Coming into the game at the back of a 3-1 win in the first leg of the Champions League Quarter Finals at Anfield, Chelsea already had placed themselves into the path to reach the Semi Finals of the 2008/09 Season. Chelsea had all the rights to be complacent in the game as they had the two goal lead from first leg but it was no cake walk as Liverpool had beaten Real Madrid 4-0 in the round of 16.
Both the captains missed the game as the Chelsea captain John Terry was suspended and Gerrard was side lined due to groin injury. With no JT in the line up, the onus fell on Lampard to see his side through and oh boy, he did take his game seriously and produced one of his best displays ever in a Chelsea shirt. With Liverpool taking up the initiative to score the early goals only for Chelsea to find their way back, the game was never lacking drama.
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Chelsea (4-3-3/4-2-3-1) | Manager: Guus Hiddink
1.Cech – 2.Ivanovic, 6.Carvalho, 33.Alex, 3.Ashley Cole – 13.Ballack, 5.Essien, 8.Lampard – 21.Kalou, 11.Drogba,15.Malouda
Liverpool (4-3-3) | Manager: Rafa Benitez
25.Reina – 17.Arbeloa, 37.Skrtel, 23.Carragher, 12. Aurelio – 21.Lucas, 20.Mascherano, 14.Xabi Alonso – 18.Kuyt, 9.Torres, 15.Benayoun
The game started initially with both the teams lined up in same structure. The two sides deployed a back four with three central midfielders and three forwards. For Chelsea, Cech’s goal was guarded by Ivanovic, Carvalho, Alex and Cole. Hiddink had to go for a makeshift back four with the absence of captain, Terry. In the centre, Ballack, Essien and Lampard started the game with Essien playing as the lone defensive midfielder while Lampard and Ballack were seen making foreign movements upfront. Drogba was the target man for the likes of Lampard and company and he was flanked by Kalou and Malouda in both the sides.
On the other hand, the Dutch manager’s Spanish counterpart had made some changes in the centre of the field after Gerrard’s absence. The trio of Xabi Alonso, Mascherano and Lucas started the game in front of a back four which constituted the likes of Arbeloa, Skrtel, Carragher and Aurelio. Pepe Reina started the game in between the sticks as Torres lead the Kops attacks along with Kuyt on the right and Benayoun on the left.
Liverpool’s early dominance
It should be rightly stated that it was Liverpool who started the game on a brighter note and they took the initiative the find the back of the net. It was a brave and yet the right move by Benitez go out full on attack and dominate the London club as they were facing the side with a two goal deficit to be overturned. For the most part of the first half, Liverpool had great control and it was because of their numerical and positional overloading in midfield. Liverpool often worked the ball out from the back thanks to the movements of Xabi Alonso.
In a team which comprises a midfield of Lucas, Alonso and Mascherano, one would expect Mascherano to do the anchorage while Alonso creates play a bit further up fornt. But what happened here was quite amazing and how Liverpool were able to acquire their positional stability through Xabi Alonso. Xabi Alonso became the dictator of the team as he always fell back to collect the ball from defense and pass it on to the next line of attack and in the absence of Gerrard the onus fell on him to bring out the ball astutely. Only in defensive phases he would be joined by the Argentinian. The presence of the Spanish midfielder in the deep allowed the full backs to fan out to build out from the back and maintain possession.
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The way in which Liverpool were able to maintain discipline in building possession was quite intriguing as Alonso became the focal point and this resulted in formation of triangles. This was essential for Liverpool and this helped the ball carrier to find the other players in central as well as wide areas with no big threat. This positional discipline also helped Liverpool to be strict at the back not allowing any loose passes that would favour Chelsea.
The triangle in the centre also made sure that the connectivity between them was maintained and this helped them to dominate the midfield. From the first image it is visible that Liverpool are maintaining a back three in order to help their case to play out from the back however the back three here comprises of Srktel, Carragher and Aurelio. A certain right back in Arbeloa would move upfront very often to join the offensive players in the attacking stages.
His high positioning in that flank allowed Liverpool more width in the right and his presence helped Kuyt move more central than before to play as a support striker at times. This positioning from Arbeloa was solely done in order to accommodate Kuyt’s movements infield and again, constituting a positional and numerical advantage.
Also it can be noted from the above image how Liverpool helped themselves in order to maintain possession through good positional structure and organisation.
In the video it can be seen how the 4-3-3 worked when Liverpool initially had the ball at the back. Both the full backs fanned out allowing the orchestrator of the team to fall back and to start the next line of attack. In certain instances, the full backs of Liverpool often broke into space in the half spaces by using wingers or the ball near central midfielder. In the left flank, Aurelio would often run into the half space in the final third as the winger Benayoun would often stay wide to provide the width. These movements are understood from the below video.
