Tactics Talk: Chelsea fail to make the most of their chances as Liverpool struggle to turn possession into goals
Liverpool’s visit to Chelsea Sunday evening brought together two sides of similar stature but with a huge difference in performance this season.
Brendan Rodgers’ Anfield revolution has been more drastic than the change which has occurred at Stamford Bridge since Roberto Di Matteo took over in March and that has been reflected in their inconsistent start. Chelsea have lost only once in 10 and Liverpool would have to be on top of their game if they were to break the hoodoo of having no wins against any of the league’s top five this season.
When these sides met last in a 4-1 home win at Anfield last May, Kenny Dalglish was on his way out of Liverpool and Chelsea were gearing up for their Champions League final win against Bayern Munich. Only nine players involved that day started on Sunday as both managers put out arguably their strongest line-ups.
Roberto Di Matteo continued with his usual 4-2-3-1, but rang the changes as David Luiz and Ashley Cole missed out due to illness and injury. Petr Cech was retained in goals with Ryan Bertrand and John Terry reintroduced to defence alongside Branislav Ivanovic and Cesar Azpilicueta. John Obi Mikel and Ramires sat behind a midfield three of Juan Mata, Oscar and Eden Hazard leaving Fernando Torres to lead the line against his former club.
In an unfamiliar 3-5-2, Liverpool began with Brad Jones in goals behind a back three of Andre Wisdom, Jamie Carragher – starting his first league game this season – and Daniel Agger. Glen Johnson and Jose Enrique took up the wing-back roles with Steven Gerrard, Nuri Sahin and Joe Allen starting in midfield. Raheem Sterling was pushed infield to support the talismanic figure of Luis Suarez.
First-half – Liverpool can pass. Chelsea can shoot.
A key component of Brendan Rodgers’ approach is ball retention. It was a hallmark of his successful Swansea side and so far this season he has gradually been able to implement that on ‘his’ Liverpool team. His change of shape at the weekend didn’t put an end to that system and regardless of whether they had five defenders on the park or not, they still looked to dominate possession.
However, Chelsea quickly showed that possession isn’t paramount to success. Opening the scoring via a Terry header on 18 minutes, Chelsea made only 52 passes before the goal with the away side more than doubling that with 134. Liverpool had no attempts at goal and lost a sloppy goal from a set piece. Chelsea were efficiency at its finest.
That was the story of the half as Liverpool ran the game, making 288 passes which was almost double their opponents in the first half, but couldn’t muster one single shot on target.
An injury to Terry on 37 minutes forced Di Matteo to introduce Gary Cahill, but Chelsea’s shape remained and they should have scored when Mata blazed over when through on goal just before half-time. Going in to the break, the question would be; could Liverpool turn possession in to goals?
Second-half – The game opened, but did the floodgates?
Both managers decided against making changes going in to the second half and the game continued in a similar fashion to the opening period. Liverpool retained the ball without showing any cutting edge and Chelsea countered effectively adding four more shots before the hour – the turning point in the game.
The introduction of Suso sparked a change in Liverpool shape as Rodgers abandoned the 3-5-2 and moved to a more adventurous 4-4-1-1. Johnson switched to left back, pushing Enrique to left midfield and the Spanish substitute began to operate behind the growing presence of Luis Suarez.
Liverpool’s controversial striker has undoubted quality and a combination of runs in behind the Chelsea defence and link-up play with his midfield gave the away team more potency in attack. Particular focus must be put on Joe Allen and the substituted Nuri Sahin – two players who so much was expected of, but delivered almost nothing.
Chelsea’s midfield three poked and prodded at the Liverpool defence as the game began to open up. Mata and Hazard played more passes in the attacking third than any other home player, but were unable to find the killer goal.
One that almost came on the hour mark as Hazard’s free-kick was headed at goal by Torres only to be brilliant saved by Jones – a stop which galvanised Liverpool.
Only 10 minutes passed before they got that first attempt on target and, ironically, the equalising goal. A corner from Suso was nodded on at the front post by Carragher, catching the static Chelsea defence on the back foot and Suarez headed in his eighth goal of the season. 1-1 and all of a sudden the game looked winnable for Liverpool.
Something they couldn’t achieve as Chelsea defended well when Suarez and Enrique had chances to score and the match ended with an anti-climactic 1-1 draw.
Full-time – Draw was a fair result
Di Matteo will be happy enough at the efficiency of his side in going one up but their failure to add a killer second is what ultimately cost them two points.
As much as Rodgers’ adoption of a new attacking system was a bold move, it offered little to change Liverpool’s fortunes in the final third. Despite noticing things weren’t working, he did concede, “Probably the first half, if there’s any blame for it [Liverpool’s performance] then it’s me.”
For all Suarez’ good work, he’s often doing things all alone and only Sterling offered any sort of support before Suso’s introduction – a change which Rodgers deserves as much credit for as he does criticism at his team’s starting line-up.
Ultimately, a draw was a fair result as Chelsea failed to make the most of their chances and Liverpool’s plethora of possession led to the goal which pegged them back in the end.
Picture: Getty ImagesTagged in: chelsea, football, Liverpool, Premier League, Tactics Talk
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