Thiago and Wijnaldum as the sitting midfielders ahead of their backline to protect them. United had two physical players to perform this role which allowed them to sustain intensity, but with Thiago and Alexander-Arnold on the right, Liverpool did not sustain the intensity on the player receiving the ball and this allowed Mount to consistently find spaces without pressure and take Chelsea forward with the ball.

The only time Mount was really put under pressure when receiving the ball was when he dropped deep to collect it from the backline, and so he could really make a impact in the game to advance Chelsea’s possession and break Liverpool’s pressure. Continuing forward up to the box without the pressure on him being tight enough, he would be able to carry the ball and would go on to score from a counter attack where Liverpool’s backline didn’t close him down in the box.

Moving Wijnaldum out to the right and having Thiago on the left could have made a difference, because Mount was the danger moving to the spaces on the sides, and Chelsea don’t really threaten with passes into the middle without Giroud as target man or Mount playing behind two wide strikers.

Chelsea didn’t really apply much intense high pressing without the ball, but sitting off a little still kept good enough distances to let Liverpool have the ball (waiting for closer distances to press the ball) and not give them much space to play into with their direct play into the corners. Salah is the obvious threat to advance the play forward into the final third here and he created Chelsea the most problems in the first half. His technical and physical qualities to hold the ball and play at speed is really difficult to control, and in the moment where Chelsea did try to press aggressively from midfield Salah’s first-time pass behind found Mane inside the box, where he mistimed his shot to waste a clear chance to score.

Second half

Liverpool had a lot of the ball in the second half, but Chelsea’s midfield block maintained good control of the spaces behind, and restricted Liverpool to playing slow possession for a lot of the half. Chelsea only really faced problems in the moments where they tried to play too aggressively from their midfield block and allowed Liverpool to play behind their midfielders and move the ball quickly.

Chelsea maintained their composure in possession at the back to hold the ball under pressure from Liverpool’s frontline, but more of Chelsea’s opportunities in the second half would come from counters. Mount continued to find spaces to carry the ball forward and play passes behind, while Ziyech began to find himself on the ball in positions where he could play early passes behind Liverpool’s backline and have opportunities to shoot from crosses into the box.

The second change of the half for Chelsea made them much more of a consistent 3-5-2 with Kovačić going on for Mount, and with the front two, the direct balls would see Pulisic win a few headers and flick the ball on for Wener running behind. Chelsea had good opportunities both before and after these changes, without going on to extend their lead, but another clean sheet at the back would mean the one-goal lead would be enough for the win.

Liverpool v Chelsea xG timing chart
Understat

Conclusion

Chelsea maintained good composure at the back to keep the ball against Liverpool’s high pressing and to provide a platform to play from. Once through the pressure, there was space behind Liverpool’s backline for Werner to attack, and Liverpool were unable to get close to Mount finding spaces on the outside, from where he would go on to give Chelsea the lead. Chelsea’s defence from midfield kept good control of the space behind their backline in the second half and this left Liverpool with having to break down the defence through slow passing, leaving opportunities for Chelsea to counter when the ball was lost. Another clean sheet would see Chelsea take all three points away from Anfield.