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Liverpool vs Chelsea – Tactical Preview Of The Big Clash Between Klopp’s Reds And Conte’s Blues

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Liverpool vs Chelsea – A Tactical Preview

Liverpool will aim to extend their unbeaten run against Chelsea to 6 games when they host the defending Premier League champions at Anfield on Saturday.

The last time Chelsea defeated Liverpool in the Premier League was on November 8, 2014, a 2-1 away victory thanks to goals from Gary Cahill and Diego Costa. Chelsea, in fact, have not lost any of their last 5 Premier League visits to Anfield; their last defeat came on May 8, 2012.

To start with the hosts on Saturday; since his arrival at Anfield in 2015, Jurgen Klopp has been praised for his style of play at Liverpool. Using ‘Gegenpressing’, Klopp has got Liverpool playing an attractive and high-octane brand of football.

Klopp has made it perfectly clear as to how he likes his team to play; a 4-3-3 formation with a defensive midfielder splitting the opposition with his passes and the full-backs surging further forward.

In contrast, the last 16 months that Antonio Conte has spent as manager of Chelsea has seen a great evolution in the team’s shape. Conte began with an exciting 4-2-4 formation which was followed by a brief return to the 4-2-3-1.

Following the 3-0 defeat to Arsenal last season, the Italian changed his system to a 3-4-3 set-up, which became the blueprint for their title triumph last season – ahead of Manchester City, Spurs and Liverpool. The most impressive thing about Conte is his willingness to learn from mistakes and his ability to alter tactics when it’s clearly not working.

The Story So Far This Season…

Klopp’s Liverpool have continued their mysterious Jekyll and Hyde act. When they have the ball, the team is an absolute delight to watch with their fearsome attackers ramming rounds into the cannon time and again.

Sadio Mane, Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino have all impressed this season but its Mohamed Salah’s return to England that has allowed him to steal the thunder away from his fellow attackers. The Egyptian leads the Premier League top scorers’ chart with 9 goals, ahead of the likes of traditional forwards Harry Kane, Romelu Lukaku and Sergio Aguero etc.

Without the ball, the Reds are simply gloomy, and at times very embarrassing – given their 5-0 harrowing at Manchester City and a 4-1 defeat against Spurs. Despite opulence in the attack, they remain a tactically imbalanced, untrustworthy side just because of their defensive frailties.

This week’s shameful collapse away to Sevilla in the Champions League only highlighted how strange Klopp’s Liverpool side are and how broken their defence can be.

On the other hand, Chelsea have had their own ups and downs this campaign. The title defence kicked off with a defeat to Burnley and despite beating Spurs 2-1, Conte’s men witnessed 1-0 home defeat to Man City. Then came the two games against Roma in the Champions League that exposed Chelsea’s defence – a 3-3 draw at Stamford Bridge and a 3-0 annihilation in the reverse fixture.

Conte learnt from his mistakes and came out with a narrow 1-0 win over Manchester United and destroyed Qarabag on Wednesday in the Champions League in Azerbaijan.

Eden Hazard

Tactics

There’s a sense that Liverpool perhaps lack the guile or the ingenuity to break down opponents who sit deep against them. Klopp, a nonsense man, seems unlikely to change the habit of his career for just one game and should again go with the 4-3-3 formation, with the front three of Mane, Firmino and Salah intact.

He undoubtedly has a wealth of options to choose from, but moving Philippe Coutinho back into the engine room has affected the balance that Jordan Henderson, Georginio Wijnaldum and Emre Can provided at the start of the campaign.

Captain Henderson is in charge of controlling the game from his position between the defence and attacking midfield and his calm, meaningful distribution has become a key feature of Liverpool’s attacking play under the German gaffer.

With Coutinho set to be given a free license and Adam Lallana having just returned from a lengthy injury spell, expect either of Can or Wijnaldum to be dropped. It’d be a big call from Klopp’s part.

Joel Matip is expected to be fit for the game, which might give the Liverpool supporters a sense of relief, given they have leaked 17 goals this season. But if Dejan Lovren and not Ragnar Klavan partners Matip in defence, the Chelsea forwards would be licking their lips and the home fans would have to search for shelter before the first blow of the whistle.

Philippe Coutinho

For Conte however, things have panned out differently this season. In an ideal scenario, the Italian would have simply stuck to his winning template but, with opponents learning how to exploit his 3-4-3, he has gone one step further this season.

The manager chose to alter his system by introducing the 3-5-2, which has been a hit and miss to date. With an extra man in midfield, Conte experienced contrasting outcomes – a 1-0 defeat to City and a 3-3 home draw against Roma. With time, Chelsea’s players have become more comfortable with the formation’s demands and are getting used to the new shape.

In the 3-5-2 or at times 3-5-1-1, in a bulked-up midfield, the fit-again N’Golo Kante and summer signing Tiemoue Bakayoko have provided a proper screen to the defence that has looked a tad shaky at times. Cesc Fabregas has looked terrific, running the show from an advanced role. Inarguably, he lacks pace but his effectiveness in finding his teammates in the box remains unquestionable.

Eden Hazard, since returning from a broken ankle, has looked like his old-self, roaming freely behind striker Alvaro Morata, as a drifting No. 10. The Belgian has created and scored plenty of goals, and Liverpool need to watch out on Saturday.

Alvaro Morata

Conclusion

Liverpool’s main concern with Conte’s 3-5-2 is that they’d get overrun in central midfield. The setup is almost a direct response to Liverpool’s 4-3-3; their heaviest defeats in the Premier League this term, 5-0 to Manchester City and 4-1 to Spurs, both came against sides that used a tweaked 3-4-3 formation.

So it is all but guaranteed that Chelsea will line up in a 3-5-2 with their primary mission to first cancel out Liverpool’s buzzing attack and hit them on the counter through Morata, Hazard and the wing-backs. Alberto Moreno and Joe Gomez stepping up to the task will be crucial and Liverpool must also match Chelsea centrally.

It would be understandable if Chelsea protect themselves and avoid the knockout punches in the first 15-20 minutes, as there’s every chance of Klopp’s Liverpool shooting themselves out of the game.

At home and especially against top-six oppositions, Klopp boasts a fantastic record. Going by the fact, Chelsea defenders just cannot afford to give a yard of space to Liverpool’s expansive and breathtaking attacking trio.

Backing against goals is not the sensible option as a mouthwatering clash awaits on Saturday!