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Even though Liverpool were not exactly the better team on Saturday, Chelsea would be very relieved to return from Anfield with one point. The current Premier League top scorer Mohamed Salah gave Liverpool the lead in the 65th minute of the game.
It looked like the Reds would be continuing their top form and getting a crucial win at home against title defenders Chelsea. However Chelsea’s Willian, who came on as a substitute, ruined the party for the Reds in the 85th minute of the game (The shot that went in the net looked like a cross from Willian and many called a fluke, but the Brazilian claims that it was an intentional shot on goal).
As mentioned earlier Liverpool were not way ahead of Chelsea, but the Reds fans were left very frustrated at the end of the game. Home game, big opponent, decent performance, lead at a good time. All these factors made the fans excited only to be let down by Willian’s goal.
The frustration of Liverpool fans point out that it was two points dropped for the Merseyside club and one gained for the London club.
Liverpool were not too dangerous in the game, but Chelsea looked to be on their backfoot and looked very cautious about Liverpool’s attack (despite Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane not starting). Lets have a look at how Chelsea tried to contain the attacking threat from Liverpool.
We all remember how Antonio Conte managed to turn Chelsea’s season around after a 3-0 defeat to Arsenal at the Emirates stadium in September 2016. The Italian manager then introduced a new 3-4-3 formation which worked wonders for Chelsea. This change in system led to a record 13 league game winning streak for the London club, who then went on to win the title.
Chelsea started the season with the same 3-4-3 formation against Burnley at Stamford Bridge and it went wrong. The Clarets defeated Conte’s men 3-2 at the Bridge in the first gameweek of the season and that was a major setback.
Conte did not hesitate much to introduce a new system – a 5-3-2 formation (sometimes 3-5-2). This system was first used against Tottenham Hotspurs in the second gameweek and it gave them a 2-1 victory. Since then Conte has been using this system, especially against the big clubs. Chelsea have only lost when they played in this system and that was against the highflying Manchester City.
It was the same 5-3-2 formation against Liverpool at Anfield on Saturday.
Thibaut Courtois was Cheslea’s number one. Gary Cahill, Andreas Christensen and Cesar Azpilicueta were the centre backs for Conte’s men. Marcos Alonso and Davide Zappacosta played as wingbacks. A solid midfield three was formed by N’Golo Kante, Danny Drinkwater and Tiemoue Bakayoko. Eden Hazard and Alvaro Morara led the line for the Blued. In simple words, Chelsea’s plan was to defend deep and exploit Liverpool’s weaknesses using Hazard and Morata.
Firmino and Mane did not start for Liverpool (Klopp has received lot of criticism for this decision), so Salah and Coutinho were the ones who Chelsea needed to be worried about. Chelsea’s defensive tactics and man marking was purely based on this.
Handling the threats
Salah was the major threat on the right wing for Chelsea and let us see how Chelsea faced this challenge.
When Liverpool right-back Joe Gomez was in possession, former AS Monaco player Bakayoko (left central midfielder) would press him. Kante (who played in the centre) would then take on Bakayoko’s man James Milner.
Salah will be marked by Chelsea wing back Marcos Alonso and he will be further supported by Cahill. So, Gomez will be forced to pass back to Matip or Henderson. This was how Chelsea tried to contain the attacking threat from Liverpool’s wingback.
Things were a little different on the other side of the pitch, where Philippe Coutinho was the main threat.
Unlike the right flank, here when Liverpool left back Alberto Moreno had possession Chelsea’s right wing back Zappacosta himself would press the Spaniard. Azpilicueta dealt with Alex Oxlade Chamberlain on the left wing and Christensen handled Daniel Sturridge in the centre. Philippe Coutinho was mainly Drinkwater’s responsibility. However, Chelsea always tried to close gaps for Coutinho to create or shoot.
Even though this plan meant that Jordan Henderson will be free most of the times, overall Chelsea did succeed with their plans. Coutinho was quite silent throughout the game, but Salah caused problems every now and then.
Chelsea did not have any wingers. Even the midfield was setup in a much narrow manner and without any much width. This was something Liverpool was very well aware of and tried exploiting. However, Chelsea’s man marking and defending tactics show that Conte knew what he was doing when he gave Liverpool lots of space on either wings and also to Henderson.
Where did Chelsea go wrong
It has to be needed to noted that even though Liverpool tried exploiting the space on the wings, Chelsea was prepared for it and dealt with it well.
Liverpool’s goal did not come from the wings nor from any solid build-up play. The goal was a result of Chelsea losing the ball in midfield to Henderson’s pressing (the Liverpool skipper has been on the receiving end of some heavy criticism from the fans recently and his involvement in the goal has gone unnoticed amidst that).
The ball was then received by Coutinho who received it immediately back after passing it to Salah. The Brazilian made a good run towards the box before passing it to Chamberlain, who setup the goal for the former Chelsea player.
It has to be noted that both Salah and Coutinho happened to be on the left wing before the goal was scored. This means that Liverpool created an overload on the left wing causing problems for Chelsea defence. Also the goal did not come from a direct build-up play. Instead it was Kante who lost the ball to Henderson. So, Kante was not in his position which gave Liverpool further advantage.
In a nutshell, a press and an overload led Liverpool to score.
It was evident from the game that Antonio Conte had done his homework well and Chelsea was well prepared for Liverpool’s attacking threat.
It was just that one moment for which the Blues were not prepared for that Liverpool took advantage of.
Whether the story of the game would have been the same if Mane and Firmino started for Liverpool is a thing that needs to be discussed in another article.
Written by Dakir Thanveer
Follow Dakir on Twitter @ZakWriter
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