On the other hand in the opposite flank, Arbeloa would run into half space occupying the position of a number 8 and here the ball near central midfielder, say Mascherano, would move into the wide areas. Lucas would often stay central operating as a no 10 behind Torres. The three forwards were often found in the edge of the box and were well connected between each other. The below image depicts the same. Through brilliant understanding between the players and great connectivity, Liverpool were able to shift their momentum to goal scoring chances.
One of the most important perspectives from a Liverpool point of view should be the movements of Xabi Alonso. As usual, the Spanish midfielder shuttled up and down the pitch and was often found playing the ball high up top to find the forwards in space. He was also adept at falling back to collect the ball from behind and his ability to play long balls to wide players in space was highlighted. He literally was everywhere and Liverpool functioned through him.
Hiddink brings in Anelka, provides structural clarity
After the 2-0 lead, it was only 3-3 on aggregate and Liverpool just needed another goal going into the break. At the cusp of half time, Hiddink brought in Anelka who being a striker had the capability to play wide. In this case after trailing 2-0 at the hands of Liverpool at home, one would expect the Dutch manager to play two up front however Anelka was deployed in for Kalou and he was positioned in the right with Malouda occupying the opposite flank. The shape now became a 4-4-1-1 with 4 players now in midfield for Chelsea. This gave them the numerical advantage in midfield and thereby taking control of the proceedings. Lampard was given a free role behind Drogba and he excelled in it.
It can be identified from the above image how Spurs lined up after the introduction of Anelka. The two wingers were pulled back allowing Lampard to play the free role behind Drogba. Also in the defensive phases this helped them drastically as the midfield was packed in numbers by the Chelsea players. They defended in a 4-1-4-1 with Essien being the lone defensive. Ballack and Lampard would join the wide players to form the structure whenever the team went on to defensive phase. It is visible from the below image as to how Chelsea defended with improved structure after reorganizing themselves. It can be noted from the below image how Chelsea were able to mark the players using the 4-1-4-1.
After the start of the second half, Anelka and Malouda swapped positions as the former occupied the right flank. He was effective in creating spaces for the ball near midfielder to tuck into the half space when he carried the ball and as well as linking up with the midfielder. Anelka also occupied spaces in the wide areas thereby attracting players towards him which opened up the space for others.
Goals galore in final 10 minutes
As Chelsea scored their first goal, they started to grow in confidence to score the next. However a strong midfield contingent of Liverpool dominated the Chelsea defence in the middle and final third and hence the London club had to settle to defend and counter tactic. This however paid great dividends for Chelsea as they exposed Liverpool when they hit them on the counter. After equalizing 2-2 through a free kick from Alex, Lampard’s brilliant positioning in the box helped him to find Chelsea’s third goal through a quick break.
This gave Chelsea a massive chance of putting them into the next round only for Liverpool to mount pressure on the home team by scoring two goals in three minutes. As Chelsea adopted to defend in a narrow 4-4-2 with both Anelka and Drogba up top, Liverpool rightfully created overloads in the wide areas in the final stages to score the goals. As the game wore on, the mental ability of the players to with stand the game outshined the tactical aspects. The basic idea revolved around playing the ball to the man in the wide areas after creating space out wide by central density by occupancy.
Lucas equalized for the Reds through a deflection which found the back of the net as Kuyt scored another one. At a certain point it looked as though Liverpool were in the driver’s seat and needed only one more goal to qualify to the next stage. However the Blues captain in–charge sailed his side to the next round by finding the next goal.
With both the captains missing out for their teams, it should be stated it was Chelsea who missed their captain the most after leaking out 4 goals at the back. The presence of a figure like John Terry would’ve even nullified the Liverpool attack to a certain extent. The onus fell on Lampard and he however made amends as wanted by his team and his manager.
Often from dropping deep to initiate an attack to playing up forward and scoring goals, Lampard played the most important role alongside the box to box midfielder Ballack. The team’s transitions from defense to attack depended on Lampard’s movements. Adopting the 4-4-1-1 during the initial phase of an attack, the team quickly transitioned to a 4-2-3-1 and then to 4-3-3. Lampard played at the top of the midfield triangle in the 4-3-3 system and most importantly he was adept at arriving very late into the danger zones.
The positions he took up just behind the defenders to score the goals spoke volumes of his ability to arrive late into the box. Defensively Lampard was astute in tracking back opponents and winning the ball back. He also created the chance for the first goal scored by Drogba along with many other telling chances. With two goals scored on that day, Lampard produced one of the best displays in front of his home crowd.
At 0-2 and 3-4, Liverpool just needed one goal to progress to the next round and on both occasions they were denied by a resilient Chelsea side who soaked up the pressure. The result in the first leg didn’t actually matter as Chelsea answered to the questions which Liverpool had raised, thereby ending the Liverpool hopes of Istanbul 2.0. With 8 goals scored, it should be said that the speed and energetic aspects of the Premier League teams overtook the tactical part of the game as it proved a classic entertainer for the neutrals. Chelsea 4-4 Liverpool will always be one of the best Champions League games to have ever played by two English sides.