5 Observations from Liverpool's defeat to Chelsea
In this season’s showdown game, Liverpool against Chelsea, the West Londoners came out victorious. Late goals from Demba Ba and Willian on both the halves ensured Chelsea a hard earned 2-0 win over Liverpool. Loss at Anfield was Liverpool’s only second home defeat of the season and it ended their 16 games undefeated run in the Premier League.
Jose Mourinho started with an uncommon 4-3-2-1 formation. Tomas Kalas was given his full debut yesterday. He partnered Branislav Ivanovic at the center of Chelsea’s defence, flanked by Cesar Azpilicueta and Ashley Cole as wingbacks. Frank Lampard – John Obi Mikel – Nemaja Matic formed the midfield trio. Andre Schurrle and Mohammad Salah played as wingers to Ba.
Liverpool, meanwhile, struck to their most fruitful formation of the campaign, 4-3-3 with John Flanagan – Martin Skrtel – Mamadou Sakho – Adam Johnson forming the defensive block. Steven Gerrard played as the defensive midfielder while Joe Allen and Lucas Leiva played alongside him. Injured Daniel Sturridge was replaced by Philippe Coutinho who formed the upfront trio along with the prolific striker Luis Suarez and Raheem Sterling.
It was a superb exhibition of defending from Chelsea. Liverpool were inept to break into the box. The team that had displayed its lethal attacking prowess against top teams like Manchester City, Arsenal and Manchester United etc. was powerless against Chelsea’s two line defense.
Chelsea left no space between the defensive and midfield line. It was very less. Against other teams Liverpool usually took advantage of the area between the lines to dictate the game, to unnerve and destabilize the opposition defenders by providing through balls and crafting a few lofted passes directly into the box.
Chelsea played very narrowly, thus did not allow the Liverpool playmakers to control the game. Liverpool, for most part of the game, switched the play to the wings by providing diagonal passes to the wingbacks. Whenever Liverpool played in a cross, it was met by Chelsea players. This is evident from the stats shown, Chelsea won 62.2% of the aerial duels.
Unbelievable, but yeah, Chelsea made 54 clearances inside the box. A remarkable one was when Cole kicked the ball out of the box from the goal line after Sakho took a weak shot when Gerrard played in a corner.
Chelsea did not press too much. They followed the philosophy of “sit back and defend”. Liverpool were allowed to act first. Most notable thing is Mourinho asked his players to use zonal marking technique instead of man marking. Chelsea allowed Liverpool to have a major share of the possession until the final third of the pitch. As soon as Liverpool players stormed into the final third, Chelsea’s midfield trio acted quickly closing down the opposition. This gifted Chelsea’s defenders a few extra seconds to organize their defense.
Liverpool found it hard to penetrate into Chelsea’s box and tried to play wide. A few chances opened up but the Liverpool players were not able to pounce on those opportunities to score. Suarez was hardly seen taking a shot.
Coutinho who played as a winger, had to do some extra work to break Chelsea’s wall. He dropped deeper to pick the ball and find Suarez or Sterling to create a goal scoring chance. Lucas played instead of suspended Henderson. Liverpool missed him dearly.
The heat map is the evidence for my point. Liverpool dominated the midfield while Chelsea were successful in winning the ball back in the last third.
Chelsea’s plan was to act on the break. In the first half of the match, Salah and Schurrle helped Chelsea in counter attacking, but were unable to run the length of the pitch. Most of the times, shots were taken from outside the box. Ba was not so sharp when it came to attacking. He was quick but lacked vision.
On the third minute of the added time in the first half, Ba capitalized on Gerrard’s blunder and went on to score Chelsea’s first goal.
Liverpool looked frustrated and in the second half they went in search of the equalizer. Liverpool captain Gerrard was determined to make amends for his mistake in the first half. As frustration mounted and Chelsea further strengthened their defense, Liverpool started to shoot from outside the box. Volleyed shots were fired at Schwarzer, but the Australian kept his composure to save them all.
Every now and then, when Chelsea gained the possession, it was Matic and his long strides higher up the pitch that helped Chelsea’s attacking trio to position themselves t collect perfect passes from him.
Brendon Rodgers made two substitutions. Sturridge coming in for Lucas. This resulted in pushing Coutinho back to his preferred attacking midfield position. The second change Iago Aspas coming on for Flanagan in the 81st minute. Both these changes were made to score the equalizer that would have bought Liverpool back into the title race.
Jose made three changes. Exhausted Salah was taken off and Willian was brought into the pitch, to inject the pace required during counter attacks. Gary Cahill came on for Schurrle. At this point Jose changed his team’s formation to 5-3-2, with Ivanovic – Cahill and Kalas at the centre of defense. Even Willian dropped deeper to help Azpilicueta encounter Sterling.
Ba was then replaced by former Liverpool star Fernando Torres. His impact was fantastic. The late goal scored by Chelsea was when Torres picked up one of the passes from the back and ran all the towars Mignolet, finally squaring the ball to Willian who mocked Liverpool’s defense by walking the ball into the goal.
Chelsea mainly concentrated on winning the next leg of Champions League semifinal and fielded a weak team. Many players were out injured and Ramires was suspended. Their defensive display was really good and they made the most out of Liverpool’s mistakes and lapse in concentration. It was capped by two goals. They deserved to win.
Liverpool faced the best defensive team in England. Their free scoring strikers were kept at bay by Chelsea.
This leaves the Premiership title race wide open.