Liverpool 0-2 Chelsea: goals change games

May 2, 2010

In the end, Chelsea were comfortable, and effectively won the title today against a poor, tired Liverpool side that didn’t get a shot on target until the 91st minute of the match – but Liverpool had started the stronger.

The home side were without their regular full-backs, and chose to deploy Javier Mascherano at right-back, and Daniel Agger at left-back. Alberto Aquilani started as the most advanced of the three midfield players.

Chelsea used the same shape as in their 7-0 defeat of Stoke – a fluid 4-3-3 / 4-2-3-1 system where the forward players rotated throughout. Branislav Ivanovic was in at right-back, and Michael Ballack took the deep-lying midfield role.

The offensive slants of both midfields resulted in an enjoyable, attacking game in the opening half hour. Of the six players in the central midfield zone, only Lucas would be categorized as a ‘holding’ midfielder. The absence of Michael Essien, Jon Obi Mikel and Javier Mascherano from that zone created a game easy on the eye, especially considering how tight many of the games between these two have been in recent years.

With Florent Malouda and Frank Lampard getting into advanced positions, Michael Ballack was slightly overrun in midfield – on more than one occasion he was forced into ‘cynical’ fouls in the centre of the pitch, and Liverpool had considerable space in front of the Chelsea defence – Lucas, Aquilani and Yossi Benayoun all got into good positions, but all missed the target – Aquilani coming closest, scraping the bar.

Liverpool’s relative lack of pace in advanced positions meant Chelsea played a highish line, although this made it easier for Liverpool to get their midfield players forward in support of Dirk Kuyt, who as ever worked hard but didn’t have a great game. Chelsea’s front players weren’t tested enough defensively - Agger and Mascherano were (as you might expect) not a considerable attacking force. Mascherano got forward but his delivery into the box was poor, whilst Agger was the opposite – comfortable in possession but not willing to hug the touchline.

This Chalkboard shows how Mascherano got forward manfully, but his crossing was awful:

by Guardian Chalkboards

So, Liverpool were dominating the game without ever looking too threatening, until Steven Gerrard’s crazy backpass let Didier Drogba for the opening goal. And after that, Liverpool suddenly collapsed. Their passing was slower, Aquilani stopped being an influence on the game and Gerrard didn’t manage to atone for his error, and Chelsea could have been 3-0 up before half-time, when first Lampard and then Kalou found themselves in goalscoring positions.

Liverpool were forced to replace the injured Maxi Rodriguez with Ryan Babel just before half-time. In theory this was a helpful change – Babel’s pace was exactly what Liverpool were crying out for, but he struggled to receive the ball from Liverpool’s midfielders, and couldn’t test Chelsea’s full-backs.

Nicolas Anelka had a quiet game but still found the space to roll the ball across the six-yard box for Lampard to slide in and convert, and the game was effectively over. Chelsea attacked more cautiously after that, but still looked the more likely side to score.

Ancelotti, then, has (almost) won the Premiership despite the fact he hasn’t really found his best formation. Having used a 4-4-2 diamond, a 4-3-2-1, a standard 4-3-3 and a 4-3-3 / 4-2-3-1 hybrid at various points throughout the campaign, we’re left wondering quite what Chelsea’s best shape is. Questions still remain about whether Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka can play together in the same side – but Ancelotti’s achievement has been to bring the best out of Drogba, Lampard and Malouda at various points in the campaign. Many expected Ancelotti’s side to be defensive, solid and consistent – perhaps boring their way to the title – but they have actually turned out to be attack-minded, fluid and patchy. Very unItalian.

If Chelsea win next week, they will win the title with 86 points – the lowest total for the champions since 2002/03. It has not been a glorious season and this is not a glorious Chelsea side, but Ancelotti deserves immense credit for winning the title in his first season. The switch from Serie A to the Premiership is not easy, and let’s remember – Ancelotti will be only the fifth manager in Premiership history to win the title.

Tags: , , , ,