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Tactics Board: 18-year-old Elliott excels for Liverpool but Klopp frustrated by 10-man Chelsea

Shane Keegan takes a close look at Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Anfield.

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HAVING MANAGED A number of clubs in the League of Ireland, Shane Keegan is one of the country’s top coaches.

For the 2021/22 season, The42 has introduced a new series that will provide an additional layer of quality analysis when it comes to our Premier League coverage.

On Mondays, the former Dundalk analyst will focus on a key fixture and break the 90 minutes down tactically in order to give readers a better understanding of what they watched over the weekend.

Here, he breaks down Saturday’s 1-1 draw between Liverpool and Chelsea. 

liverpool-v-chelsea-premier-league-anfield Thomas Tuchel and Jurgen Klopp sharing the touchline. Source: PA

If any team can put up a proper challenge to Manchester City this season, then you would imagine they are likely to emerge the two sides that met at Anfield on Saturday.

That made this an intriguing battle on the pitch, but also in the dugouts, where two of football’s most revered managers were going toe-to-toe.

Starting line ups

Liverpool made two changes to the starting line-up they fielded against Burnley.
A fit and rested Andy Robertson returned at left-back in place of Konstantinos Tsimikas. Tsimikas had actually done very well in his two starts to date but Jurgen Klopp always had this game pinpointed as a return date his first choice left-back.

The second change saw Roberto Firmino come in for Diego Jota. Like Tsimikas, Jota has also been impressive in the season openers with a goal in each of the first two games and he will have been disappointed to miss out in such a big game. But Klopp had a very specific role in mind for Brazilian Firmino, his go to man when he requires a big defensive shift from the centre forward position.

The biggest surprise from the Liverpool team sheet though was the change that wasn’t made, as 18- year-old Harvey Elliott retaining his place in the side.

With Thiago, Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade- Chamberlain all fit and available, this was a massive show of faith in the young midfielder by Klopp.

Chelsea made just one change to side which had given them a comfortable win the previous weekend against Arsenal. Mateo Kovacic, arguably their best player in that game, dropped out of the team to allow for a first start of this season for N’Golo Kante.

Interestingly, Mason Mount and Kai Havertz started on the opposite sides of the field from the roles they performed so impressively in that Arsenal win.

Two very different halves

Usually when we hear of ‘a game of two halves’ it means that different teams have been on top either side of the break. But here, Liverpool were on top right throughout the game yet you feel that both halves have to be analysed very differently.

This is not just because of the timing of the Chelsea sending off, right on half time, but also because of the substitutions both teams made around that time.

Firmino stops Chelsea’s midfield overload

One of those changes saw the removal of Firmino due to an injury he picked up. Firmino
had performed his ‘defensive centre forward’ duties brilliantly in the first half and had the game remained 11 v 11 for the second half, his loss would have been more greatly felt.

An early tackle on Havertz showed what he does so well, forcing a turnover that led to a chance that saw Elliott fire narrowly wide, and he continued in this vein throughout.

Pic 1

Below you will see two examples of just how diligent he was in ensuring Jorginho didn’t get time on the ball. With Chelsea playing their usual box four shape in the middle of
the field, this role was crucial in making sure Liverpool weren’t outnumbered in that area.

Pic 2

Pic 3

Crucially, after helping turn possession over, he also used the ball very well. Here we see him picking the ball up deep and setting Mo Salah and Trent Alexander-Arnold away down the right before seconds later reappearing in the box as Henderson steered a great chance wide.

Pic 4

Pic 5

It would have been interesting to see if Klopp would have stuck with Firmino in the second half against Chelsea’s ten men, as his role would now have become somewhat redundant. It is worth noting that he had no touches in the box while on the field whereas his replacement Jota finished with five, more than any other player on the pitch despite only playing a half.

Tuchel’s changes serve their purpose

Thomas Tuchel was forced into two half time changes. With Kante picking up an injury late in the first half, Kovacic was sent in as his obvious replacement. The second of the changes though was more intriguing.

With Reece James sent off, Tuchel had the option of sliding Cesar Azpilicueta across to right-back allowing them to play with a 4-4-1 shape. Instead though, he decided to sacrifice one of his tens in Havertz, and replaced him with centre-back Thiago Silva. This allowed Chelsea to stay with their back five, with Azpilicueta going out to James’s right wing-back position, while Mount came deeper to become part of a midfield three in a 5-3-1 formation.

Initially the new shape looked as though it might be inviting too much pressure with Liverpool having no less than five very good attempts at goal in the opening 15 minutes of the half but as the half wore on Chelsea adapted well.

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They narrowed up at the back, only sending a wing-back out when they had to, before quickly retreating. This allowed them to get out to Liverpool players much quicker when shooting opportunities looked like opening up centrally.

Pic 6

Most impressive of all was Chelsea’s fantastic discipline. Amazingly, they didn’t commit a single foul in the entire second half of the game and won all 15 of their attempted tackles in the final third of the field.

Pic 7 Source: StatsZone

Summary

Klopp will be frustrated that his side couldn’t take advantage of their extra man in the second half and claim a big win so early in the season.

All three of Liverpool’s best chances came in the first half when both sides were at their full complement, a point that is both a positive and a negative. Klopp should be particularly disappointed at how little joy he got down his team’s right, even though
their best player, Elliott, featured prominently on that side.

Elliott had an excellent game. He played the second most passes on the pitch and nobody got close to him for successful passes in the final third. The highest passing combination in the game, normally the preserve of one centre back playing to the other, was his 18 successful balls to Salah.

But still the balance just didn’t seem to right out there. Klopp has increasingly used Alexander- Arnold in a narrow role on the right, which has knock on effects for other players positioning, and you would have to wonder if this makes the most of their talents.

The image below shows a permutation that was consistent right throughout the game, with Alexander-Arnold central, Elliott advanced and Salah out wide.

Pic 8

As the attacks plays out, we see Elliott receive the ball in a situation that Salah would surely love to have found himself. How often and we seen him bend one into the top corner from there?

Pic 9

Elliott though decides to play the pass to his right where you now have Salah, rather than Alexander-Arnold who is probably the best crosser in the league, putting in the delivery and the attach peters out.

Pic 10

For the reasons above, it will be interesting to see Klopp sticks with this tactic.
Despite the disappointing result, Liverpool still showed enough on Saturday to suggest that they will be right there come the business end of the season.

As for Tuchel, the newly crowned Uefa Men’s Coach of the Year, Saturday served as more proof as to just why he picked up that award.

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