Though the incident between Suarez and Ivanovic will take the headlines, the match at Anfield was full of exciting moments, as the sides created 24 chances between them (though the home side created 75% of those).
The side that travelled North lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Bertrand, Luiz, Ivanovic and Azpilicueta starting ahead of captain Cech. Ramires and Mikel were given the responsibility of protecting the defence, behind Mata, Hazard and Oscar who supported Torres on his return to Anfield.
Liverpool matched that 4-2-3-1 system with Lucas and Gerrard behind Henderson supporting Suarez, whilst being flanked by Downing and Coutinho. Reina’s net was protected by a back for of Enrique, Agger, Carragher and Johnson.
Should Henderson have been in Attacking Midfield?
Both teams looked to press upfield in the match, and it was a fairly simple decision to do so for Benitez, as he needed to stop the home side’s passing out from the back. On the other hand, was it really necessary for Liverpool to press as they did?
Chelsea are without a particularly creative defensive midfielder, neither were they looking to hold onto the ball for long periods of time, more the opposite of that in fact, as they sat deep and tried to play on the counter. Obviously Rodgers likes his team to press, but did it require him to fit in Henderson to spearhead the midfield attacks, when that role could have been occupied by a player such as Suarez or Gerrard?
In terms of purely defensive contributions, Henderson worked well as the Liverpool front 4 often pushed Chelsea into sending the ball back to their captain Cech for him to send a long ball forward, which resulted in the home side regaining possession 60% of the time.
The ex-Sunderland player did make the joint-most interceptions out of the Liverpool XI in an overall solid defensive performance from the 22-year-old, but he didn’t offer enough in attack – the ex-Sunderland man only has a shooting accuracy of 45%, and has created a chance every 43 minutes.
Even if Rodgers had simply moved Gerrard into Henderson’s position, they might have fared better against a strong first half display from the London side. Not only does the Anfield legend create more chances than Henderson, at a chance every 34 minutes, but he also has a better shooting accuracy at 55%. On top of the superior attacking stats, Gerrard wins more ground 50-50s (55%-43%) and significantly more aerial duels (58%-35%). The young Henderson, who has been under a lot of criticism following his move from The Stadium of Light, only slightly has a better mins per possession won stat – at once per 14 minutes – just 60 seconds less than Gerrard.
Chelsea’s Solid Defensive Structure
Being the intelligent tactician that Rafael Benitez is, he had a plan for Liverpool, as his Chelsea side sat deep for the most part, with his holding midfielders looking to break down the home side’s attacks predominantly through interceptions. This strategy worked quite successfully during the first 45 minutes, as the likes of Phillipe Coutinho managed to complete just 53% of his passes which lead him to be taken off at the break.
Despite playing deep however, Benitez still had his men press high up field, with Mata mainly putting pressure on the Liverpool defence alongside his Spanish teammate Torres. In contrast to the Spanish duo, Hazard and Oscar both tracked back well, to form two organised banks of four behind a ‘1-1’ in attack.
The problem with Mata’s pressing above the deeper midfield was that there was often space in between the duo and the midfield. In order to counter this, either Mikel or Ramires pushed up to close down the space, however this left their partner on his own when up against a bank of 3 – had Rodgers been braver to drop the likes of Suarez into midfield behind Sturridge, maybe Liverpool would’ve capitalised on this during the first half.
And Liverpool’s Solution in Sturridge
There were numerous reasons as to why Rodgers brought on Sturridge against his former club at half time, some tactical and some not.
One, the forward was hungry, as most players are when they return to their old side, Sturridge was energetic when coming in from the right, and really upped Liverpool’s tempo after a slow first half for them.
Rodgers made the decision to bring on Sturridge to infuse a faster tempo up front after the home side were sluggish in the first half. His fast and direct running really procured a start to the second half which was poles apart from their previous display.
Secondly, Luis Suarez was isolated upfield. During the first 45, the Uruguayan rarely received the ball near Chelsea’s area, mainly due to their good defending, but also that the forward had little support from the ‘3’ behind him as the received passes chalkboard shows. Because of the lack of help from deeper positions, Suarez’ (and Liverpool’s) first shot came in the 43rd minute.
By adding a player like Sturridge into the attack, who looks to get forward at every opportunity, he carried the ball to Suarez more often, who definitely benefited from the substitution.
His introduction sparked a lethal partnership between him, Suarez and Gerrard – and it worked instantly in his attack just 10 seconds following the restart.
With Suarez and Sturridge making opposite runs, the former going from inside to out, and the latter cutting in towards goal, Chelsea’s defence were stuck, and their unorganised setup gave Gerrard the space to make those runs from deep that he executes so well.
Outside to Inside Play from Liverpool
In an attempt to create more space against Chelsea, who as I previously stated, were defending very narrowly, Rodgers created a rough ‘pattern’ for attack.
Take Sturridge’s first shot just moments after the play I just analysed, the transition starts in defence, where Carragher starts with the ball. The Anfield legend advances play by playing the ball wide to Johnson. After dragging three Chelsea players towards him, Johnson then plays the ball back inside to Henderson, this small ‘wall pass’ of sorts quickly puts 4 Chelsea players out of the game – leaving Ramires isolated all on his own in the centre with Sturridge and Gerrard by him.
The pockets of space around Ramires were nowhere to be seen during the first half, and could’ve been taken advantage of by Liverpool. However Sturridge decided to take matters upon himself and all credit to the man who had been on the pitch for only a minute, as he hit a brilliant shot only to be beaten by the post.
To make a general analysis of how Liverpool created space in the second half, they passed the ball from central areas to wide, which dragged the centrally positioned players out to the touch-line, this often left space in the centre to then pass back into and exploit with the likes of Gerrard as I mentioned before.
Liverpool continued using these patterns to create the space, and even scored their first goal with the help of this strategy, as Luiz had drifted out wide leaving Sturridge against Ivanovic in the middle.
Chelsea deservedly lead at the break however a rejuvenated Liverpool spurred on by a former blue – Daniel Sturridge – came out and attacked Chelsea. Liverpool created four clear-cut chances in the second half of which they converted two. Suarez and Sturridge were certainly linking unbelievably well creating and scoring a goal each however controversial events on the pitch have more than likely ensured that the both of them will not play together until next season. A draw was a fair result in the end but Benitez will be disappointed at conceding a goal so late on in the game.
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