Liverpool and Chelsea made markedly different starts to their Premier League seasons last weekend. While Jurgen Klopp’s side opened the campaign with a resounding 4-1 victory at home to newly promoted Norwich City, Frank Lampard’s men were hammered 4-0 away to Manchester United.
These results promote the notion that this Wednesday’s meeting of the two teams, in the UEFA Super Cup, could be a one-sided whitewash. However, there were enough nuances in the aforementioned games to suggest that this coming together of Champions League and Europa League winners could be – even if only for a short while – an actual contest.
CHELSEA MUST TIGHTEN UP
Chelsea tried to press high against Manchester United on Sunday. Within their 4-4-1-1 defensive shape, attacking midfielder Mason Mount supported striker Tammy Abraham in attempting to block the centre and pressure the opposition’s central midfielders and centre-backs, while the wingers quickly closed down United’s full-backs when they received the ball. However, they were far too open in their pressing.
In the post-match analysis, Jose Mourinho mentioned Chelsea’s basic lack of compactness defensively. Put simply, there were too many gaps within their structure for their hosts to exploit. Below is one example from very early in the game. Mount and Abraham are looking to block the centre and force Manchester United’s centre-backs sideways to trigger pressing, but there’s too much space between Chelsea’s front two. This opens up a passing lane from Victor Lindelof to Paul Pogba, who can receive freely between the lines, without pressure, and progress play.
Chelsea’s openness was also evident in defensive transition – when they lost the ball, they were consistently penetrated by the pace and immediate forward runs of Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard. This will be music to the ears of Liverpool, who feed off of disorganisation in transition situations. Indeed, much of their success in recent years can be linked directly to rapid, precise counter-attacking.
Lampard may be wise to add some experience up top to help in the first line of pressing, replacing Abraham with Olivier Giroud. While the Frenchman lacks mobility, he is astute and understands how to position himself and angle runs to prevent simple through balls. A more important change would involve bringing the relentless N’Golo Kante back into the line-up for the less defence-minded Jorginho or Mateo Kovacic to help stop counter-attacks at source. While structural issues may continue to exist, Kante’s energy and speed can help to paper over the cracks.
LIVERPOOL ARE NOT INVULNERABLE
Of all the teams Chelsea could face after a weekend spent being torn apart in transition, Liverpool are perhaps the worst possible opponent. They continue to shape up in a 4-3-3 system with a very narrow front three and an aggressive midfield trident that makes it extremely difficult for them to be played through. Fortunately, Chelsea have what it takes to play around the press.
Last Friday night, Norwich enjoyed some positive moments during their beating at Anfield, most of which were based around advancing via the full-backs and then getting the ball into an array of options between the lines. Their left-back Jamal Lewis would often carry possession forward single-handedly down his flank, before feeding into central areas for Todd Cantwell, Emi Buendia, Marco Stiepermann and Teemo Pukki to combine and get beyond Liverpool’s back line.
Chelsea progressed down the flanks against Manchester United through their full-backs, Cesar Azpilicueta and Emerson, while their wingers looked to come inside and get closer to one another so they could combine with Abraham and Mount. At times this drew in the opposition and created space around the outside for Azpilicueta or Emerson to advance into before crossing into the box un-checked.
Playing around Liverpool in this way not only means avoiding their intense press, but would also allow Chelsea to get plenty of options into the space between Liverpool’s midfield and defensive lines. However, their decision-making in the final third will have to be better than it was at Old Trafford, where they were frequently hampered by poor choices including: cutting the ball back when the shot was on, choosing to pass first time when there was space to receive and turn, picking the wrong option when in a good position, and not controlling the ball properly.
This strategy also comes with its own risks. When Chelsea’s full-backs do bomb forward to try and get behind the back line, they leave their own centre-backs isolated on the counter. Should Liverpool win the ball back, they can then instantly look to get Mohamed Salah and Divock Origi into 1v1 situations up against Kurt Zouma and Andreas Christensen that they are likely to win.
LIVERPOOL SHOULD HAVE TOO MUCH
Chelsea probably didn’t deserve to lose by four goals against Manchester United, hitting the woodwork twice and working a number of good attacking moves. But all of their possession led to nothing, and that is a concern. If they are to stand any chance against Liverpool, they will have to make their attacking play count by hitting the back of the net. Quite frankly, their concerning defensive disorganisation probably won’t allow them to succeed without scoring twice.
Liverpool may not have hit top form and they may also rotate players in, but they play with much greater clarity and are more effective in almost everything they do. Defensively, they have what it takes to hold off Chelsea and, in transition, they will look to do damage at every opportunity. Ultimately, Klopp’s side should win fairly comfortably to reassert their status as continental kings.