Chelsea’s 60th Premier League meeting against Liverpool played out to a draw, but we can take more positives from it than Liverpool can and have perhaps even been given a better glimpse into the actual coaching that Graham Potter is implementing - for once, he did have a week to prepare for the occasion.
There were premonitions (aside from the two teams’ forms) that this might be a difficult (to watch) draw: Liverpool weren’t going to lose, having only lost once in their last 32 matches at Anfield, and yet they weren’t going to win because, between us, the home side has only won 3 of the last 17 meetings in the league. A goalless draw was written all over this.
Graham Potter certainly did not play the way most outlets and probably Jurgen Klopp expected, even after the team sheets were announced. He continues to surpass all others by a long shot in formation and personnel fluidity. Moving Lewis Hall into his more preferred position in the midfield wasn’t where most media outlets had assumed he would start, but it provided a chance to see him work in one of the few positions in this squad that can potentially affect the game more than our wingbacks. It didn’t work tremendously well - his passing was only 57.1% (even Jorginho could only manage 78.9%) and he’s too often got a blacksmith’s touch - but the raw talent is clearly there.
Klopp rarely deviates from a 4-3-3 and went with the same midfield that he used in their previous match against Wolves and a minimally rotated squad elsewhere, with theoretical bolstering by the additions of Andy Robertson and Mohamed Salah, neither of whom were great. James Milner fielded at right back caught scrutiny but may I remind you of two things: Trent Alexander-Arnold is an inept defender both responsibly and positionally but also that on the opposite end an even older Thiago Silva was marshalling our back line as well as he always does. Sign him on for another year!
Thiago Silva’s game by numbers vs. Chelsea:— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) January 21, 2023
91% pass accuracy
82 passes completed
4 long balls completed
1 key pass
You shall not pass. ⚔️ pic.twitter.com/5iaIAoUfPk
And Silva’s impact, as I noted in the last piece, has been tremendously influential on recent signing Benoît Badiashile, as there has been even a noticeable improvement in his positioning and awareness already in just two games, even if he couldn’t improve upon his really, really, really ridiculously good-looking passing stats against Crystal Palace. When he was tasked with handling that left flank, noting that the defenders in front of him were not so stout Lewis Hall and Marc Cucurella, he was generally comfortable. That quick transition has happened by the guidance of Thiago Silva, the greatest free transfer of all time (yep, I intend to say that in every article henceforth.)
Trevoh Chalobah played better than in his previous outing too, this time with better passing stats, and did especially well without a true recognised wingback tracking back in assistance regularly, even if Hakim Ziyech did come back often to contribute. Going forward, Chalobah was moving the ball relatively quickly to Ziyech, who was wasting no time early on to get the ball into the box with an astounding 11 crosses and despite having only 32% of the attack on their side to the 44% on the left, they have extremely similar stats to their counterparts, with the slight nod of shot creating actions and attempted dribbles going to the right.
On the other side, our attack came much more narrowly due to Mount dropping in more centrally to receive from Cucurella. Mount was also pulling his fair share of the offensive thrust, too, but he was still taking up a central position to try to make himself more effective, but he and Havertz haven’t always found it easy to coexist when an attack is developing down that flank because they far too often occupy similar spaces.
And because of those things, once again, there was no real symmetrical division to our lineup again. The back three could become a four, especially when Liverpool attacked down their right flank or held sustained possession - and it wasn’t always as narrow as it is in the image below.
That flexibility is something that Potter has talked about being an important part of understanding and reading the game, stressing the importance on responsibility in a system rather than the traditional role of a defined position. It certainly hasn’t hit full stride yet, but the relatively effective way we defended and transitioned showed that there is indeed some sense of Potter-ball in effect. Even if our opposition was a bit underwhelming, the ideas and expectations were being displayed.
The team pass map is a great indication of everything I’ve spoken about above, the flexibility, movement, passing patterns, and general positioning. Note the withdrawn location in which Kai Havertz often picked up the ball - despite 5 touches in Liverpool’s box, the majority of his 28 touches are around the centre circle. His runs to find space with his back to goal were not effective, but his passing was worse. In fact, he would complete only 58.8% of his passes, only 5 would be connected in Liverpool’s half, and only one was progressive. Additionally, note the lack of passes received from anyone playing out centrally. If he is going to drop and show for the ball, he needs to be more productive after having received it.
The first half was filled with half chances and should have, after statistically hitting 1.09 xG, given us our first goal. Once again, we failed to capitalise, and we faced the proposition of facing a reinvigorated side after the halftime talk. And so it would be...
The second half was less appealing to eye from our perspective and Liverpool did have a response to our initial dominance, at least until Mykhailo Mudryk was introduced. There were generally misplaced passes all around the park in this game - 75% accuracy for them and 80% for us - but our period of the least amount of possession was in the opening phase of the second half and our giveaways and errant passes were replete during that time frame.
Mudryk would have hoped for a faster start to his Premier League life - not literally, because he has already been clocked at the fastest player in the league this season, but figuratively. His passing was smart, he seemed to quickly understand what those around him expected from him and what he could expect from them, and he is just another example of the ridiculous stockpile of young talent we have on the books. His best sequence does not display the ridiculous pace but general smart play and understanding of the system in which he was playing.
Just prior to picking up this pass, Mudryk has a glance centrally to know where his viable outlets are. This simple fact is essential in such a fast paced league that to do it on his first touches and throughout the minutes he was given is fantastic.
His one touch pass’s weight is perfect, he picks the right one in Jorginho as Badiashile, his other option showing for the ball, has cover, and the attack begins through a switch to the right flank. He then gets forward and, because Milner is preoccupied with Mount, the actual attacking midfielder on that side, Ziyech is nearly able to pick him out at the far post. He ever-so-slightly miscontrols the long cross and the chance he created about 100 yards earlier goes longing.
The profile of player that Mudryk is seems to fit the approach that Potter is trying to take to the squad. He completed 13 of 15 passes, but 3 were progressive and 5 were played into the Liverpool box. His direct threat through dribbling is apparent, with 4 attempted and 2 successful in the brief cameo. Breaking from that routine of recycled possession is certainly something that Potter is trying to achieve, and players like him and João Félix are helpful in accomplishing that.
Earlier this season I took a screenshot of the team sequence styles from The Analyst and discussed how Chelsea were as slow in direct speed as Manchester City, but connected almost two fewer passes per sequence and had scored far fewer goals to show for all our possession. This all means what we know - slow, minimally-threatening football that had a growing turnover rate and significantly fewer touches in the opposition’s box than City - yet we were still absolutely rigid in attempting, far less successfully, that same style.
Since Potter took over our passes per sequence has not changed virtually at all, but our direct speed in metres/second has climbed to where now our most similar style of gameplay happens to be Arsenal. In fact, in all of our sequence times and summaries, we are spot on with Arsenal. And so we come upon the everlong issue of actually scoring goals and quite clearly the reason that the owners are splurging on every young and talented winger on the planet - the traditional striker is dead unless they happen to be a Norwegian anamole. Wingers have dominated the scoring charts in recent years, they’re hugely important on a system that relies on the flanks for our attacks, and they’re far more abundant than elite strikers.
While we ruminate until the next match about what is to come, let’s have faith that this new regime, which has already caused the governing bodies to reanalyse their policies by outwitting them and implementing some American sports franchises’ ideologies into English football. It might not be the worst idea, especially if said ideas help keep us concurrent with the clubs run by countries.
And a special congrats to legend,
César Azpilicueta Dave!