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Chelsea 0-0 (10-11 p/k) Liverpool, League Cup Final: Tactical Analysis

Poets will write songs about this game

Chelsea v Liverpool - Carabao Cup Final Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images

The Iliad, The Odyssey, The Aeneid, Chelsea vs. Liverpool Carabao Cup 2022. Epic tales of valor and grit, love and loss, the scars of battle. It took nearly three hours whistle to whistle, this enthralling and entertaining contest. With a tragic end to boot!

Liverpool’s starting lineup was mostly as expected, given the injury situations of Diogo Jota (not fully fit) and Roberto Firmino (absent entirely). Sadio Mané deputized for the latter in the center, while new signing Luis Díaz slotted in on the left. Mohamed Salah on the right finished with the most shots of any player (5), though was not as threatening as the other two (0 on target).

Starting XI’s
Soccerway

Liverpool’s three-man midfield, with Fabinho sitting deep and Naby Keïta a late change due to Thiago Alcântara’s injury in warm-ups, were subdued by our dynamic duo of N’Golo Kanté and Mateo Kovačić.

Kovačić in particular appeared hell-bent on winning this trophy, and was the driving force in the productivity of our left-sided play — and not just on the ball. With Kovačić (and Antonio Rüdiger of course) covering, Marcos Alonso was able to let his offensive contributions shine, exposing the general defensive ineptitude of Trent Alexander-Arnold.

Chelsea set up in a similar fashion to the midweek win over Lille, with Kai Havertz once again chosen ahead of Romelu Lukaku to spearhead the attack — fluid movement and interchangeable play was again the method of attack preferred. But injuries to Hakim Ziyech and Andreas Christensen required replacements, with Mason Mount and Trevoh Chalobah given their first starts after only recently being deemed fully fit.

Liverpool focused their attack on their left flank as well, but unlike Alonso against Alexander-Arnold, Liverpool only managed to expose the defensive brilliance of Trevoh Chalobah.

Attack sides and average player positions
WhoScored?

Their 20 shots (6 on target) would suggest that we were off the pace and outplayed, but they were frequently denied anything sort of a genuine chance with 10 (that’s half) of their shots blocked.

And in the opening 16 minutes, with a bit more luck, we may have been coasting to another cup victory. In the first of the chances, eerily similar situations from two recent misses (Havertz against Lille and Pulisic against Palace) came back to haunt: a drilled cross is met well but sent over the bar. Notably, Pulisic’s chance was created initially by an incisive pass from Kovačić to a line-breaking run by Havertz, who had dropped then pulled wide to break Liverpool’s defensive shape. This would become a recurring theme.

Pulisic misses a glaring chance at 6 min

Havertz’s “false 9” role has been the major reason for our attacking effectiveness in this game and recently, and he was again key for the second of the chances in the opening minutes.

Another incisive pass from Kovačić finds another smart, line-breaking run from Havertz, this time on the left. Another magnificent low cross finds a Chelsea player in the area. But even with a bit of time, Mount sees his shot blocked.

Should have done better, part 2

Liverpool’s best chance, presented to Mané, would be due to him chasing down a rebound from a Keïta shot. Mendy did well to make the initial save, shot coming through a crowd and towards the lower corner, but did even better by smothering Mané’s shot, showing a real-world application for a most classic goalkeeping drill.

Our defense did not break, but Kovačić did get caught ball-chasing on the play, giving Keïta the chance to take the initial low xG strike.

Speaking of xG, another good chance would go begging for Chelsea before the half, created in a familiar way yet again.

Not surprisingly, the attack is once again sprung by Kovačić, causing and collecting a turnover, then finding Pulisic with space to run midfield. Havertz, in a wide position, keeps the defense stretched, then receives the ball from Pulisic at the end of a deep central run. Havertz picks out Mount with yet another wonderful ball in, but he he rushes his shot and misses.

Ergo, we would head into the break level.

On a better day...

The second half continued much as the first, with Chelsea chances missed and Liverpool continuing to rack up corners via blocked shots.

The manner of our two best chances that followed were also not unusual. On the first, Kovačić would break through the middle third, pass wide to Alonso, who would in turn would find Pulisic inside in a pocket of space. From there, the ball goes wide to Havertz who delivers yet another wonderful ball, with yet another finish fractionally missed.

déjà vu

On the second, the attack again starts on the left, though this time through Kanté and with Alonso then switching all the way across the pitch to Azpilicueta. He finds Pulisic, whose ball over the top is as delicate as a feather and falls to Mount. After hitting the post on this occasion and shortly thereafter firing directly into the goalkeeper’s hands from inside the box, it was clear that this was not Mason Mount’s day.

Mount misses a decent chance, and not for the last time

Unpleasantly, Azpilicueta was forced off with injury in the 57th minute. Pleasantly, his replacement was Reece James, returning from a two-month injury absence. Following that, Tuchel made a double change in the wide attackers, Mount and Pulisic giving way to Lukaku and Werner. The three immediately linked up for an offsides goal after failing to track back.

And that would be a consistent theme from thereon, with perhaps some inconsistent interpretation of the offside laws (not to mention laws about putting studs into players’ thighs). Prior to Werner and Lukaku’s introduction, Chelsea had one offside — Havertz in the 35th minute. We finished with seven, including a few that resulted in goals being called back as well.


Extra time would start with a change as Ibrahima Konaté replaced Joel Matip in the Liverpool back line. Shortly thereafter they’d change out Luis Díaz with Divock Origi, minimally altering their circumstances on the pitch.

Unfortunately, the circumstances of the scoreboard would not be altered either, even after Chalobah’s fantastic interception and peach of a pass through to Lukaku. Unlike most, he had no trouble finishing, though most notably not with his arm, which somehow still ruled him offside on VAR’s latest befuddling line-drawing exercise. So much for more common sense, thicker lines, and “advantage goes to the attacker”...

Offside?

The second period of extra-time would see our remaining two substitutions made explicitly with penalties in mind, and while statistics may be in support of Kepa taking the reins during a shootout, hindsight most certainly does not. Undefeated forever, that hindsight.

Kepa had surely been studying Liverpool’s penalties all week in preparation, and ought to have given us an advantage, just as he had many times before. Instead, a remarkable series of spot kicks would see Kepa, the last of our 11 to shoot, sky the ball and with it the chance for a third trophy this season.

KTBFFH.

Chelsea v Liverpool - Carabao Cup Final
Together we stand, divided we fall
Photo by Visionhaus/Getty Images