Chelsea traveled to the north of England to face Liverpool in a crucial tie at Anfield. An exciting game that was filled with a lot of incidents and excellent play ended in a 2-2 draw, with Luis Suarez scoring a dramatic stoppage time equaliser.
Liverpool started the game in a 4-2-3-1 formation. At the back, the usual 4 of Johnson, Carragher, Agger and Enrique started, with Reina in goal. Gerrard and Lucas occupied the holding midfield positions. Upfront, Henderson started in the hole, with Downing and Coutinho either side of him, and Luis Suarez was the lone striker.
Chelsea too, started in their 4-2-3-1 formation, with the 3 Amigos starting yet again. Fernando Torres started ahead of them on his emotional return to Anfield. Mikel and Ramires were in the deeper midfield, while Azpilicueta, Ivanovic, Luiz and Bertrand were in the back 4, ahead of captain Petr Cech.
Quick Play in tight areas:
Chelsea were sitting deep through the match, to counter the tricky and creative play that Coutinho and Suarez bring to the table. As a result of this tactic, there were a lot of tight spaces in the centre, and Liverpool had to resort to playing quick one-twos and through balls when in tight areas. The aforementioned duo tried to do this, with the trequartista, Jordan Henderson working hard to create space with his running. In the first half alone, Liverpool attempted 7 through balls to try and get through the Chelsea wall.
Patient Build Up:
True to their manager’s philosophy, Liverpool tried to keep ball possession, and their build up was measured and patient, as they looked to drag the Chelsea players out of their positions and play their forwards in. The fact that they managed 57% ball possession is testament to the nature of the match they played. Apart from this, they also looked to dribble the ball in order to create space and chances. In the first half alone, they attempted 10 dribbles, but only 2 were successful.
In the first half, Liverpool aimed to keep the ball in Chelsea’s half for as long as possible. They tried doing this by pressing Chelsea high up the pitch, and especially in midfield, where they made 6 successful tackles. Their defence was much closer to their midfield, and this kept the pressure on. This is another feature that has been instilled in their game by Brendan Rodgers.
Lack of bodies in the box:
In the first half, Liverpool basically played with one striker, Suarez. The Uruguayan tends to move around a lot, and never really occupies one position on the pitch, reducing their presence in the opposition box. Henderson was also used mainly for his running, and he tried to create space for other with this asset, while Coutinho mainly tried to play the ball into the gaps that were created. With their skipper sitting deeper, this made in slightly difficult for Liverpool to score, as they didn’t really pepper the Chelsea area with shots, and didn’t have enough bodies in the box to worry the defenders. The cautious approach was abandoned in the second half and how. Liverpool brought on ex-Chelsea player Daniel Sturridge for the largely ineffective Coutinho. He moved in to the strikers role alongside Suarez, and Henderson was shifted out wide, as Liverpool adopted a 4-4-2/4-1-3-2 approach to the game, with ‘Stevie G’ being asked to play as his old swashbuckling self. The gap between him and Lucas was a lot larger than in the first half as he got forward a lot more.
Wide to centre:
Chelsea were basically defending pretty narrow, and had to rely on Oscar and Hazard to track back and aid their full backs. Liverpool in the second half, had gone and put 3 men in a central area to attack, and therefore tried to create space here by taking the ball out wide first, and then bring it in with diagonal passes to runners who moved into the gaps. Even for their first goal, Luiz got attracted to the ball and went our wide, leaving Ivanovic alone in the centre. The pass from Luis Suarez was perfect, as Ivanovic couldn’t protect the entire area in front of the goal alone. Even in general, Liverpool had 41% of their play going down the right hand side.
Rafael Benitez knew that Liverpool look to attack at Anfield, and therefore set his team up to absorb pressure and hit the opposition on the counter. Consequently, the midfielders sat deeper than usual, trying to break up play with interceptions (25 during the course of the game). The purpose was also to reduce the space that Suarez and co. needed to thrive. This tactic worked very well, and the fact that Liverpool scored twice isn’t really a fair reflection of the effort Chelsea put in defensively.
Quick and direct build up:
As they were playing on the counter attack, Chelsea needed to get the ball to their front men as soon as possible. This meant that they had to by-pass the midfield on many occasions, and a lot of long passes were played. All in all, they played 61 long balls throughout the match. A lot of these were aimed at Fernando Torres, who won 4 out of his 8 headed duels. The tempo of attack was also much quicker, and Chelsea looked to play a lot of through balls very quickly. In order to shore up the defence to soak pressure, Oscar was also asked to track back, as he was last week against Manchester City. He did a fine job, making 6 tackles, the highest in the game. Hazard, however, wasn’t tracking back as much, but served as a very good outlet for the Blues to relieve the pressure on them.
The little Spaniard has been one of the best players in the league this year, but today, he had a slightly off day. He was given a strange role, almost that of a second striker, as he didn’t really track back much. He was probably asked to do so in order to aid Torres close down the Liverpool centre backs, but this didn;t really work out too well as the two Spaniards didn’t manage to stifle Liverpool’s passing out from defence. The other reason why he might have been left there was to be present up front and receive the ball, and play to the striker quickly on the counter. However, he was ineffective in these roles, despite spending a majority of time in the opponents half. The reason for this was the brilliant, but understated performance of Lucas Leiva, who was always very close to Mata, and didn’t really give him the time and space he craves, forcing him away from danger zones to seek the ball.
Set pieces and efficiency:
When a team is looking to play on the counter, the opposition is bound to commit a few fouls to stop the speedy breaks. This results in the counter attacking team getting a lot of set pieces. Chelsea got chances from set pieces, and took good advantage of them. Out of their 11 attempts on goal, 5 came from set pieces, and 5 from open play. Even Oscar’s goal came from a corner kick. Chelsea were also very efficient in front of goal, as they boasted an 18% conversion rate, while Liverpool put away only 9% of their attempts.
Benitez almost came away with another victory at Anfield, and if it wasn;t for a late goal by the controversial Luis Suarez, the post match talk would probably have been about the brilliant plan he employed. Liverpool were out-thought in the first half, but responded brialliantly in the second, causing Chelsea a lot of problems. The biggest winners as a result of this game were Spurs, who have to thank Luis Suarez, as they now sit only 1 point behind Chelsea.
All stats via sqauwka.com and whoscored.com.