In a clash between two of this season’s title contenders, Klopp’s Liverpool ended Antonio Conte’s 30 match unbeaten home league record. The Reds were impressive and dominated proceedings for majority of the game which culminated in a 2-1 win.
Chelsea: Courtois; Ivanovic, Cahill, Luis, Azpilicueta; Kante, Matic, Oscar; Hazard, Willian, Costa
Liverpool: Mignolet;Clyne, Matip,Lovren,Milner;Henderson, Wijnaldum, Lallana;Coutinho, Sturridge, Mane.
Improved play in possession leads to a dominant game for Liverpool
Having struggled with issues in the possession phase against most teams last season, it seems Liverpool are doing some good work on the training ground. The efforts of their training can be seen on the pitch as they look better both structurally and functionally. Fluid passing with good positional play between the lines leads to a smooth transition from the attacking transition to the attacking organisation phase. Liverpool were very good in getting the ball into players like Coutinho, Sturridge and Mane who excel in playing between the lines. Coutinho and Mane, in particular, have good press resistance which makes them effective in playing between the lines. Another advantage of players being positioned between the opposition lines is that it allows them to exploit the blind side ( read this article by Judah Davies to know more about it) of the opponent midfielders. However, Liverpool have a serious liability in build up phases because of Mignolet’s flawed technique with his feet. There were often times when the Liverpool CBs were pressed by Chelsea. To escape pressure, the CBs had to pass the ball back to Mignolet. Mignolet being the free man should have opened up the field by his body posture but a closed body shape when receiving meant he had no option but to pass it back into the area of pressure putting his CBs in a similar position again. Karius coming into the team may solve this.
Chelsea used a position-oriented zonal marking system which was particularly visible in the area in front of their own penalty box. The main aim of position-oriented zonal marking is to preserve horizontal and vertical compactness at all times. This involved one of the two lines moving close to the other to reduce the space between the lines for the Liverpool players to exploit. To exploit this position-oriented zonal marking system, Liverpool used quick local combinations which aimed at attacking the spaces left behind the line which moved to reduce the space between the two lines. If this was successful, it enabled the likes of Coutinho and Mane to find the runners from deep (Wijnaldum and Lallana) to use their pace to run into the vacant spaces leading to potential 1 v 1 situations.
Another trend which was noticeable in Liverpool’s build up was the high positions taken up by Milner and Clyne in advanced stages of build up. Because of their high positions, they attracted the likes of Willian into Chelsea’s backline forming a situational back 5 which meant that the halfspaces were free for Henderson and the Liverpool CBs to utilise. Henderson had one of his best games as he was impressive with his distribution. His quick and intricate passing enabled Mane and Coutinho to receive the ball in pockets of space on the blind side of Chelsea’s midfielders.
Chelsea: overreliance on wings and Hazard’s brilliance
One of the major flaws in Chelsea’s game is that they tend to be very one dimensional in their attacks. With the main attacking firepower resting on the wingers, Conte usually looks to get them on the ball. After that, almost everything depends on the individual brilliance of Hazard and Willian to make things click. Thus, most teams try to put two men on those two players. Usually that is enough to shut out Chelsea’s game. Because neither Matic nor Kante are good enough for final third play. Oscar is good on his day but is inconsistent when it comes to putting in 7/10 performances on a regular basis. Fabregas is the player Chelsea need at the moment to bring that incisiveness in the final third from central areas. The Spaniard’s vision will come in handy in central areas which are often left exposed when the opposition remain preoccupied with Hazard. However, Conte does not seem to trust him due to his lack of defensive work rate.
Thus it was no surprise to see Chelsea going wide early in the buildup. Courtois from deeper areas would often look to pick out Hazard and Willian in the wide areas with an aerial pass. Aerial passes take time to reach the target. This gives time to the opposition to close down the receiver before the latter can control it. With Liverpool’s intense pressing, it was often difficult for Willian and Hazard to control such aerial passes as they were quickly closed down by Milner and Clyne.elftegenelf)
However, late in the game, as Liverpool’s pressing diminished , Hazard started getting more space to create some good attacks for Chelsea. One such spell of pressure led to Chelsea’s goal.
No Liverpool analysis can be complete without talking about the gegenpressing. Gegenpressing is the trademark of Klopp’s teams and Liverpool are no exception to this. There was a ball-oriented pressing movement from Liverpool’s front 3 which aimed to create local compactness around the ball carrier so that he could not come out of it. The fullbacks moved up high towards the opponent fullbacks in Azpilicueta and Ivanovic. This further strengthened their pressing structure which left Chelsea’s ball carrier with fewer options to pass towards the wing. Without quality players in central areas, Chelsea could not do much to trouble Liverpool centrally. Moreover, attacking the centre was not part of Chelsea’s gameplan. So this played into Liverpool’s hands. This was validated by the fact that Conte brought on two wingers in Moses and Pedro late on in the game instead of changing the plan of attack. This one-dimensional nature of attack eventually meant defeat for Chelsea.
Chelsea’s passive approach in defending
Chelsea did not display the same amount of urgency in pressing like Liverpool. Their pressing was largely determined by few triggers. One such trigger was underweighed passes which lacked speed. Another trigger was poor body position when receiving(Mignolet suffered throughout because of this). Such triggers when recognised by the ball-near midfielder , led to aggressive attempts by the player to win the ball. Other than these triggers, Chelsea were patient in their approach while defending. They were relying on Liverpool making mistakes in circulation.
“I hate to lose, but for one or two days I suffer a lot after a defeat.”- Conte
Chelsea, after a strong start, are starting to drop points. With 1 point out of a possible 6 from the last two games, Conte will not be the happiest man alive. He will be looking to set things right sooner than later. The addition of Fabregas may bring variety to their currently stale gameplay.
Klopp, on the other hand, was visibly pleased after the game.
“The beginning was brilliant from my side. We played football like hell!”— Klopp
The movement in the last two matches would have pleased Klopp. However, they need to put in such performances on a regular basis to have a serious shot at the Premier League title.