Chelsea took on Liverpool on Thursday night in what was a massive encounter at Anfield. Both teams were title contenders early on in the season, but top-4 has seemed a more realistic goal for them recently. In light of this, the two took the field knowing that a win would go a long way in cementing their claim for the UEFA Champions League spots.
And Thomas Tuchel came out the victor yet again this season. The Blues are yet to lose a single game under him since he took over in January and that theme continued when they beat the Reds 1-0 on the night, courtesy of a goal from Mason Mount just before half time.
Analyzing both teams
Both teams lined up in their preferred formations. Jurgen Klopp’s Reds were in a familiar 4-3-3 set up while Tuchel did not budge from the back-three formation that he has used since his appointment. It was good seeing both teams line up in their usual formations but their formations during the game made all the difference.
The use of full-backs
Chelsea fielded two wing-backs in Reece James and Ben Chilwell. The two complemented a three-man defence of Cesar Azpilicueta, Antonio Rudiger, and Andreas Christiansen. But what was interesting to see that despite being wing-backs, the two majorly stayed inside the box.
This is in stark contrast to Liverpool’s full-backs, both of whom were very attacking in comparison and were often caught out of position on the counters. This is not a mistake in the game but a part of Liverpool’s system where the full-backs can sacrifice some defensive aspects for attacking freedom. After all, you don’t get 27 combined assists in a season by being a defensive full-back pairing.
You can see the difference in their heatmaps below. This obviously meant more space for Chelsea to exploit. We will get to that later.
The defensive set-up
Now notice how defensively solid Chelsea were because of the spaces covered by their centre-backs as compared to Liverpool’s. The Blues’ set up allowed them to cover more defensive ground than their counterparts. This is visible in the heatmap below.
And the image above shows which team sat back. It wasn’t a bad option as well. Chelsea surrendered the ball (having 45.8% of the ball compared to Liverpool’s 54.2%) but their defensive approach bore fruit as Liverpool had just one shot on target all game.
The biggest mistake Liverpool made was playing a high-line against a Chelsea team that had the rapid Timo Werner up front. It is not a secret that the German striker’s pace and desire to attack space behind defences make him a threat against defences playing the high line.
This is the reason he started in the first place. Thomas Tuchel revealed to Sky Sports (h/t Football.london) in an interview that Werner’s pace against the high-line meant a start for him against the Reds.
“Speed, speed, speed. Speed against a high line is clear. We expect that we need it at this level, and Timo has the speed, this is why he’s in.”
Also, this was the Reds’ 20th (yes, 20th) centre-back pairing this season. If you have to play a tactic as delicate as the high-line, it helps to have a defence that has experience playing together playing week in week out.
Their defensive line was visibly exploited from the get-go. The high-line saw Chelsea players get behind the Reds’ defence at will. It is how Chelsea scored on both occasions. The first goal saw Werner (in the black circle) played in behind the defence by a ball from Jorginho (at the start of the yellow arrow).
Werner rounded off a rushing Alisson and tapped it into an empty net. The goal was disallowed for offside, but Liverpool still did not learn. In the image below, Mason Mount (circled black) was found by a long ball (in yellow). The Liverpool full-backs (both circled in white), as we discussed at the beginning of our analysis, were way up the pitch.
Mount then received the ball, cut inside, and wasn’t closed down quickly enough by anyone. The haphazard position of defenders summed up how desperate Liverpool got when defending long balls. This is evident in the image below, a few seconds before Mount cuts in to shoot.
The one in the yellow circle is Fabinho, Liverpool’s centre-back. Trent, in the black circle, is technically out of position. Mount cuts in (along the black arrow) and shoots, and no one closes him down.
Liverpool also got their substitutions wrong. This, though it sounds opinionated, would make sense to most Reds fans. Because Mohamed Salah, the league’s top scorer, was withdrawn in the 62nd-minute for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. The Ox is, of course, yet to score this season.
This was apparently because he was not willing to fall back and defend. But Klopp should know that when trailing, Salah is their best bet to score. After all, no one has more goals than him in the Premier League this season so far.
Another decision that did not make a lot of sense was leaving Naby Keita on the bench. And that is not just our view, even Jurgen Klopp admitted that bringing on the Guinean would have made more sense than the other substitutions.
Chelsea defended well and reduced Liverpool to just one shot on target. Their tactic was clear. Set up defensively, be compact, and hit Liverpool on the counter with Werner’s pace. That is what happened.
Liverpool’s attackers were wasteful and did not create much, as evident from their solitary effort on goal despite having more possession. In the end, Tuchel outclassed Klopp. Sure, injuries could be an excuse, but this is Liverpool’s 5th home loss in a row in the league. This has never happened before in their 129-year history.
Klopp must look long and hard at this game and make sure the season is back on track for Liverpool soon. As for Chelsea, they would be happy with this big result.
(PS: This article was written before Chelsea’s 2-0 win vs Everton on Monday, March 8, 2021)