Tactics Watch: Liverpool vs Chelsea

FOX Sports' Kelvin Yap looks beyond the controversy to analyse the football that was played between Liverpool and Chelsea at Anfield on Sunday.

Enrique tussles with Ramires for the ball
Kelvin Yap

By Kelvin Yap

Rafa Benitez and Fernando Torres' return to their old hunting ground and a bizarre biting incident involving Luis Suarez and Branislav Ivanovic ensured that there were plenty of talking points after the game - a good thing as the match turned out to be low on quality despite the goals.

Chelsea maintained their 4-2-3-1 formation that relied heavily technical quality which was provided by the trio of Juan Mata, Oscar and Eden Hazard behind Torres. 

Brendan Rodgers continued with Luis Suarez as a lone striker with Coutinho and Downing supporting him - the surprise in the line-up was that Jordan Henderson played more like an attacking midfielder, rather than a central midfielder. This meant that they played more of a 4-2-3-1 than their usual 4-4-2 formation.

Rodgers gets the idea right, execution wrong

Without Sturridge, Rodgers previously found his side to lack vertical penetration as Suarez was the only one making the forward runs in the middle. 

Henderson's deployment in an advanced position was supposed to counter that - he made good runs in between Chelsea's lines and found space, but was only let down by his touch on the ball.

Rodgers also focused the passing down the right wing from the start of the game - the idea behind Rodgers' switch was to target Chelsea's left flank, which consists of David Luiz, Job Obi Mikel and Ryan Bertrand.

With Downing, Henderson, Suarez and Glen Johnson focusing their runs down the right, Chelsea's winger Oscar had to cover back frequently to prevent a 4-on-3 situation.

Even then, Liverpool failed to create any meaningful chances because of Stewart Downing. Don't be mistaken - the Englishman has been playing well this season, but he isn't the right kind of player in this situation.

Going up against Bertrand - a steady left-back who sits back and holds his position well - a direct runner would be preferred to get past him instead of a traditional winger like Downing, who prefers to stay out wide to find space for a cross.

Failed passes everywhere

The game was peppered with many poor passes going into the final third of the pitch.

A reason for this was because both sides were cautious about committing men forward and tried to create chances with too little people up front.

The holding midfielders hardly contributed to the attack (which meant both sides have six players defending most of the time) while the attacking players tried many ambitious passes with too little options up front. 

Chelsea ended the game with 75% passing accuracy - a poor return given that top teams usually average 85%. As for Liverpool, Henderson (62%) and Coutinho (53%) were guilty of trying too many ambitious passes that failed to come off. 

It only shows how both sides would have been willing to say 'yes' if offered a draw as a result and take a win as a bonus.

Chelsea are still ‘vanilla'

Chelsea didn't need to do much in terms of creating chances from open play. 

Both of their goals came from set pieces - one a directly from a corner kick and the other a result of a penalty thanks to a handball from a corner kick.

Other than that, their best chances from open play were long range shots - a David Luiz free kick and a Ramires pot shot which was punched away comfortably.

A good way to test Liverpool would have been to sacrifice a midfielder to put two strikers up front to pressure them high up the pitch - the Reds have previously shown that they are prone to hack the ball clear and make errors when pressed.

Perhaps it was Benitez being cautious and being content with a draw after a gruelling schedule for Chelsea in the past month. 

Chelsea didn't make many mistakes, but they did little to show that they wanted the win either. 

The Sturridge impact

The game came alive after Sturridge came on for Coutinho in the second half. Downing was shifted to the left wing while Henderson pulled back into a withdrawn role with Sturridge and Suarez exchanging positions in attack.

Within minutes of coming on, Sturridge cut in from the flank and teed Gerrard up for a shot which Cech saved before striking the post with a curled shot from the flank. 

He showed Downing what he should be doing - making runs straight at Bertrand and moving in to pick up the ball away from the wide areas to provide an outlet for his midfielder. 

Conclusion

Liverpool arguably showed more desire to go for a win, but luck played a large factor in the game where the penalty conceded took away the majority of their momenturm minutes after they equalised.

Again, despite all the talent in their squad, Chelsea are still a pain for the neutral to watch.

There was no distinct intent in their passing (no focus down the flank or distinct passing combinations to exploit opponents) and they still rely heavily on the technical quality of their players to create chances.

Benitez has found a formula that won't do much wrong, but it won't do much right either.

The story is clear for Liverpool - they have a group of world-class players and another group who are not good enough if they want to push for European football.

They showed a distinct departure from their 'keep the ball at all costs' mentality, which at this stage of the season may mean that manager Rodgers has an eye on how he wants his team to set up next season.



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