Opinion

Analysis: Tactical Observations from #CHELIV

Heading into the final stretch of the game, Liverpool were staring down the barrel.

After all they were 1-0 down, and risked losing their unbeaten streak in the league. And though they had numerous chances to equalise, the Reds just couldn’t find a way past the Chelsea defence.

Just when Liverpool looked down and out, up stepped a certain Daniel Sturridge. With a swing of his left boot, he unleashed a rocket of a shot into the top right corner of Kepa Arrizabalaga’s goal that left the Spaniard helpless.

Cue the mad celebrations from the travelling fans.

While Sturridge’s dramatic stoppage time equaliser will be the main talking point, there are many more lessons to be learnt from the game. So, as the dust settles, let us revisit the game from a tactical perspective.

Defensive Positioning

Heading into the game, much has been said about both teams’ fullbacks, particularly their attacking tendencies. More often than not, the likes of Trent, Robertson and Alonso could be found in the final third. That left gaps at the back, which either team will be hoping to exploit.

In my preview, I mentioned that Liverpool could take advantage of the space left vacated by Alonso. And while Liverpool did get behind the Chelsea defence on a few occasions, it was the Blues who benefited more from the Reds poor positioning. Too often, Chelsea found space behind our fullbacks, with Hazard and Willian having numerous chances.

The above shows the lead-up to Willian’s chance in the 23rd minute. As you can see, Robertson was caught in a horrible position that played Willian onside. That sent the Brazilian clean on goal, forcing Alisson to rush off his line to deny his compatriot.

If that was an early warning by Chelsea, it was a warning that the Reds failed to heed. The following two screengrabs serves as further evidence of that.

The former shows Willian being played through on goal, while the latter similarly shows Hazard in acres of space. Willian’s chance arose from Gomez playing him onside, while Hazard was played onside by Robertson. Both could’ve resulted in a goal, if not for some last ditch defending and excellent keeping.

In truth, Liverpool were quite lucky not to have conceded more. And while their defence may have improved a lot, yesterday’s game shows there’s still work to be done. There’ll be risks in playing a high line, and Chelsea exposed it time and again at the Bridge. If they’re looking to avoid such a repeat in the future, Liverpool’s defenders could do well in exhibiting better positioning.

Lacking Bite In Midfield

Against Chelsea, Klopp opted for a midfield of Henderson, Milner and Wijnaldum. While that midfield have served Liverpool well in their past games, they looked out of their depth against Chelsea. Facing a quick passing Blue midfield, the trio couldn’t shut out their opponents fast enough. In fact, Wijnaldum didn’t make a single tackle at all. This allowed the likes of Kovacic and Jorginho to thread passes with ease.

For Hazard’s opening goal, there was no one pressuring Kovacic, with Henderson, Milner and Wijnaldum all guilty of giving the Croatian too much space. This allowed Chelsea’s No. 17 to release Hazard clean on goal, a chance which the Belgian gleefully took.

While Liverpool are making the tackles, the above graphic shows that they aren’t winning it in key areas. Rather, they are made to deny the Blues a way forward. Klopp’s gegenpressing is based on dispossessing the opponents in dangerous areas to put the Reds immediately on the front foot. This wasn’t the case against Chelsea which saw Liverpool winning the occasional ball in the middle, but ending up knocking the ball from right to left.

A possible fix could be playing Keita more regularly, who instantly added more urgency in Liverpool’s game upon his introduction. With key games against Napoli and Manchester City coming up, Liverpool have to re-discover their aggression in the middle soon.

Picking The Right Cross

Liverpool’s fullbacks are well adept at the art of crossing. And on Saturday, Trent and Robertson hammered home that point by making a total of nine crosses. The only problem? It was repelled time and again by David Luiz and Rudiger, leaving whoever in the box totally frustrated. What annoyed me though was that neither fullback changed tactics, with them continuing to lump balls into Chelsea’s box to no avail.

Look, I’m not saying that Liverpool should stop crossing in the future, since it has proved to be an asset in the past. Rather, it’s the type of crosses being delivered that is the issue, and the timing of those crosses. With so many big defenders in Chelsea’s back line, it was almost pointless to be lobbing in high balls. Instead, they should’ve switched to ground crosses in their bid to unlock the Blues’ defence.

Take for example Robertson’s low cross to Shaqiri in the 69th minute, which the Swiss ought to have scored. This showed that varying crosses could have a positive effect on Liverpool’s attack.

Even if Liverpool insisted on lobbed crosses, they would do better if they had executed it at the right moments. Milner’s cross to Firmino just minutes after Shaqiri’s opportunity is testament to that. With Chelsea’s defenders all over the shop, it was perfect for Liverpool’s vice-captain to chip the ball towards Firmino, knowing that he wasn’t pressured by any opposition.

Hence, the Reds might do better by picking their moments than aimlessly lobbing balls into a packed Chelsea defence full of tall defenders. Smarter crossing, and variations in crossing should be one of Liverpool’s takeaways from this game. Hopefully, they exhibit better judgement against opponents in the future.

Conclusion

The tactical lessons learnt at Stamford Bridge are important for Liverpool. While the Reds may have deservedly earned a point against Chelsea, they could’ve easily been on the losing side.

The same can’t be said in the future, where such mistakes could be ruthlessly punished by a better side. And with another huge week looming, there’s simply no more room for error. Which is why the team has to learn from their flaws. Fast.

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