As most are aware, I frequently trawl through Liverpool's chalkboards after games looking for inspiration. Stats never tell a full story, but often help color in between the narrative's lines. Today I thought I'd show how Liverpool controlled yesterday's game by using Chelsea's chalkboards.
Having three at the back was obviously the main difference, man-marking both Chelsea strikers with an additional CB to pick up the pieces, but Lucas' role also blunted Chelsea's effectiveness. The deep-lying midfielder was able to control Chelsea's attacking pivot – Anelka. Sunderland's unbalanced 4-5-1 saw Sessesgnon – ostensibly the left winger – more often inside, creating a midfield diamond with Malbranque, Richardson, and Henderson while Elmohamady provided width on the right. But none of those four midfielders had a strictly defensive brief; all four prefer to get forward to join the attack. Without an out-and-out holding player, Anelka had the freedom of the pitch.
Man of the match mid-week with a goal and assist, Anelka attempted 16 more passes against Sunderland, completing 12 more, and was busier in all areas of the opposition half. Against Liverpool, he was restricted to a smaller section of the pitch, far more central, where Lucas could stay in front of him.
Lampard and Essien:
Meanwhile, Chelsea's other "attacking" midfielders – Lampard and Essien, the sides of the diamond – were also far less potent. There is a distinct pattern to their play against Sunderland: Lampard stayed primarily on the left, Essien on the right. Both players had a higher pass completion rate against Liverpool, but both perpetually roamed instead of staying in defined roles, trying to force a break-through, unable to come to terms with Liverpool's stymieing formation. In addition, far more passes from both are either sideways or backwards against Liverpool compared to against Sunderland.
Torres v Kalou:
Yikes. Bad day at the office. To be fair, it was Torres' debut. But still. Yikes. It goes without saying that a striker needs to be more diligent when the team's struggling. But Torres doesn't go looking for chances; he needs to be presented with them. And Chelsea's creators couldn't do so. Which is why Chelsea's record signing was hauled off with the score level and a third of the game left to play.
All together, it led to a far reduced attacking output, which was clearly Liverpool's intent. Chelsea took eight less shots on Sunday. Half of those shots came from outside the box. None of the shots from distance found the target. Only one – when Anelka put Malouda through in the 73rd minute – forced a save from Reina, and with Malouda pushed to a narrow angle, it wasn't a difficult save. When Liverpool went ahead by a goal, the wing-backs quickly converted to more orthodox full-backs, shutting down another area of the pitch and congesting the final third, limiting Chelsea chances even further. Against Sunderland, Chelsea created shots from all angles, with four goals from nine attempts on target.
After Wednesday's match against Stoke, most assumed Liverpool's 3-4-2-1 was a one-off tactic. Now we're wondering if that match was a preview for stopping Chelsea or hearkened a tactical revolution devised to reinvigorate a shaky defense. It worked as planned in both matches, but I'm still skeptical that it's a long-term solution, especially when Suarez and Carroll come into the fold.
We'll find out a lot more on Saturday, when Liverpool host struggling Wigan. At home against a side that almost always plays 4-5-1 – without the aerial threat Stoke provides – Liverpool seem likely to focus on attack rather than defense.