- In terms of styles, this is Jurgen Klopp’s immovable pressing force against Maurizio Sarri’s unstoppable passing object. And though Klopp and Sarri are defined by pressing and passing, their contrasting play demonstrates how modernity isn’t defined so much in possession versus defending, but in a high tempo and in shutting off space. We got a taste of their back and forth, end to end matchup on Wednesday in the Carabao Cup, in which Chelsea handed Liverpool its first defeat of the season in any competition with a 2-1 win.
- That match was defined by Eden Hazard destroying Liverpool’s defense with this individual goal, weaving in and out past three defenders. Sarri maintains that we’ve only seen 80% of Hazard’s potential.
- In terms of this extreme pressing versus extreme possession matchup, Liverpool’s dominant performances against Manchester City last season is the closest corollary. Their high press overwhelmed any quick passing sequences from Pep Guardiola’s side.
- From that perspective, the most important player for Chelsea is Jorginho as compared to Fernandinho in the same role for City. In setting a record with 180 passes against West Ham last weekend, we’re beginning to see why Guardiola pushed so hard to sign him.
- Klopp said his side wanted to “strike back” immediately after the midweek loss. Sarri continues to downplay his side’s potential this season, saying that Liverpool are the ones more prepared to win trophies.
- The biggest tactical problem Sarri currently faces is in getting the best from N’Golo Kante with Jorginho at the base of midfield. Kante has played further up the field in an attacking role, leading to questions about if he’s suited to play under the Italian manager.
- There are eight changes in Chelsea’s starting eleven from Wednesday, and nine changes in Liverpool’s lineup.
- This match is playing out as expected with Chelsea in possession early, attacking through the wings with Hazard and Willian.
- Liverpool are the side defined by their press, but Chelsea are responding with a high press on their own. Liverpool’s response to Chelsea pressure shows how important it was to get Virgil van Dijk fit and back in the lineup.
- Likewise, Liverpool probably have the fastest counter attack in the world, but Chelsea have their own version of a counter attacking front three with Hazard, Willian and Olivier Giroud. In true Giroud fashion, he has yet to score a goal in the league this season but his hold-up play and workrate are vital in creating space for Hazard and Willian.
- A “Jorginho against the press” update: van Dijk stepped in front of a wayward pass from the Italian in his own half, and played it quickly for Sadie Mane to get off a shot.
- A “Kante’s positioning” update: he’s taking up space on the right wing and right half space, connecting Willian and Cesar Azpilicueta in attack and defense.
- The end-to-end match is a byproduct of wingers taking advantage of the space their respective fullback leaves behind: from Mo Salah vs. Marcos Alonso, Willian vs. Andy Robertson, Hazard vs. Trent Alexander Arnold, and Mane vs. Azpilicueta, this is a series of matchups centered around space and pace.
- The best chance of the match thus far was created by a long ball from David Luiz into Willian, who snuck in front of Robertson.
- The Chelsea goal was coming, but the interplay between Hazard’s backheel, one touch passes between Kovacic and Jorginho, and Kovacic’s through ball into Hazard was unplayable and stunning.
- Liverpool respond with Salah’s shot getting cleared off the line by Antonio Rudiger. The chorus of how fit Salah actually is grows louder.
- As the first half ends, Chelsea imposing their style shows the importance of Naby Keita in Liverpool’s midfield balance. Jordan Henderson and Gini Wijnaldum are redundant at the base of midfield with their tidy passing and lack of dynamism to break through into Chelsea’s backline.
- Kepa has a highlight reel save against Mane to start the second half, but his work in possession has controlled Liverpool’s press from creating chaos.
- Chelsea again go on an end to end counter attack with Kante and Willian. Willian has gotten the best of Robertson going forward. And Kante is not an attacking midfielder but he is tidy in possession and he provides crucial balance alongside Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic.
- There was a moment when Jorginho went to press Robertson and was the most forward player in the Chelsea lineup. That’s another example of how important he is to leading the team on both ends, and how essential it was for Sarri to sign a player already familiar with his style.
- After getting yelled at by Klopp midweek, Shaqiri surprisingly replaces Salah. The common refrain is that Salah’s stats this season are similar to last year’s record breaking numbers regardless of whether he’s still working his way back to full sharpness. Shaqiri subsequently misses a good chance from a Robertson cross. Firmino then gets his header cleared off the line by Luiz.
- Keita and Barkley come on to reinforce each side’s midfield. Kovacic is the least discussed of the Chelsea midfield three, but his combination of physicality and passing offers a middle ground between Jorginho and Kante.
- Liverpool have had the ball all second half with little penetration. Chelsea’s defensive shape has been excellent.
- Thus, the only way Liverpool could score against Chelsea is something like an out of nowhere, moment of swerving genius from Daniel Sturridge. That goal came from absolutely nothing as Sturridge continues his renaissance as Liverpool’s most dangrous poacher off the bench.
- The match appropriately ends with a final Alonso chance off a corner kick. Sarri and Klopp smile and hug after the experience, representing the excitement and tactical innovation of two of the most forward thinking managers in the Premier League. Manchester City are now on top on goal difference, with Liverpool and Chelsea just behind.
- After the match, Klopp revealed the joy of his locker room in stealing a point. Sarri, on the other hand, admits Chelsea are much closer to Liverpool and Manchester City than he imagined.
Premier League Match Abstract: Liverpool 1, Chelsea 1