Liverpool – Chelsea 0:2
Jose Mourinho sent his B-team to Anfield, prioritizing reaching the Champions League final. Despite the weakened lineup, however, they managed to steal three points from Liverpool and make the race for the title extremely exciting again.
Debutant Kalas and counter focus
Tomas Kalas, Czech central defender talent, celebrated his debut in the Premier League with Branislov Ivanovic starting alongside him rather than Gary Cahill. The two defensive players should have represented the tail of the Londoners’ defense but still had the experienced Mark Schwarzer behind them in goal.
Chelsea was constructed in a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 deep. Demba Ba was the target man while simultaneously providing depth. The ex-Hoffenheim man was primarily sent to the side of Mamadou Sakho, while Andre Schurrle moved into the center from the left. The connections to the deeper center were weak in the initial stage and pulled the formation far apart. This exacerbated further in the second half. In turnovers, Mohamed Salah and Schurrle rubbed on and mostly failed to reach dangerous breakthroughs.
Liverpool uses the crooked tree
Brendan Rodgers had his hands tied in choosing his starting eleven. The 24-year-old Daniel Sturridge was a late strike. This changed the formation to a hybrid of a 4-3-2-1 or 4-1-2-2-1. Luiz Suarez would occupy the space between Chelsea’s midfielders and the central defense, while Coutinho and Raheem Sterling acted primarily on the wings.
However, their width or fanning out in the second and the third was quite variable. The trend of Sterling staying closer to the sideline and making diagonal runs continued. Coutinho focused more on being the playmaking element. Behind him Joe Allen frequently moved out towards the flank. Jon Flanagan is known for his intense runs along the left wing.
The second eight position was taken up by Lucas, who remained more oriented to his base space to provide stability against Steven Gerrard. The captain himself was usually extremely deep and could often be found between the central defenders, while Flanagan and Glen Johnson pushed up, creating a conventional tilting out of the sixes. Gerrard didn’t push up higher until the second half.
Reds play decisively, but …
If Gerrard played the first ball out to a one of the retreating eights, Chelsea remained passive. The Londoners were limited to primarily defending space in a 4-5-1 or 4-4-1-1. Thus Liverpool could take control of the game pretty quickly. From the 20th minute, the home side were even more constrictive and won balls high up the wings via their counter pressing.
Chelsea remained quite imprecise in their intended Umschaltspiel. Ablagen from Ba and his colleagues were poorly exexcuted and their occasional counterattack efforts fizzled in most cases. In addition, the pace of the guests was rather slow in their attacks. Mourinho’s team did not want to get involved in a high speed slugfest.
Despite a constant possession rate by 70 percent over long stretches, Liverpool lacked the penetrating power they hinted at in the first half. Sterling and Coutinho switched positions frequently, Suárez gave way and tied up balls. In the final third, however, Liverpool was often too shallow and rarely had opportunities to get behind the back line of Chelsea.
Chelsea was able to defend the opponent quite well because Liverpool lacked physical dominance in air duels. Schwarzer then held whatever else made it into the box. From the 35th minute, the Reds began to sit far deeper. It was unclear whether this was an effort to lure the guests up the pitch and become more vertical or if Liverpool just needed to take a breather.
Nevertheless, in the 38th minute the home side had a chance after they won the ball in their own half with Chelsea high up the pitch. Sterling sprinted into space and found Suarez on the right wing but the subsequent cross to Coutinho came to nothing. This was, however, a more effective scheme to crack Chelsea’s defense because the Blues had pushed up with five men and a hole had formed in the middle.
The gaps were slightly larger, the game became more vertical, but Chelsea got the winner. In the third minute of injury time Sakho passed the ball to Gerrard, who had fallen back between the two centerbacks. The captain slipped the ball under the sole of his shoe and Demba Ba saw his chance. Gerrard stumbled and the Chelsea attacker was through on goal. The Senegalese was ice cold.
Second half: long shots and the five at the back
Of course, the opening goal player right into the hands of the guests and Mourinho. With the season drawing to a close, Liverpool was now under more and more pressure. They wanted still get at least a point at Anfield. In the first quarter of an hour after the half only slight formation adjustments were visible.
Coutinho was looking to win a hole pass into the left half space, while Sterling dribbled into the channels. Gerrard pushed further forward and was covered sporadically by Lucas. The Brazilian then had to leave the pitch. He was replaced by Sturridge, who immediately positioned himself in the middle.
There was now a 2-4-4 siege on the box. Gerrard and Coutinho took long shots while abandoning the six space. To the left, Allen was the second width giver. Suárez deviated sometimes from the right wing.
The old problem remained. Liverpool was often too shallow. They rarely found Ablagen or one-twos to enable a player to run behind the back four of Chelsea. After a long spell of possession their attacks often ended with speculative long shots. Schwarzer got warm hands, but remained confident. In addition, Chelsea was very present in rebounds in the backcourt. In Umschaltspiel they advanced a maximum of four players and wished Schürrle and co. good luck with their trips to the front.
The final phase saw Mourinho’s side transition to a 5-4-0-1/5-3-1-1. Gary Cahill had come on for Schurrle and settled in as half back in the middle of the back 5 with Ivanovic to his right. Getting through this wall was almost impossible. The death blow came in the 94th minute as Sturridge lost the ball in transition in the final third. The substitute Fernando Torres and Willian broke through past the last defender into a 2 v 1 versus Mignolet. Torres coolly passed to the Brazilian who calmly walked the ball in.
A really typical 0-0 game ended 0:2. It came down to individual players at Chelsea. Nemanja Matic was strong in the counter-defense, Lampard acted as the usual strategist in front of the double six. The defensive line concentrated for the full 90 minutes. Yet the entire tactical structure of the team was of paramount importance. Liverpool, as well as Atlético during the week, could not break through the wall of the blues.
In times where much is said about domination, possession and counter football, many may also find this game cause for concern.