Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea travelled to Anfield to face Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool last Saturday evening in the third match-week of the Premier League. This was poised to be a great match between two potential title contenders in the league. Both teams came into this match with similar 100% records, winning both games and scoring 5 goals each without conceding. The game ended in a 1-1 draw, with goals through a brilliant header by Kai Havertz and a Mo Salah penalty.
Liverpool ended the game with a much higher xG(2.58) compared to Chelsea(0.96), but as it can be seen in the expected goals timeline in the above visual, the game was pretty evenly poised till Reece James was given a red card. Jurgen Klopp had stuck to his trusted 4-3-3 formation, while Chelsea came in with their consistent 3-4-2-1.
Liverpool were dominating possession even in the first half before the sending off, but it did not mean that they were dominating the match. It was a simple game plan used by Chelsea, where the only occasions when Chelsea were pressing high up the pitch was when Liverpool were taking goal kicks. The plan was to stop the Reds from passing out from the back, with Lukaku, Mount and Havertz pressing high up, followed by Kante and Jorginho marking Fabinho and Henderson in the midfield. This was done to force Liverpool defenders to go for long balls instead of finding their midfielders.
In the defensive phase, Chelsea were happy to sit deep without continuous pressing even before the sending off, often changing into a 5-3-2 formation when out of possession. Mount was dropping into the midfield and Havertz was staying upfront with Lukaku to change into the 5-3-2. When Mount dropped into midfield, it forced Firmino to also drop into midfield to help out his teammates and create a numerical advantage in midfield. This led Fabinho to be free to receive the ball from his defenders and be the link between defence and midfield. With most players now consumed by roles in the midfield, it turned to be one on one battles between the Reds’ full-backs and the Blues’ wing-backs. With Liverpool in possession, James and Alonso had to move up the pitch, which forced Chelsea’s centre backs to get wider to cover the open spaces on the wings.
Chelsea were able to clinch a goal from Kai Havertz, who scored a brilliant looping header from a Reece James corner. The game was evenly poised and at a very interesting stage, when on the stroke of halftime, struck James’ hand from a Mane attempt. VAR called the referee to have a look on the monitor, and Anthony Taylor decided to give a penalty to Liverpool and a red card for Reece James. Salah scored the penalty and the game was at 1-1 at halftime, but Chelsea had been reduced to 10 men.
Chelsea made two changes at halftime, replacing Kai HAvertz and N’golo Kante with Mateo Kovacic and Thiago Silva. N’golo Kante suffered an ankle injury and was forcefully subbed off. Tuchel said in his post-match reaction that it was a really bad situation for him, where his team not only went down to 10 men but also had Kante injured at the same time. The average positions of the Chelsea players showed that the game plan initially was to only press on Liverpool when they were building from the back. Otherwise, Chelsea were happy to sit back and stay compact and wait for a perfect opportunity to create a counter-attack or goal.
After being reduced to 10 men, Chelsea changed to a 5-3-1 formation which was deep and compact. Captain Cesar Azpilicueta took James’ right wing-back position, while Thiago Silva played as a centre back. Chelsea main plan now was to keep Zone 14 (the central area in front of their 18-yard box) crowded, not giving proper space to the Liverpool players.
Keeping zone 14 occupied and crowded forced Liverpool to take shots from long distances as there wasn’t enough space close to or inside the 18-yard box. With Silva on the pitch, Chelsea had three tall centre backs who were strong in the air and were focused on nullifying any threat from crosses.
The average positions of Chelsea players shows that a lot of attacks were being made from Salah’s wing, but Rudiger had him under control for most of the match. Mount, who started the game up front behind Lukaku, had to drop a lot in the first half, but he completely became a part of the defensive midfield after the red card. Mount, Kovacic and Jorginho had a great game in midfield, as they were always cutting down half-spaces and covering for each other.
Thomas Tuchel was able to adapt to the game after the red card, making it very difficult for Liverpool to get a winning goal. It is fair to say that both teams played very well in the first half and the intensity of the game was great. After the red card, the Blues needed to defend with all their hearts to get a point from this match. They succeeded in defending brilliantly, and goalkeeper Mendy also had a great game in goal. In the end, it can be implemented that the red card spoiled the intensity of a game with great potential. The second half was a bit boring, but considering the situation Chelsea were in, manager Thomas Tuchel and the Blues’ fans should be happy with the result.