Chelsea 1-1 Liverpool: poor quality game with goals from corners

November 12, 2012

The starting line-ups

Brendan Rodgers started with three centre-backs, but switched to a back four during the second half.

Roberto Di Matteo used his expected front four, but surprisingly used Cesar Azpilicueta at right-back, presumably because he wanted pace and/or attacking drive. Branislav Ivanovic shifted into the centre.

Rodgers included Jamie Carragher, with Martin Skrtel unavailable. Suso was only on the bench, having often started in a front three in recent weeks.

Liverpool dominated possession throughout the game, but became more dangerous when reverting to a back four.

Formation battle

It’s not often you see a 4-2-3-1 take on a 3-5-1-1 (or 3-4-1-2, if you prefer). The interesting battle is always between the wingers and the wing-backs – in other words, the positioning of Juan Mata and Eden Hazard against Jose Enrique and Glen Johnson. Do they try to track the wing-backs, or stay higher up?

One of Chelsea’s main problems this season, certainly in a defensive sense, is the lack of tracking from their wingers, particularly Hazard. However, there was no doubt they were forced into a more defensive role than usual by the energy of the Liverpool wing-backs. They didn’t actually have to track them all away, because of the presence of the Chelsea full-backs and the absence of any wide, higher Liverpool players, but they certainly didn’t press Liverpool’s outside centre-backs, and instead dropped back near the halfway line.

Liverpool dominance?

As a result, Daniel Agger and Andre Wisdom had plenty of time on the ball, and Liverpool dominated possession significantly in the first half. However, the majority of their passes were slow, sideways and not remotely penetrative, because Liverpool simply had too few players in attacking positions.

As mentioned previously, a decent template for Liverpool in this 3-5-1-1 system would be Udinese – they get the ball forward and play on the counter. Liverpool held onto the ball for too long and allowed Chelsea to get men behind the ball – which is precisely what Chelsea usually don’t do well, so Rodgers wasn’t taking advantage of Chelsea’s weakness. Liverpool didn’t get a shot on target in the first half, and conceded a set-piece goal after poor marking.

Television cameras picked up Rodgers instructing his midfielders to flip from a ‘2-1′ to a ‘1-2′ format midway through the first half – rather than sitting alongside Joe Allen (who had a poor game), Nuri Sahin moved up to join Steven Gerrard, as Rodgers wanted more players in advanced positions.

Liverpool change shape

The line-ups after Liverpool moved to a back three. Suso, the substitute, and the players who changed position significantly are hightlighted.

Earlier in the day Manchester City turned their game around by moving from a back four to a back three. Rodgers did the opposite, bringing on Suso for the ineffectual Sahin – the Spaniard played just behind Suarez. The rest of the side completely changed shape – four other players moved significantly, and Liverpool were something more like a 4-4-1-1 or 4-2-3-1 system.

Now they had more attacking options, more natural width on both sides, and an extra goalscoring threat with Suso getting into the box more naturally than Sterling. Again, the goal came from a set-piece rather than through any overloads or creativity in open play, but Liverpool had upped the pressure on the Chelsea defence.

Oddly, that was the only significant change of the game. Rodgers clearly doesn’t trust half of his bench, so Suso was his only replacement, while Di Matteo’s changes were broadly straight swaps, all after the equaliser had been conceded.


Rodgers’ initial formation decision, and subsequent backtracking, was the main talking point. By starting with a back three, he seemed to stifle Chelsea’s creativity by pushing their wide attackers back, but robbed his own side of an attacking player, and the ball spent far too long in defence.

Whether that constitutes success depends upon one’s perception of these two sides’ abilities. It feels like Liverpool should be competing toe-to-toe with Chelsea, but then a 13th-placed side would generally be happy to go to a 2nd-placed side and create a tight, scrappy game based around set-plays, and come away with a point.

It was more of the same from Chelsea – Di Matteo has found a formula and is sticking to it (small defensive changes aside) for the majority of his games. Both Juventus and Liverpool have caused them positional problems with a back three, however.

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