In a crucial game in the Premier League title race, Liverpool and Chelsea went head-to-head. Liverpool knew that anything other than a loss would have firmly cemented their place as title-favourites. Chelsea would have been all but out had they not got a result. Rodgers came out to win the game and move Liverpool a step closer to the coveted Premier League while Mourinho was seemingly satisfied with taking a point and putting all his eggs in the Champions League basket.
A goal right at the end of each half was all that Chelsea really created, but it was enough for them as they took their chances. Liverpool on the other hand, dominated the ball but failed to get past a solid defensive set-up. Mourinho frustrated and annoyed, but in the end he got the right result.
Liverpool 0-2 Chelsea
Liverpool: Mignolet, Skrtel, Sakho, Johnson, Flanagan (Aspas 81′), Gerrard, Lucas (Sturridge 58′), Allen, Coutinho, Sterling, Suarez
Chelsea: Schwazer, Kalas, Ivanovic, Azpilicueta, Cole, Matic, Mikel, Lampard, Salah (Willian 60′), Schurrle (Cahill 77′), Ba (Torres 84′)
Goals: Ba (45+’), Willian (90’+)
WRITERS’ UNBIASED PRE-ANALYSIS NOTE:
Before we dive right into it, let’s get one thing straight; Attacking football is a system, not the whole of football itself, so anything that isn’t attacking footall isn’t anti-football but rather just a system within the bounds of the sport that is opposed to the entertaining attacking style of play. The only thing that is not football is when a club uses external factors such as match-fixing, doping etc. to turn a result in their favour; that is anti-football. But when a team sets up defensively, sits in two definite defensive lines, popularly known as ‘parking the bus’, it isn’t anti-football. It isn’t beautiful, it isn’t brave but you don’t need to be to get the right result. Defensive football is an art, just like attacking football.
JOSE CAME FOR ONE MOMENT, HE GOT TWO
Mourinho has been accused of cowardly tactics, but from a completely unbiased point of view, they were smart tactics. Liverpool have steam-rolled opposition this season, especially at home. They’ve smashed the small sides and humiliated the big ones. Arsenal, Everton, Spurs have all come to Anfield (the former two with huge expectations at that point in their season), tried to take the game to Liverpool and been blown away. Man City did it two weeks back, and despite controlling for much of it, they left Anfield with nothing.
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Mourinho would have studied Liverpool and realised one glaring aspect of their game more than their passing, more than their pace, more than their creativity it’s their need for space. Liverpool thrive when a team gives them space, they thrive when a team plays a high line. Come to think of it, it’s remarkable none of the other big sides realised this and attempted to sit deeper. All of Arsenal, Everton, Spurs have come to Anfield and played high lines. Take that space away, and nearly Liverpool’s entire attacking game plan has gone.
This is the idea Mourinho came with, sit back, deep, completely, and invite Liverpool forward. Don’t give them space, force them to pass it around the box, allowing them to keep possession but preventing them from creating anything. You could see how lost the Liverpool side was when the opponents sat back. Their crosses were unsuccessful, their passes were cut out and their shots lacked accuracy.
Jose Mourinho’s side on the other hand, didn’t create or even look to do so throughout the game. They came there to defend, purely to prevent Liverpool from scoring as they’ve been so successful this season in outscoring the opponent. Mourinho’s men depend on one moment, on an error or a set-piece that may or may not arise. They were happy to take a 0-0 and considered any shade of a chance as their only opportunity. Personally I believe Mourinho would have come out a little more attacking, possibly to catch Liverpool out in the second half. But that Gerrard error gifted them a goal just before half-time and they were convinced of sticking to their first-half approach. The second goal was obvious, with Liverpool pushing everyone forward there was bound to be a chance or two created for Chelsea. Mourinho came for one moment, he got two.
It must be said though, criticism against Mourinho for contradicting himself with his tactics after his comments following the West Ham game are well justified. He had no right to complain that way about their approach, calling it “19th century football”. He had no right when he himself was implementing those tactics.
NO SPACE, NO MOVEMENT, NO THREAT
Following on from the previous point, as Liverpool lacked space, there was nothing for them to play into. Liverpool’s attacking set of players have amazed viewers with the way they utilise the space offered and their subsequent constant movement. With the space option completely shut off, neither were Liverpool allowed to play balls in nor were their players offered any movement options. The sheer number of blue shirts made any movement impossible.
Thus this was another method how Chelsea prevented a Liverpool attacking threat. We’ve seen smaller sides sit back against Liverpool, most recent being Cardiff. Liverpool realised their approach and were patient, they kept the ball and were confident a small lapse in concentration will open up a pocket of space for them to capitalise on, and it did.
