Analysis

The Debrief: Fluid movement and cutting edge turns the tables on Liverpool

We take a look at some of the eye-catching statistics from last night’s Premier League victory at Liverpool, which owed a lot to our work on the ball at either end of the pitch.

The 1-0 win at Anfield could prove to be an important one in the top four race, as it returned us to the Champions League-qualification spots and moved us four points clear of the Reds in the table. However, it was the manner of our victory which seemed just as noteworthy as it’s impact on the standings.

Under Jurgen Klopp’s management, and particularly during last season’s romp to the Premier League title, Liverpool have become known for their speed and energy on and off the ball, especially when it comes to winning back possession, preferring to press deep into the opposition half while keeping a high defensive line themselves. At Anfield last night, it was those very strengths that we used against them.

On this occasion it was the Blues who looked sharpest at both ends of the pitch, keeping things tight while repeatedly isolating and exposing Liverpool’s back-line. This is borne out by the expected goals analysis, which underlines the deserved nature of the 1-0 scoreline as well as showing the superior quality of the chances we created at Anfield. And that doesn’t include Timo Werner’s disallowed goal (more on that later).

Taking them for a ride

Tuchel spoke before and after the game about how important bravery would be for the Blues players, needing the courage to stay composed on the ball in our own half when faced with that relentless Liverpool high press. He certainly got what he asked for.

Our defenders and midfielders at times looked like Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona on fast forward as they constantly interchanged positions and moved the ball between them, like a matador inviting the Reds to commit bodies forward. The frustration this caused our opponents was clear, as the only player who committed more fouls than Roberto Firmino was his fellow Liverpool forward Sadio Mane.

Our centre-backs were happy to take the ball under pressure and even move beyond our midfielders and wing-backs, knowing someone would cover them, resulting in something of a merry-go-round as players rotated position, shifting Liverpool’s players around and waiting for the opportunity to launch an attack.

Jorginho was key to that tactic, often being the one to fill in as a defender stepped forward, as well as keeping the ball moving in his trademark style. Especially in that first half, it wasn’t rare to see the Italian international as our last man when we were in possession.

The fact that Andreas Christensen had the most touches of the ball of any Chelsea player, 88, closely followed by fellow defender Cesar Azpilicueta and midfield duo Jorginho and N’Golo Kante, tells you much about where we were happy to play the ball around.

However, that possession at the back was possession with a purpose. Those four, along with Antonio Rudiger, were always on the lookout for the right moment to change tack and send the ball forward. Once we had invited that high press, the next task was to bypass it and leave Liverpool looking vulnerable. In total we played 549 passes against Liverpool, 230 of them in our defensive third of the pitch, but 361 of them being forward passes.

Breaking with speed

Once that attack was launched, it was done with a speed and directness which gave Liverpool problems all night. Werner was the clear focal point, included in the starting line-up as our central striker for the explicit purpose of using his pace to get in behind the Reds’ high defensive line, in contrast to, say, Olivier Giroud’s strength in the air. That being said, no player on the pitch won more aerial duels than Werner’s three.

Around him our front three had an asymmetrical feel, with Hakim Ziyech playing narrower than we have seen in the past and close to Werner, sometimes looking like a front two, while Mount had more licence to roam, frequently linking up with Ben Chilwell to overload the left side and exploit the space behind Liverpool’s attack-minded full-back Trent Alexander-Arnold.

More importantly, once the forward players got the ball, we were far more direct, going for the jugular at every opportunity rather than waiting for support. For example, Werner and Ziyech played a combined 38 passes between them, the same number as Mohamed Salah attempted on his own in the hour he was on the pitch.

That resulted in Werner having more shots, three, than the whole of Liverpool’s front three combined. The German was also prepared to gamble to make that plan work and run into that space behind the defence, explaining why of the five offside calls in the match in total, four of them were against him.

Of course, that includes the extremely tight one which resulted in his first-half goal being disallowed by VAR, as his forearm strayed beyond the line. In previous seasons it would have stood, when only body parts you can legally play the ball with counted towards offsides, ie not the arms.

Sticking to the plan

It wasn’t just on the ball we had a clear plan to stifle Liverpool, though. When out of possession our back three did brilliantly to maintain their shape throughout, with Azpilicueta and Rudiger closing the ball and challenging the opponent, while Christensen covered them and looked to sweep up Liverpool’s own attempts to find space behind our back-line.

Those different roles for our back three show up in the stats, as Christensen was required to make just one tackle in keeping a clean sheet, but his nine clearances were more than any other player on the pitch.

Credit also goes to Jorginho for his defensive work, as well as his passing game. Our number five made the most tackles of any player, 10, ahead of team-mates Kante (6) and Werner (5), as well as the most interceptions, three.

All in all, it worked perfectly, as the home side managed just one fairly tame shot on target.

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