First losing to Atletico Madrid in the Champions League and then to Watford in the Premier League, Liverpool’s aura of invincibility has taken a dent in recent weeks as they headed down to London to face Chelsea in the FA Cup.
Both Jurgen Klopp and Frank Lampard sent out weakened but still strong teams in 4-3-3 formations.
Chelsea struggled early on against Liverpool’s high press. Takumi Minamino would block the pass into Billy Gilmour and the wingers would block the passes out to the full-backs, leaving Chelsea’s centre-backs without any short passing options. Kurt Zouma miscontrolled the ball on the edge of the area to almost let Sadio Mane in, then moments later Antonio Rudiger’s long pass was hit straight into Minamino, allowing Liverpool to break forward with a three-on-two. They took too long though, enabling Chelsea to recover.
Chelsea corrected these issues very quickly though. Gilmour pulled off to one side of Minamino and Mateo Kovacic dropped in on the other. As Minamino couldn’t mark both of them, Chelsea could pass out easily, forcing Curtis Jones or Adam Lallana up to close down whichever one Minamino wasn’t covering. As Ross Barkley moved up and Pedro Rodriguez tucked in between the lines, this would leave Liverpool caught a bit short deeper in midfield and Chelsea could advance into attack.
Chelsea were also clearly targetting Neco Williams, often switching play from right to left. Olivier Giroud would drift towards the left to play just inside of the Welshman, while Pedro and Marcos Alonso would double up on him down the flanks. Giroud is good enough in the air to give Virgil van Dijk troubles so dealing with any long balls hit towards the Frenchman was a major task for Williams. Although it was a tough game for him, he generally rose to the occasion: he wasn’t dominating challenges, but he wasn’t letting them break free of him either, always doing just enough to put the attackers off. For a teenager going up against three senior players, that’s an achievement.
Once Chelsea’s centre-backs had the confidence to give him the ball, Gilmour was superb. He seemed impervious to pressing but also knew when not to dwell on the ball, often stabbing the ball wide first-time to keep it moving. This was the performance of an experienced player rather than an 18 year-old and he will surely see more gametime after it.
Chelsea didn’t take the lead from their neat build-up though. Instead Fabinho gifted the ball away on the edge of Liverpool’s penalty area, then Adrian failed to hold onto Willian’s shot. The Brazilian was culpable for the second too, letting Barkley breeze past him as Chelsea countered.
Fabinho had been Liverpool’s best player prior to his injury but since his return he’s arguably been their worst. Slow to react to things and stiff in his movements, the Brazilian clearly isn’t back up to pace. This poses questions for Klopp as Fabinho needs game time if he is going to get back to match fitness, yet he’s making costly errors when he does play.
Despite the result, this wasn’t a terrible performance from Liverpool. They have been horrifically slow and sluggish since their winter break, however the pace of their passing was much faster here. In the first half, Liverpool would often waste good possession with a long ball forward, but they calmed down in the second, switching play from side to side as they tried to work the ball into the box. It still wasn’t a great performance, but Liverpool have seen far worse performances go unpunished as the opposition fluff their chances and one of their deadly attackers scores a goal out of nowhere, whereas here Chelsea took their chances and defended well.
There wasn’t anything particularly special about Chelsea’s defending. Their wingers would follow Liverpool’s defenders deep into their half, often dropping into the backline, and they were energetic throughout, constantly shifting across to close up gaps and remain compact.
Giroud’s excellent hold-up play and Barkley and Pedro’s direct attacking ensured they were always poised to break forward and counter. The Londoners looked the more likely team to add to the score despite Liverpool’s possession.
Like Watford, Chelsea didn’t find any grand secret to beat Liverpool. They simply defended very well and took their chances.
If you enjoy these posts, please consider subscribing to our Patreon or making a one-off donation. For just $2.99, you can get access to premium videos and training sessions.