Chelsea 0-1 Liverpool: Meireles grabs winner
Two interesting formations produced a tense, tight game which was won by Raul Meireles’ goal.
Carlo Ancelotti gave Fernando Torres his debut, fielding the same 4-4-2 diamond system as against Sunderland in midweek, with Nicolas Anelka in the hole behind the front two.
Kenny Dalglish continued with his three/five at the back formation, with Jamie Carragher in for Sotirios Kyrgiakos and Maxi Rodriguez replacing Fabio Aurelio.
Torres threatened to be an instant hero when given the ball by Rodriguez in the opening minutes, but blasted over from the edge of the box. After that, the game settled down into a cagey, static contest in the first half.
Torres and Drogba took it in turns to work the right and left flanks, but both stayed central throughout and didn’t really look to stretch Liverpool’s defence. Everything was narrow, and Liverpool coped pretty well. Lucas Leiva stayed goalside of Nicolas Anelka, meaning Liverpool always had a spare man when Anelka moved forward to join the front two.
Liverpool’s midfield ’square’ in midweek was effectively tilted to become a diamond here, and as we’ve seen before when two diamonds play each other, the game can be rather stilted. Each midfielder had an obvious opponent to track, with Lucas / Anelka, Steven Gerrard / Frank Lampard, Rodriguez / Michael Essien and Meireles / Jon Obi Mikel the usual battles. There was little creativity from that zone.
Liverpool on top
Liverpool were the better side even before they went ahead in the second half, however, for two reasons. First, their diamond had much more fluidity. Chelsea’s midfield roles were obvious, with the diamond remaining intact throughout, each player in the same position. Liverpool’s diamond was based around more mutual understanding – Meireles was usually at the head of the four, but sometimes it was Gerrard, sometimes Rodriguez, sometimes Lucas would venture forward and another player would drop in and hold. That kept Chelsea guessing, and though it didn’t produce anything particularly exciting in the final third, did make Liverpool the side more likely to cause the opposition defence problems.
The second factor was more a question of formation – with the diamonds cancelling each other out in the centre, it was left to the wide areas for drive and attacking thrust. Here, we had Chelsea’s full-backs (in a four) against Liverpool’s wing-backs (in a five), with the latter given much more license to get forward and support the attack. Glen Johnson and Martin Kelly were often immediately in a position to receive a forward pass in space, and stretched the play. In contrast, Ashley Cole and Jose Bosingwa had to motor forward to move into attacking positions, which made Chelsea’s build-up play more laboured. Johnson becoming free on the left resulted in the best chance of the first half, where Rodriguez somehow missed an open goal from inside the six yard box.
On the other hand, this meant that Liverpool had one fewer striker on the pitch, and therefore there was little chance of interplay upfront. Chelsea certainly had that potential, and Drogba playing in Torres created a great chance – only for Jamie Carragher to perform a typical last-ditch block. Overall, however, Liverpool maximised their advantage in wide zones more than Chelsea maximised their advantage in having an extra striker.
Little changed until on 66 minutes, when Ancelotti decided his shape wasn’t working, and replaced Torres with Kalou, moving Chelsea to 4-3-3. Before noting the tactical aspect, it’s worth considering the psychological boost Liverpool must have received by seeing Torres depart having barely had a kick in the second half. Tactically, it was potentially a great move from Ancelotti – by playing three forwards stretched across the park, he was going to either subdue Liverpool’s wing-backs, or force their centre-backs out wide.
However, within three minutes, Gerrard’s cross found Meireles at the far post, and Liverpool were ahead. Coming so soon after the switch, Chelsea may have confused by the change in formation – after all, they were now 3 v 4 in the centre of the pitch, and Meireles ran in unchecked to finish. The main tactical impact of the goal, however, was that Liverpool didn’t need to worry about the situation at the back – with a 1-0 lead, their wing-backs would happily be subdued, to form a back five and see out the game. They defended well all game – Chelsea only had one shot on target in the match, a Florent Malouda attempt from an impossible angle that Reina blocked easily.
As it happened, Ancelotti ended up moving to a 4-2-4ish system that Liverpool’s back five coped with pretty well, maintaining the spare man they’d had at the back for the majority of the game. Ahead of that, Liverpool now had 4 v 2 in the central midfield zone, with the diamond shifting across to shut Chelsea’s full-backs down – though they offered little threat, especially when Branislav Ivanovic moved out there to make room for David Luiz.
The final 15 minutes was about good individual performances – most obviously at the back, but also in midfield. Lucas was superb, using the ball well, and dominating the zone in front of the back four without the ball by nipping in ahead of Chelsea players to make interceptions.
Ancelotti played into Liverpool’s hands with his narrow formation. The three-man defence coped very well with Chelsea’s two strikers, and it’s likely Chelsea would have had more joy had they played their 4-3-3 earlier in the game. The Kalou-Anelka-Drogba trio has the potential to play in a 4-3-1-2 and a 4-3-3, but by having two central strikers, Torres and Drogba, on the pitch, Chelsea couldn’t change shape without turning to the bench. It would have been interesting to see if Dalglish would have abandoned his three at the back if Chelsea moved to a 4-3-3 earlier.
Liverpool’s players played their roles very well – the centre-backs won individual battles, the midfielders rotated well, the wing-backs got forward, and Kuyt scrapped upfront. In all, Dalglish won the tactical battle here.Chelsea 0-1 Liverpool: Meireles grabs winner