Statistical outlook: Why did Chelsea’s plan fail against Liverpool?

Premier League: 2018/19: Liverpool vs Chelsea Tactical Analysis Statistics
Artwork by @chapluana

Title-chasing Liverpool registered their first win over the Blues at Anfield since 2012. Second half goals from Sadio Mané and Mo Salah undid all of Chelsea’s good work stifling the Reds.

Maurizio Sarri made a tactical shift to the false nine system for the huge clash and this tactical analysis explains what went wrong.

Starting lineups

Jürgen Klopp opted for his trusted lineup; sticking with in-form Naby Keïta who was beginning to show why they paid around £52million for him having scored in consecutive games.

Maurizio Sarri, on the other hand, tinkered with his team and shifted Eden Hazard to the middle to allow Willian help out defensively down the left.

Premier League: 2018/19: Liverpool vs Chelsea Tactical Analysis Statistics
Credit: Wyscout.

It was a cagey first half with few chances here and there. Chelsea predictably defended deep in the early exchanges and looked to hit on the counter through N’golo Kanté, Willian and Hazard. Callum Hudson-Odoi had the daunting task of tracking Andy Robertson’s marauding overlaps down Chelsea’s right and barely had any attacking contribution.


It is pertinent to note Chelsea’s conservative approach from the off, decent defensive numbers read; five blocked shots, 12 defensive aerials to Liverpool’s eight, 30 successful tackles from 38 attempts (79%) to 20 tackles from 35 for Liverpool (57%), 31 clearances to 14, 10 interceptions to Liverpool’s 14 and being dribbled past eight times to dribbling past Liverpool players 15 times.

Lack of rhythm/creativity

Despite stealing the ball from the opposition often; the Blues lost possession almost immediately and failed to create many chances or finish off the few they had.

Ruben Loftus-Cheek was meant to be the creative ball-carrier to dribble the ball up the pitch into areas that hurt Liverpool; he succeeded with only one dribble in 74 minutes and failed to combine effectively with the attackers, registering three bad controls and getting dispossessed three times.

The whole team had 39% ball possession, 323 accurate passes from 400, 27 long balls (51%) and 13% accurate crosses. Three shots on target from six, they created two big chances which were either saved or hit the post; and completed 71% of their dribbles.

Lack of a focal point

Chelsea really should have started with Olivier Giroud, to engage Virgil Van Dijk and allow the likes of Hazard do damage on the left. The target man would have also been vital in holding the ball up and relieving the pressure on his team; as well as better utilising the counter attacks. This was laid bare by the fact that none of Chelsea’s counters in the first half resulted in a big chance.

Premier League: 2018/19: Liverpool vs Chelsea Tactical Analysis Statistics
Eden Hazard’s heatmap

Premier League: 2018/19: Liverpool vs Chelsea Tactical Analysis Statistics
Chelsea’s heatmap [credit: WhoScored]
As the heatmap shows; the Blues barely had a presence in the box as Hazard arrived on the counter and had moves halted in the channels. Gonzalo Higuaín came on with over 30 minutes to play and Hazard had more impact on the left. Callum Hudson-Odoi too played 55 anonymous minutes; the teenager did more defensive work but his superb crossing would have been useful for Giroud, with two crosses that found no blue shirt in the box.

Gulf in quality

This game, more than anything, showed the gulf in class between both teams at the moment. While this is a game Chelsea would have at least drawn in recent years, Liverpool are gunning for the Premier League title. The superior individual technical quality of the Liverpool players shone through and they bombarded their way through Chelsea; fullbacks Alexander-Arnold and Robertson delivered crosses and long passes at will. While Chelsea’s pair of fullbacks had two crosses and five long passes between them.

Premier League: 2018/19: Liverpool vs Chelsea Tactical Analysis Statistics
The average positions of both teams


Chelsea’s play could have been well-enhanced by a focal point in attack; they defended astutely but the game-plan was a striker short of delivering. Sarri compounded the outcome by bringing on Higuaín, who hasn’t looked sharp since joining Chelsea, straight after Liverpool’s goals. The team had been on a run of four straight victories, and Sarri simply shouldn’t have changed a winning team by dropping Giroud.

It took a moment of lapse (or perhaps an infringement) from Emerson to get Liverpool going, and Salah’s goal could have been avoided with more concentration. It required big performances from Loftus-Cheek and Hudson-Odoi to get a result but they could not deliver.

This fixture has seen late goals recently and both teams have scored a combined 40 late goals this season; Liverpool (21) and Chelsea (19) top that particular chart but Chelsea’s third game this week made a late comeback impossible. Now the Blues have to fight in the remaining four league games hoping results elsewhere deliver a top four place.

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