But Chelsea possess far superior players, capable of implementing their tactics, ensuring their organisation and maintaining their concentration. Here’s another thing that most may not realise; defensive tactics may seem boring and cowardly, but the organisation and concentration that goes into it is immense. You need mature professionals to get it right. Notice Chelsea’s two full-backs, Cole and Azpilicueta. They were never rash, never too over-confident. They stepped out of their zone when they were confident of winning possession, occasionally closed the opponents down but got right back into place. That lapse of concentration and organisation never arose.
All of Suarez, Sterling and Sturridge rely on that movement and on that space opening up. With that not occurring, their game was nullified too. Suarez was left frustrated, Sterling had no ideas after being active in the first-half and Sturridge never got into the game whatsover. That Plan B and versatility in attack lacked in Liverpool’s game and they seemed far too weak when not allowed to play to their strengths.
The only real opportunities that Liverpool could have had were from set-pieces. There wasn’t much in the form of free-kicks but Liverpool did get a fair share of corners which they failed to capitalise on. Most Liverpool fans will probably rue that stoppage time corner from Iago Aspas for some time.
LIVERPOOL LACK SQUAD DEPTH, EVIDENT IN MIDFIELD
Another apparent short-fall of Liverpool this season has been their lack of squad depth. It has been well documented but it’s now clearly evident in the game against Chelsea. It’s remarkable what Liverpool have managed to do with about 14 players, while the rest of the squad has been nothing more than fringe members. Besides the obvious absence of Sturridge, the absence of suspended Henderson definitely hurt Liverpool to a great degree.
With the ex-Sunderland man receiving a straight red two weeks back against Manchester City, he was to miss three games, the second of which was this Chelsea game at Anfield. Sturridge’s injury changed things a bit as well with Liverpool front three not being the regular set of players. But the real deficiency lied in midfield.
Joe Allen and Lucas Leiva came in. Two players who primarily would be deployed deep in midfield. Rodgers had to decide whether to change his system, or keep the trusted system while making like-for-like changes. The latter was a successful approach and a tempting one to prevent alteration. Lucas and Allen came in ahead of Gerrard. Their role would have been somewhat defensive had Chelsea been more adventurous, defend from the front, win possession back and offer some threat through penetrating runs. But Chelsea’s deep approach didn’t require the midfield duo in a defensive capacity but required them to be a constant attacking threat, make runs into the box through the channels and facilitate the short passing game around the box.
Both Lucas and Allen lacked this in their game, against questioning Liverpool’s versatility. Henderson could have offered that threat but his replacements looked awkward in attacking areas with nothing to add but rather just recycle possession as they would in a deeper zone. Allen did get a shot or two off, but Lucas is clearly not a player meant for an attacking zone. Could bringing Luis Alberto on at some point have been a good option? Food for thought.
MOURINHO TAKES IT TO LIVERPOOL, MENTALLY
A game against Chelsea starts way before kick-off. The battle between the managers kicks-off right from the post-match press conference of the previous game. Mourinho spoke about how he would put out a weakened Chelsea side against Liverpool after the Atletico game in midweek, which left the Social Media world in a frenzy. Rodgers retaliated and got his own comments in and the battle seemed all square, until kick-off.
Right from the start, Mourinho clearly set his side out to win the mental battle beside the physical one on the pitch. Chelsea players were seen wasting time right from the first minute, delaying throw-ins, free-kicks and goal-kicks, well aware that this would frustrate Liverpool’s inexperienced side and work in their favour by preventing the Liverpool side from being their calm and composed selves.
This wasn’t a part of football, it wasn’t some tactical genius and criticism against Mourinho for this is well-justified. Even Chelsea fans will agree how infuriating it could possibly be to face such a side and manager. It was an unprofessional approach to the game and personally won’t give credit to Mourinho for it. He got it spot on tactically, but this was unwarranted.
However, it should be mentioned that nothing of what Chelsea did was against the laws of football. These tactics occur on a daily basis in the sport, possibly not so early, but they do occur. On a sportsmanship level, it was completely uncalled for.
WHERE DOES THIS LEAVE THEM?
This result has blown the title race wide open. Manchester City are in command now, knowing that winning all their remaining games barring two absolute routs from Liverpool, the title will be theirs. Chelsea have returned into the picture as well, though only 2 points behind Liverpool they need both clubs to drop points to stand a chance. Not impossible but it’s fair to presume Mourinho’s focus is on the Champions League. Brendan Rodgers has been the better manager this season, but on the day at Anfield, his former ‘boss’ outclassed him. The final score of Liverpool 0-2 Chelsea may be the result we look back on at the end of the season, as the turning point of the season.
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