Liverpool 1-2 Chelsea: Ever since a fierce clash between these two sides on the 27th of April at Anfield, things have changed a lot for the two sides in question. That game basically derailed Liverpool’s title challenge, halting a fantastic run of 11 wins in a row. Chelsea, according to Mourinho, were quite motivated to stop the entire media circus surrounding the Liverpool title bid at the time, but things were very different this time around, with most of the hype and ‘Invincible’ talk focused on Chelsea. The stage was set at Anfield, with a cauldron of an atmosphere greeting the players and managers, as Rodgers took on his mentor, Jose Mourinho.
Liverpool: (4-3-3) 13. Mignolet; 2. Johnson, 37. Skrtel, 6. Lovren, 18. Moreno; 23. Can (Allen, 70′),8. Gerrard, 14. Henderson; 31. Sterling, 45. Balotelli (Lambert, 79′), 10. Coutinho (Borini, 70′).
Chelsea: ( 4-2-3-1) 13. Courtois; 2. Ivanovic, 24. Cahill, 26. Terry, 28. Azpilicueta; 21. Matic, 4. Fabregas, 7. Ramires (Willian, 54′); 8. Oscar, 10. Hazard (Filipe Luis, 90+4′), 19. Diego Costa (Drogba, 90′).
Goals: Can (9′) – Cahill (14′), Diego Costa (67′)
Chelsea pressing, and facing problems
Chelsea were looking to defend from the front in this game, an approach they don’t adopt very often. The work rate of Oscar, Diego Costa, and Hazard has to come in for particular praise, as they were often chasing shadows and running from one direction to another to try and close down the Liverpool players and their passing options. Chelsea’s pressing wasn’t just in open play, it was a clear tactic to prevent Liverpool’s build-up play from the back forcing Mignolet to lump it towards Balotelli, something Mourinho obviously felt his team could handle better
In terms of the way Chelsea were looking to press, they were quite aggressive, but not over the top. A lot of teams like to pressure the man on the ball in an effort to directly win the ball from him, but Chelsea were trying to stop Liverpool passing the ball forward. Instead of going and attacking the man on the ball, their players were happy enough to mark and block passing options for Liverpool. This was a method of slowing down, and stopping the build up play. The method worked very well too, with Liverpool losing the ball in their own half a number of times. The defenders and midfielders were dispossessed on the ball 7 times over the course of the game, and this stat doesn’t even take interceptions from stray passes into account. Glen Johnson alone lost the ball 3 times in a very poor performance.
Liverpool tried to counter this, initially, by playing balls in behind Chelsea to Balotelli, but the Italian was caught offiside far too often (4 times) over the course of the match for this tactic to be effective. On occasion, they did manage to play the ball out, and when they did, they were in on the Chelsea defence, and behind the midfield quite easily. Prior to the goal as well, Can managed to get into a good shooting position after getting behind the Chelsea midfield, and got close. The goal too, came from exactly such a situation, when Liverpool passed out well to avoid pressure, and managed to get Can running at the Chelsea defence. Why did this happen so often? The lack of speed in the Chelsea defence (John Terry) means that Chelsea usually like to stay a little deeper. While the rest of the midfield pushed up to press, the defence stayed back to leave a yawning gap between the two lines. Aside from the two Can shots, even Philippe Coutinho and Sterling were able to drift inside behind the midfield. They tried to utilise the ball in different ways, and were ultimately not as successful as Can.
Ramires brought in as defensive cover
Over the course of the last two seasons, anyone who has watched Chelsea in the big away games, will have seen a standard game-plan that Jose Mourinho applies. The corresponding fixture last season, played in April is a perfect example of that game plan. Solid in defence, and looking to force the opposition into errors before taking advantage of these errors. In case the opposition do not make these errors, Chelsea are happy enough to sit back and settle for the draw. This looked like being the case even two weeks ago, away at Manchester United, but neutrals will be thankful that Mourinho adopted a slightly different approach for the match at Anfield.
