It’s been a rather bad February for Chelsea: first drawing 2-2 to Leicester, then losing 2-0 to Man United, then winning 2-1 to Spurs, then losing 3-0 to Bayern, and ending the month drawing 2-2 to Bournemouth. It puts Chelsea in a tough position not only to secure Top 4, but to go through to the quarter finals of the Champions League.
Now, they have another challenge: beat Liverpool in the FA Cup Fifth Round in order to quality for the FA Cup Quarter Finals. Chelsea’s current advantages are that they’ll be playing the tie at home, and last Saturday Liverpool lost 3-0 to Watford in the Premier League. While Jürgen Klopp will be working to avoid the mistakes made, Chelsea should analyse that game in order to understand the opposition’s weaknesses.
With that in mind, what weaknesses are there that Chelsea could exploit, given the Blues’s current injuries?
Let’s start of by looking at Liverpool’s style of play and weaknesses, before making a prediction on their line-up.
LIVERPOOL UNDER JÜRGEN KLOPP
Out of all the big European clubs, Liverpool seem to have the longest-serving manager in Jürgen Klopp. The German joined the English club in October 2015 after seven years at BVB Dortmund. He made a big impact in his first season reaching the League Cup Final (but losing on penalties to Manchester City) and the Europa League Final (but losing 3-1 to Sevilla). After failing to qualify for European competitions in 2015/16, Klopp guided Liverpool to 4th place in the 2016/17 season, meaning the club qualified for the 2017/18 Champions League play-offs. The following season [2017/18] they managed to reach the Champions League final but lost 3-1 to Real Madrid in Kyiv. They also finished in 4th place, which gave them an opportunity to try again in the 2018/19 season. That season [2018/19], they managed to reach the Champions League final again and won the trophy after beating Spurs 2-0 in Madrid. They also competed for the Premier League title but finished in 2nd place, one point behind the champions Manchester City. This season [2019/20], they are on course to winning the Premier League, with 79 out of 84 points in 28 matches (26W, 1D, 1L). That’s 22 points clear of 2nd place Manchester City, 29 points clear of 3rd place Leicester City, and 34 points clear of 4th place Chelsea.
STYLE OF PLAY
Tactically, Klopp sets out his team in a 4-3-3 formation: His goalkeeper acts as a sweeper keeper and is amazing in one-on-one situations; his two centre-backs have amazing ball playing and defensive abilities; his two full-backs provide width to the midfield and delivery to the forwards; his holding midfielder dictates the play with his long range passing and acts as a destroyer (shuttle between the space to recover the ball and protect the centre-backs); his two central midfielders act as free box-to-box midfielders; his two wingers cut inside; and his striker playing as a false nine (where he drops off to create space and passing options to the wingers).
Offensively, Klopp’s side shape up into a 2-3-5 formation, very reminiscent of Zidane’s formation when playing a 4-3-3 in the 2017/18 season. In short, the two full-backs move up the pitch and provide more attacking threat by creating chances from the wings. For Liverpool though, the left-back (most often Robertson) dribbles past the opposition before reaching the by-line and sending in a low cross, while the right-back (most often Alexander-Arnold) sends in a high and early cross. This allows the wingers to cut inside and provide more crossing options inside the box, where the wingers then position themselves around the six-yard box and the striker drops back to around the penalty spot (forming a triangle inside the box). The central midfielders are also not far behind, as they do join in the attack at times to support the forwards.
Defensively, the German emphasises the gegenpressing style, also known as the counter-press, where a team attempts to win possession straight after losing it. They attempt to press compactly, especially in the half space so that the opposition is pushed into the wide space. When the opposition goes wide, they are forced to either pass backwards or play long balls, both of which are anticipated by Klopp’s team. Once the ball is intercepted, Liverpool exploit the space left unmarked and create goalscoring opportunities. This stance is more offensive than the casual defensive stance, where teams sit back and wait for the right moment to press. But it can leave you vulnerable to counter-attacks.
This system requires a high level of team cohesion, pace, intelligence and technical ability, and that’s the type of players they look for in the transfer market. Also, if they are not already, the players become physically stronger under Klopp’s style.
CAN LIVERPOOL BE STOPPED?
It’s quite easy to say yes, because every team has a weakness, but it’s more difficult to identify it (or them) and how to stop them. After doing thorough research, I have found three ways to stop Liverpool.
One way is to man-mark their full-backs Robertson and Alexander-Arnold, their holding midfielder Fabinho, and their striker Firmino. To do so, you must first dominate the central area. Both Fabinho and Firmino are two key players central to Liverpool’s attacking play. Take them out of the game and the Merseyside team will only be able to rely on the full-backs to supply the ball to the forwards, making it harder to create goalscoring opportunities. But that’s not all: Chelsea must also deal with Robertson and Alexander-Arnold, because if they don’t the Blues will struggle with their crossing. This can be done by pressing aggressively at least one of Liverpool’s full-backs. Formation wise, the only way to take all four players out of the game would require a different formation than the 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1, or 3-4-3 formations used by Lampard. Chelsea would have to play with one attacking midfielder to pressure Fabinho, two wing-backs or two central midfielders strong and fast enough to pressure the full-backs, and one holding midfielder or central defender to pressure Firmino. This means that the Blues will have to choose between the 4-4-2 diamond and 3-4-1-2 formations to make this work.
Another way is to beat the press (which formation-wise allows Chelsea to choose their own setup), but their style of play will need to be adjusted. They must play a variation of long balls, through balls (when creating diagonal passing lanes) and ball-carrying (dribbling past the opposition at the right time). Chelsea must make sure that the style of passing is varied between these three, otherwise it allows Liverpool to anticipate the play, and Klopp will adjust his tactics to intercept the ball and counter-attack fast. But if it works, then Liverpool’s centre-backs are exposed due to the high press.
Finally, Chelsea should consider playing two strikers up front instead of playing with a lone striker as they have this season. Why? In the defensive phase the strikers can disrupt the build-up play from the back by blocking the central passing lanes, especially Fabinho. Having an attacking midfielder man-marking the Brazilian midfielder can provide the strikers with more support if the ball is intercepted. However, with a lone striker this would be more challenging to carry out. In the attacking phase, Liverpool have struggled against two strikers who exploit the channels between the centre-backs and full-backs (again you can’t exploit them with just one striker). In the transition phase, the strikers need to be in the right positions by breaking Liverpool’s counter-press or exploiting the space left by the full-backs. And if the ball is intercepted, deep long balls must be played to counter-attack fast.
Now, I will predict Liverpool’s Starting XI based on the injury news.
Jürgen Klopp has been very successful this season, but Liverpool did suffer their first Premier League defeat to Watford last Saturday. So it could be either beneficial for the Blues or a source of motivation for the Reds.
Team wise, Jordan Henderson, Xherdan Shaqiri, and Naby Keita are injured, while James Milner and Joe Gomez are back in contention for tomorrow’s game.
As for the line-up for the Reds, despite it being an FA Cup match, I doubt he will use his backup squad for this game, especially against a Top 6 side. Therefore, I think Klopp will play a 4-3-3 with the following players:
And that concludes my article on Liverpool FC! If you’ve enjoyed it, don’t forget to like and share!
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