After a compact 3-1 win over Brighton courtesy Reece James’ thunderbolt strike, Chelsea are all set to face the reigning champions, Liverpool, in their first home fixture of the season.
However, beating the Merseyside team will put the Blues to test. The absence of Hakim Ziyech, Ben Chilwell, and Christian Pulisic indicates that Chelsea have their task cut out. So how do Chelsea beat the mighty Liverpool?
Attack the weaker center-back and press Alisson
Virgil Van Dijk is arguably been the best center-back in the world for the last couple of seasons but Jurgen Klopp has found it hard to find an ideal partner for the Dutchman.
Dejan Lovren who has now departed for Zenit Saint Petersburg was not the most convincing option. Meanwhile, teammate Joel Matip has been a good squad player but when called upon to act, has been prone to occasional blunders.
Joe Gomez who is widely regarded as Van Dijk’s preferred partner is yet to prove his reliability at the back. Gomez had a dismal showing in Liverpool’s opening clash against Leeds United. The newly-promoted side regularly put pressure on the right-sided center-back which yielded Gomez to make errors that almost cost Liverpool the match.
This was not the first time Gomez cracked under pressure. Last season against Manchester City, the English defender gave away a cheap penalty to Raheem Sterling and was substituted at half-time for his underwhelming performance. He has repeatedly struggled in the past against teams that play a high-octane pressing style of football.
Gomez is not the only one who feels weak in the knees while facing high pressing teams. Goalkeeper Alisson Becker has had his fair share of issues as well while facing pressure from opposition forwards.
Alisson crumbled when put under pressure by Reiss Nelson in the 2-1 loss against Arsenal towards the end of the season. The Brazilian most notably made a similar mistake against Leicester City in his debut season for the club.
The Liverpool back-line have looked vulnerable and have shortcomings that need to be ironed out. Chelsea forwards should take note of them and look to exploit the holes in the Liverpool wall.
Exploit the space left in between the lines
Sometimes your strengths can become your weakness. Liverpool’s full-backs and midfielders have been impeccable and shown their quality consistently throughout the last few seasons. In Klopp’s style of play, a few prominent gaps are left in the pitch and if Chelsea can exploit it, they could make a difference.
This was best executed by the Blues in their 2-1 loss to Liverpool last year in the Premier League. Central Midfielder Mateo Kovacic received the ball from Marcos Alonso before launching it to Cesar Azpilicueta who had acres of space ahead of him. As Azpilicueta burst forward, he found himself free because no Liverpool winger tracked him back. They held their shape but the Spaniard found Kante with an easy pass who in turn decided to take on the Anfield midfield.
To surprise all present at Stamford Bridge, Kante completed the dribble without much intent from the opposition and even found space to shoot. Although not known for his goals, Kante scored and highlighted Liverpool’s holes in between the midfielders and full-backs.
Play to our strengths
Chelsea has the best chance of beating Liverpool if they play to their strengths. A stylistic change is not desirable for this fixture and Lampard need not do anything extra to beat Klopp’s team. However, being a proactive coach, Lampard could make changes if things don’t go Chelsea’s way. But there is a high chance of success with the current group of players Lampard has at his disposal.
Liverpool’s full-backs do not enjoy defending against pacy forwards as displayed in the 3-0 demolition by Nigel Pearson’s Watford last season. Ismail Sarr kept targeting the left-side and made runs into danger areas resulting in a man of the match performance. He bagged two goals and one assist. The Anfield full-backs have also struggled while facing Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling and Riyad Mahrez when they clashed towards the end of the season in a 4-0 loss.
In the German duo of Timo Werner and Kai Havertz, Chelsea have the pace and skill required to exploit the full-backs. Both players have a tendency of moving towards the flanks. Additionally, Lampard has attacking full-backs in Reece James and Marcos Alonso to support the German forwards.
Winning the battle on the pitch will require a great deal of work in the midfield as well. After losing the ball, winning it back is a key aspect of how both managers operate and if Chelsea can use their resources to do so successfully, they could emerge victoriously. Kante’s relentless energy and excellent ball-winning abilities as a box-to-box midfielder can give Chelsea an edge over their counterparts. Mason Mount and Kai Havertz are aggressive in their pressing and their fresh legs can outperform the aging midfield trio of Liverpool.
Meanwhile, Chelsea can count on Jorginho or Kovacic to build-up play from a deeper midfield role. While Jorginho was the preferred partner to Kante in the opening match against Brighton, it is Kovacic who could prove to be a threat in creating chances for the Blues. With Eden Hazard gone, the title of best dribbler in the Blues camp was handed over to Kovacic who completed 2.5 dribbles per game last season in the Premier League
A strong display from goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga just as he did against the same opposition in the FA Cup tie earlier this year, could seal the deal for Chelsea