Premier League, May 6 2018
This narrow victory over Liverpool kept Chelsea's hopes of finishing in the top four of the Premier League alive. Olivier Giroud headed in the winning goal shortly after the half-hour mark at Stamford Bridge, as the Blues, in fifth, closed the gap on third-placed Liverpool to three points and fourth-placed Tottenham to two points. Jurgen Klopp's team dominated possession, but, perhaps with one eye on the Champions League final in three weeks, weren't at their attacking best. Here, our professional coaches analyse the tactics and key moments from Chelsea's win – and assess what went wrong for Klopp and Liverpool.
9 / 4
SHOTS / ON TARGET
10 / 5
Passes / Accurate
10 / 3 / 0
Fouls / Yellow / Red
8 / 2 / 0
Chelsea set up in a 3-5-2 formation that, when needed, converted to a defensive 5-3-2. Wing-backs Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso would recover back to form a back five.
Chelsea were very reactive in the first half, allowing Liverpool to settle in possession. Their game plan was clearly focused on the transitions, and when transitioning from offence to defence N’Golo Kante was excellent. The Frenchman stopped Liverpool’s sharp front three from breaking away on multiple occasions.
Antonio Conte’s midfielders aggressively man-marked. This created gaps for Liverpool to exploit – as the Chelsea midfield was often pulled out of shape – but the visitors’ final ball and end product was distinctly average. Thibaut Courtois was forced to make only a few relatively simple saves. Chelsea were comfortable, despite having minimal possession.
It was an effective switch of play, which Liverpool’s central midfielders were spread too far apart to stop, that resulted in the Blues taking the lead. Moses and Eden Hazard worked the ball down the right side before Moses swung in a cross. Olivier Giroud headed home from what was Chelsea’s second real attack of the game. In contrast to the away side, the Blues had a touch of quality to finish off a quick attacking move.
The second half began with great intensity from Chelsea. They dominated the early possession, and pressed with intensity and drive. Hazard drifted across to the left side, and Liverpool’s back line followed. This created significant spaces for wing-back Moses to attack on Chelsea’s right side.
More frequent switches from Chelsea would have resulted in more chances, as Liverpool couldn't get across quickly enough to close down Moses and prevent his low crosses. Along with fast, direct play, Chelsea’s midfield enhanced the attack by pressing loose balls and capitalising on poor Liverpool touches. This intensity and quality saw Jurgen Klopp make changes in tactics and personnel midway through the second half.
Chelsea’s intensity eventually dropped and they converted into a more defensive block. Rather than following Liverpool’s midfielders, they defended with a zonal central midfield. Chelsea’s midfield unit forced the balls into wide areas, resulting in ineffective Liverpool crosses.
Their back line had little problem in dealing with the Reds’ crosses, with Gary Cahill and Antonio Rudiger comfortably clearing any danger. With Liverpool frustrated, Chelsea held on to grab three valuable points in their search for a top-four spot.
Liverpool used a 4-3-3 defensive shape, but were much more fluid when in possession. They resembled a 3-4-3 structure and dominated the ball throughout the first half.
Georginio Wijnaldum dropped out of central midfield and formed a back three with Dejan Lovren and Virgil van Dijk. Full-backs Andy Robertson and Nathaniel Clyne provided maximum width, and occupied both of Chelsea’s wing-backs in the process.
Trent Alexander-Arnold and James Milner began in central midfield, but often moved noticeably wide during Liverpool’s build. This opened up huge gaps in midfield, through which they could play directly to their forward trio.
Jurgen Klopp’s team started well, creating chances and attacking the spaces in Chelsea’s defensive block. But, unlike the confident Liverpool side supporters have seen so far this season, they were missing a quality final ball and lacked an attacking edge.
Varied movements from Mo Salah and Roberto Firmino created spaces around Chelsea’s three central defenders, but wayward crosses and poor touches in and around the penalty area wasted chances.
Despite going a goal down, the away side continued to dominate the ball. Sadio Mane was a threat, as Liverpool’s back line consistently powered passes through Chelsea’s midfield and into Mane’s feet. They were made to pay for lacking a cutting edge, though, and went into the break 1-0 down.
Liverpool were lethargic and sloppy during the early stages of the second half. Eden Hazard was causing problems with his mazy dribbling down Liverpool’s right side. In reaction to this threat, the entire back line shifted across, condensing the space for Hazard and his attacking teammates to work in.
This initially worked before Chelsea began to switch the ball out to Victor Moses, who kept maximum width as right wing-back. Fortunately for Liverpool, Chelsea couldn't take advantage during their most dominant spell; the hosts soon regained some attacking order.
Chelsea slowly dropped deeper and deeper in their defensive block, frustrating Liverpool for the remaining 30 minutes. With central spaces much harder to create, Liverpool’s possession was ineffective as they tried to combine against Chelsea’s overloaded midfield.
Liverpool resorted to deeper crosses from wider areas out of frustration. But, with no real aerial threat against Chelsea’s tough defence, their attack faded. They couldn't muster any chances late on, and the home side held on for the win.
The key battle involved the movements of Liverpool’s midfielders. Georginio Wijnaldum dropped deeper into Liverpool’s back line, creating a three-versus-two overload during the build from the goalkeeper. James Milner and Trent Alexander-Arnold created a huge central gap, moving far away from one another.
Chelsea’s central midfielders initially aggressively man-marked Milner and Alexander-Arnold, and this created a huge central space that N’Golo Kante struggled to protect on his own. This gap meant Liverpool, with one swooping pass, had direct access to their front line.
Time and again Liverpool built short from Loris Karius before playing directly into their forward trio of Mane, Salah and Firmino. But poor touches and ineffective final balls in and around Chelsea’s penalty area meant the Reds’ front line rarely posed a threat to the hosts’ goal. As the game wore on, Chelsea soon nullified this threat completely by closing off the central spaces with zonal defensive marking.
Author: Tony Hodson