Chelsea change defensive attitude
Chelsea slightly adjusted their defensive setup at the beginning of this game. Their initial block was deeper in their own half, while their attitude was to keep the block behind the ball in deep areas--opposed to the usual pushing up of the block to press from midfield and continue into the opposition half. This change was noted by Conte after the game.
Antonio Conte: “When you concede space to Liverpool it is very difficult because their three forwards are very fast with good technique. We tried to not let them have space but we conceded two goals, the first after a quick free-kick and the second after a throw-in and Henderson was free”
They also changed their attitude when they lost the ball in higher areas, where they would, again, focus on controlling the deeper zones--not giving Liverpool space to counter into. This change was for good reason, too. They were able to prevent Liverpool creating a transitional and quick game (playing to the strengths of Liverpool) and create a slower and organised game that would be, at least theoretically, advantageous for Chelsea.
Early on Chelsea began with building from the back, inviting Liverpool to press high. Kante was able to break the pressure through carrying the ball, while the central defenders could find themselves as spare players to prevent Liverpool sustaining high pressure. One situation was when they circulated the ball deep before finding a long pass out to Ivanovic, where the second ball found Willian. He carried the ball into the space in front of the Liverpool backline, before being unable to successfully execute the pass to Costa in a good situation. Poor execution with the ball here was to be a theme throughout the game for Chelsea.
Another aspect of Liverpool’s high pressing is when they lose the ball, where they have a very aggressive and well timed press on the first pass. Chelsea managed these situations well throughout the game, where they would resist playing the first passes, for the most part, early and to a player about to be under intense pressure. They were able to break this pressure on a few occasions, while they lost the ball when playing early passes to the last line during counters.
After being unsuccessful at pressing Chelsea’s deep possession, Liverpool began to hold a deeper block in midfield--pressuring both inside and to the side of their block. Here is where Chelsea began to use the usual switches to the wings with the ball, as well as the passes to Costa on the last line. However, this wasn’t with the usual efficiency. Various poorly executed touches or passes, as well as poor decisions with the ball, prevented them from sustaining field position and possession. Liverpool deserve credit here, where both the of the wingers, especially Mane, were able to support their fullbacks throughout the match, while Henderson would move over to support wide areas--preventing Chelsea creating 1v1.
As a result, Liverpool were able to have frequent possession in the final 3rd. Sturridge would move away from the last line to receive the ball and face play, while Mane would make movements inside and onto the last line, the fullbacks would move up and Coutinho would join the central midfielders to combine. During switches to the left Liverpool were able to create the most problems, where Ivanovic was forced to give away a few fouls, which would lead to the first goal--one of the moments where Chelsea allowed Liverpool to play quickly with the ball.
Upon conceding Chelsea changed their attitude. They would apply more pressure from their block and in higher areas, without success. Liverpool were able to break the lack of collective pressing and combine with short passes centrally to progress into the final 3rd.
Second half changes
After finding themselves two goals down at halftime, Chelsea made another change for the second half. Oscar was moved up to join Costa, while Kante moved up to make a two man central midfield with Matic. They continued their aggressive approach, making the game faster and as a result. They were able to find more forward passes centrally in this setup, where they had struggled in the first half, and both sides had moments where they would press high and counter attack.
The Chelsea block was higher, which decreases the distances when they had the ball--the first line of possession was able to begin attacks near the halfway line. This aided the more direct approach in possession as they were able to get closer support to the second balls and immediately press when they lost the ball.
Chelsea were able to put pressure in a 1v1 capacity along the Liverpool backline with the ball. For example, Willian was able to receive the ball high and inside, with Milner pressuring him, before laying it off inside for Oscar and Costa (2v2) to combine.
Crosses and runners from midfield were two more areas where the switch benefited Chelsea offensively. The front two occupying the central defenders, the wingers against the fullbacks on the ball and runs between the fullback and central defender from both Matic and Kante were used, allowing them to create their goal.
After the goal there was one situation where Chelsea created another chance for Costa from direct play, but it was here where Liverpool managed the game well until the final substitutions.
Liverpool were able to keep the ball, draw fouls, and outnumber Chelsea on the wings when they tried to create 1v1’s.
Oscar was no longer on the last man when Chelsea had the ball, due to dropping back to press in his own half frequently, while Liverpool were able to comfortably deal with crosses to head into the box.
After a sustained period of Liverpool possession, and a good chance for Origi, Chelsea made a late triple change. This changed the way the game had been going, where Chelsea were able to pin Liverpool back in their own box for sustained periods, as well as lifting the tempo of the game.
Fabregas was, once again, able to play early and frequent forward passes, while Moses and Pedro direct in their play. Hazard was moved centrally, but he didn’t act in the same was as Oscar here. He would move towards the ball and to support in wide areas, where Liverpool were very successful in preventing continuous crosses into the box. Lucas coming on for Coutinho was a key switch here to allow Lallana and Wijnaldum to support Milner on the left, while Mane and Henderson supported Clyne on the right.
Chelsea were able to create different situations through the inside combinations from the wings, inside to Hazard, but they also lost what was making them successful during the second half--a partner for Costa upfront.