The race for the Champions League 2018/19 places was the main focus on the match at Stamford Bridge. Liverpool 3rd on the table and Chelsea 5th. The Reds needed only one point to secure their place for the next season Champions League while The Blues had to win this clash to keep their options alive.
The match at Anfield on the 25th of November 2017 ended with a 1-1 draw, Salah for Liverpool and Willian for Chelsea, scoring the goals of the match. The Egyptian was making his comeback to Stamford Bridge looking to score his 32nd goal in the 2017/18 Premier League season.
The Reds had 68.4% of possession at Stamford Bridge but it was not going to be enough to avoid the defeat against Conte’s side. Chelsea’s match plan worked perfectly to control the most dangerous trio in Europe and to keep a clean sheet for a second match in a row.
Jürgen Klopp made only one change, from the match against AS Roma, in his 1-4-3-3 formation by replacing Henderson for Clyne where Alexander-Arnold acted as one of the midfielders and Clyne as right back.
How did Chelsea stop The Reds at Stamford Bridge?
Antonio Conte opted for a 1-5-3-2 shape when out of possession using a defensive low block to avoid leaving gaps behind The Blues back line to be exploited for Salah, Mané or Firmino.
As seen on the previous picture, Marcos Alonso and Moses were dropping deep to form a back line of 5 defenders with Azpilicueta, Cahill and Rüdiger.
At times, the 1-3-5-2 shape changed to a 1-4-4-2 shape because Marcos Alonso was pressing Clyne very tight when Liverpool passed the ball to their right back to stop forward passes to Salah. (pictures below)
When Liverpool were playing out from the back, Conte’s players let The Reds to have possession without pressure on their centre backs; Giroud and Hazard main defensive task was to avoid passes from van Dijk or Lovren to Wijnaldum who was playing as the deepest Liverpool midfield.
On the picture above, Lovren is the ball carrier while Hazard and Giroud stay close to Wijnaldum to force The Reds centre back to play out wide; on the following picture van Dijk is on possession and again Hazard and Giroud marking Wijnaldum.
Defending deep was one of the tactics used by Conte to stop The Reds attacking force (80 goals scored in the 2017/18 Premier League campaign). The Blues compactness on their own half was the second key element of their defensive plan. The distance between Chelsea’s back line and their midfielders was very tight and forced Liverpool’s attackers to drop deep to receive the ball but they were surrounded by many blue shirts as soon as they received a pass.
In the following set of pictures, notice how close were The Blues back line with their line of midfielders creating a compact unit and overloading the middle of Liverpool attacking third whereby The Reds could not penetrate and were forced to play square passes or back passes.
In the next picture, Salah is receiving a pass between lines but he’s immediately closed down and surrounded by Cahill, Fàbregas and Kanté.
Marcos Alonso and Moses, when Chelsea were in possession, pushed high into wide areas to provide width to The Blues attack and Bakayoko and Fàbregas joined the attack constantly to sum good numbers inside Liverpool’s box, Giroud’s goal is a great example how Chelsea attacked as a unit.
In the previous picture, we can see the moment when Moses was going to deliver the cross where Giroud scored; notice how Marcos Alonso, Bakayoko and Fàbregas are inside the box with the French to attack the cross while Hazard is supporting Moses just outside the box, leaving Kanté, Azpilicueta, Cahill and Rüdiger as Chelsea’s defensive balance in case Liverpool start a counter-attack.
Despite Chelsea moving forward with numerous players, they controlled Liverpool’s deathly counter-attacks very well by Kante’s position staying deep in front of The Blues back line of 3 defenders when they were in possession (as seen on the picture below) and by Conte’s players quick recovery runs.
In the next sequence of pictures, notice how many Chelsea players are making recovery runs while Firmino starts the counter-attack for Liverpool, also we can see how Rüdiger, Cahill and Azpilicueta are getting closer to each other to minimize the gap between them and avoid a through pass for Salah. Azpilicueta ended up intercepting Firmino’s pass.
On the next sequence, Mané starts the counter-attack in 3v4 situation for The Reds; Rüdiger, Cahill and Azpilicueta are dropping back in order to delay the attack so Kanté can support them but also are closing the distance between them to stay compact; Kanté finally made a good tackle to stop Liverpool attack.
On the 59th minute, Klopp made his first substitution of the match (Henderson for Clyne) moving Alexander-Arnold to right back and Henderson occupying The Reds right side of the midfield. Solanke substituted Robertson on the 74th minute where Milner moved to left back position and Firmino dropped slightly deeper behind the new trio of attackers (Mané, Solanke and Salah).
With Solanke on the pitch, Liverpool started to deliver more crosses into Chelsea’s box but without finding the back of the net. Alberto Moreno replaced Milner on the 89th minute and van Dijk finished the match playing as centre forward (as seen on the next picture) to try to find success in one of the aerial attacks by Klopp’s players but the quality of the crosses were not good enough (22.7% success)
Conte’s tactics worked so well and his players’ performances were so good that despite Klopp’s substitutions, the Italian head coach made his first substitution of the match on the 86th minute when Hazard was replaced by Willian.
Liverpool left Stamford Bridge one point ahead of Tottenham Hotspur and three points in front of Chelsea having played one match more.
Jürgen Klopp was “proud” after the defeat but “there is one moment I am really disappointed, not happy, angry with and it was the goal”.
The Reds will need to win their final match of the season against Brighton & Hove Albion at Anfield to secure a top-four finish for a second consecutive season.