A colossal top-four clash between old foes Chelsea and Liverpool was on the agenda today, also the first meeting between German tacticians, Thomas Tuchel and Jurgen Klopp.
This game truly was a “six-pointer” for all involved, I break down the proceedings below.
Starting team thoughts -
When I first saw the line-up, I tweeted “Safety. Solidarity. Foundation” to describe the eleven chosen by Tuchel and his approach to the game.
The team was far from aesthetic in terms of superstar names and attacking explosion, however, as we have seen often under the German thus far, defensive stability and transitional organization are paramount to Tuchel’s set up.
Many quite fairly questioned before the game where the goals were going to come from in this team, an issue we’ve faced in recent times.
In my additional notes regarding the team and their approach to this game, I tweeted:
First half thoughts -
Very early on, we saw both team’s tactical approaches, which were similar. Chelsea were clearly looking to get Timo Werner in behind Liverpool’s traditional high defensive line, as he started through the middle on the shoulder of the centre back pairing of Fabinho and Kavak, whilst Liverpool were playing direct and attempting to transition the ball forward as quickly as possible into the space behind our wing back pairing of Ben Chilwell and Reece James. Game on.
I noticed a few finer trends throughout the game relatively early, starting with Edouard Mendy’s rendition of the ‘sweeper keeper’ in order to nullify Liverpool’s balls in behind.
I also noticed Chelsea having early success from actually giving up possession of the ball, instead, countering on Liverpool as they committed numerous bodies forward.
This perhaps was deliberate with Tuchel citing Liverpool’s tendency to start fast in the opening minutes, we were often looking for the space wide left by Robertson and Alexander-Arnold (more on that later.)
Werner squandered a good chance in the 16th minute, coming from one of Chelsea’s many effective presses high up the Anfield lawn.
Werner again minutes later got the ball in the back of the net, for it only to be ruled out by another episode of ‘Vartroversy’ you can check my Twitter timeline for my thoughts on that.
Then came the moment of magic from Chelsea’s very own talisman, Mason Mount. A searching long ball from midfield maestro N’Golo Kante found Mason on the wide left channel, in the space left behind by Alexander-Arnold, and the rest was just majestic.
Mason cuts in on Fabinho, shifts the ball further past the Brazilian, before dispatching it past another South American in Alison for a timely lead just before halftime. Just sheer class from one of Chelsea’s very own. We led 1-0 at the break.
My half-time thoughts consisted of the following, which I wrote inside this document five minutes into the interval.
“Chelsea may need another. We need to be wary of the ball in behind. However, we cannot bunker and give Liverpool territory, as they will want that control factor. We need to continue to press, be brave playing out the back, and push them back.”
Second half thoughts -
No changes at the break, we went again. VAR was involved again as the ball struck Kante’s arm inside the box early on. If I’m honest, I thought it would be given, taking into account the new rules, the inconsistency of it, and also the location of the game, yet we came away unscathed, phew.
Towards the middle of the half, we settled again and were playing out of the back fluently, an array of one/two touch combinations moving us the field eloquently, much to the disappointment of the pressing Liverpool forwards.
Liverpool had their moments of continued pressure, which was to be expected giving the individual quality they possess, nonetheless, we never looked in trouble, given how sturdy and cohesive our defensive unit has and was yet again showing.
It’s clear to see how much work has been done by Tuchel and his staff in this department, as the gaps between the lines were minimal, the triggers of when to press and drop were extremely efficient, it was also clear communication was as fluent as ever.
We continued to look dangerous on the break, especially when Christian Pulisic came into the fray for Hakim Ziyech to link up with Werner.
I was thoroughly enjoying a few of the individual battles out there, ones of note were Werner vs Fabinho, Jorginho simply distinguishing any threat Thiago possessed, and arguably my favorite was the Mane vs Rudiger episodes, predominantly on the right side of Liverpool’s attack.
Two similar styles going back and forth at each other with star quality sprinkled in, this truly was a heavyweight clash.
In terms of the substitutions, each of them made sense in its own way. Christian Pulisic has been unlucky not to play more, his introduction for Ziyech was a clever one from Tuchel, in order to freshen up our press, provide more pace on the break and show Tuchel why he may deserve to get the nod ahead of the Moroccan in future fixtures.
Kovacic for Mount was crucial in the respect of getting Kovacic’s energy in the middle of the park, accompanied by his ability to break Liverpool’s press with his dribbling ability and extensive use of his body to attract fouls. Mount was tiring after another heroic display and Matteo’s tenacity was welcomed.
Finally, Havertz getting any minutes is always a welcome sign, as he replaced his compatriot Werner in the final moments. I look forward to hopefully seeing more of Kai in the coming weeks.
The result -
What a result. Just huge in the scheme of the top four race, also banishing the rumours of Chelsea’s struggles in big games’ which has simply become a thing of the past under Tuchel, of which we saw another sheer tactical masterclass from Chelsea’s German against his old friend.
The roar from Tuchel on the Anfield grass after the game summed up most fans’ feelings, on what were three monstrous points for the West London side.
My man of the match? Andreas Christensen.
Many will know I haven’t always been his biggest fan, especially in recent years despite calling to see him more under Maurizio Sarri.
Nevertheless, in this new regime, the ‘Danish Maldini’ has simply transformed his game, along with his partner in crime, Antonio Rudiger.
You could argue N’Golo Kante, Mason Mount and pretty much the entire team could’ve taken home the award today, it truly was a brilliant team performance.
With that win, Chelsea are now back in the top four, and firmly in the race to finish in the coveted Champions League places.
Up next is another monumental fixture on Monday in Everton, another three points against our former manager Carlo Ancelotti certainly would be welcome. Come on the Chels.
Written by Dan McCarthy - @MaccaSport