Mourinho encouraged his side to push up a little and press the Liverpool back line, who like to try and play the ball out. But the pressing meant that the defensive solidity that we are so used to seeing from Chelsea in these big away games was sacrificed a little, in the sense that there wasn’t the usual line of 4 midfielders sitting in front of the defence and protecting it. So, in order to secure the back 4 a little, Ramires was brought into the side in place of Willian, and placed on the right hand side, where we usually see Willian operate. However, unlike Willian, Ramires wasn’t really drifting in and around the penalty area. He was getting quite close to the central midfielders like Matic and Fabregas, and was hanging back and serving as the auxiliary right back every time Branislav Ivanovic chose to venture forward. Ramires too wasn’t shy of getting forward, but chose his moments, and we seldom saw both the full back and midfielder get forward together.
Chelsea attacking behind Moreno
Both Raheem Sterling and the attack minded Alberto Moreno occupied Liverpool’s left hand side. While Ramires has been deployed here to add the defensive cover, it didn’t stop Chelsea from trying to exploit the gap that the Spanish full back left behind. Chelsea were quite sharp on the counter, finding space in behind Moreno quite well.
What helped was the fact that when Chelsea were defending, Oscar occupied the middle, and Costa moved to their right. It left Oscar to do the hard work in an area that Liverpool generally like to play out of, and it also left Costa in the space that Moreno had vacated, and Chelsea looked to him as an outlet. This worked at least twice, as they managed to get the rest of the defence to slide across the penalty area and create space on the far side. Unfortunately for the Blues, Glen Johnson managed to make crucial blocks from Eden Hazard shots on both occasions.
In general, Hazard enjoyed a good game against Johnson, as the supply line to him was steady, and he found the space for his direct running and quick dribbling. Hazard often dropped into the space between the centre backs, especially in the first half, as Chelsea sought to have him play a similar role to the one Willian does.
Henderson marking Fabregas
A couple of weeks ago, Chelsea faced Manchester United at Old Trafford, and we spoke about how van Gaal may have revealed the technique to stopping Chelsea’s creative and powerful midfield to dominating the game. Fellaini marked Fabregas in that game, and had a terrific evening.
Brendan Rodgers attempted to recreate that tactic, and did so, with a moderate degree of success. The Spaniard didn’t really have much of an influence on the game, but neither did Henderson. In fact, Fabregas was quite intelligent with respect to the way he handled Henderson, often dragging him out of position and leaving holes in the Liverpool midfield that the likes of Oscar, Hazard and then Willian could exploit.
Rodgers was certainly pleased with the way Fabregas was kept under control, and it was possibly one of the very positives for Liverpool from the game. Because an in-form Cesc could have been a far more humiliating scoreline than the eventual Liverpool 1-2 Chelsea. From the away sides point of view, being the tactician he is, Mourinho will be slightly worried at ways of freeing the Spaniard better. That’s two big games now that teams have found a way of coping with the ex-Barca man, something that looked improbable, if not impossible.
Where does this leave them?
For the home side, the performance wasn’t really encouraging. They started brightly, picking out the gap between the opposition’s defence and midfield, but faded away as Chelsea managed to take control of the game. Liverpool are facing a number of issues with respect to their attack, as the star signing just hasn’t settled. In defence too, they are struggling to deal with set pieces, as Chelsea were clearly towering over them in that department today. Rodgers has done a lot for the club, and seen them come very close to the title last season, but this one is calling for him to introspect. If he can pull his side out of this rut, it will be one of his major achievements.
For Chelsea, things look quite rosy. They’ve played games away at Goodison, Anfield, Old Trafford, and the Etihad, and are still unbeaten, and well ahead of the chasing pack. They look like a team that is full of quality and variety, and with a cunning operator like Jose Mourinho at the helm of affairs, you would have to say that the Blues look good for some silverware this season.
Written by Vishal Patel