After returning to champion’s league action against Valencia on Tuesday for the first time since our 2018 round of 16 defeat against Barcelona, we face another tough fixture at the Bridge as we host top of the league Liverpool.
This will be our second meeting of the season already, after having faced off in the super cup in Istanbul. That was a match in which we were the better side in the first half, and for long periods in the match were able to restrict Liverpool’s ability to play out from the back. Our high tempo ball movement and link play in the final third caused them problems, and we can certainly take a lot of positives from that performance into Sunday’s league fixture. Liverpool played with a high back line at times in that match, which they have continued to do so in the league. Although they have had a fantastic start to the season, they do appear vulnerable if caught in transition with their back four close to the halfway line. We exploited that well in the super cup, and Newcastle highlighted that the weakness remains in the last league match at Anfield with their goal which came from a diagonal ball over the back four initially leaving the forward goal side, before Willems was picked out on the left, who cut inside to fire home. We’ve proved to be very good in transition from defence to attack so far this season, so chances can be created if we can hit the front three early on the counter attack. Secondly, we pressed extremely well against them in Istanbul, making it difficult for them to play out from the back into midfield, and forcing them to turn over possession on multiple occasions with long balls forward. I’m sure Frank will have noted this and worked on replicating those pressing tactics in training ahead of this fixture. There is real intrigue as to how Chelsea will line up for this one. Having played 3-4-2-1 in the last two matches, will the back three be retained here? I personally was a little surprised to see that formation used against Valencia midweek. Having heard Lampard’s after match comments from the win at Wolves using this system, it seemed as though it was deployed there particularly to combat the home sides 3-5-2 system. However the coaching staff obviously saw enough positives from it in the 2-5 win at Molineaux to warrant its retention on Tuesday. I’m not so sure we will line up this way on Sunday though. When analysing the super cup encounter, one of the reasons that there had been such an improvement between that match and the opening day defeat at Old Trafford was that areas which didn’t work particularly well from a defensive point of view in the 4-2-3-1 formation seen against Manchester United were remedied with a change in shape to 4-3-3 against Liverpool. This allowed us to carry out the press more effectively. This was a big plus, with our midfield three that night of Jorginho, Kovacic and Kante getting the better of opposite numbers Fabinho, Henderson and Milner. The way in which the pressing of Pulisic and Pedro was better supported from the midfielders, and the cover afforded behind the press to cut off outlet balls into Milner and Henderson forced Liverpool deeper. In possession all three central midfielders used the ball well that night also. With this in mind, combined with the possible omission of Mason Mount due to the ankle injury he sustained due to a shocking Coquelin tackle on Tuesday that should have seen the former Arsenal man see red, I would not at all be surprised to see Lampard re-visit 4-3-3 here. N’golo Kante was phenomenal that night, and his work rate and tenacity in the centre were key to making this work. The news that he could feature after returning from injury would be a huge boost. If he’s passed fit I would expect to see him joined by Kovacic and Jorginho in there. Jorginho used the ball brilliantly on Tuesday and was our stand out player on the night for me. It would be great to see us pressing up and taking the initiative again in this fixture. It would be completely understandable if Lampard goes with a different approach however, particularly given our woeful defensive record this season. 4-2-3-1 would offer cover deeper in midfield and possibly prevent the likes of Mane and Salah getting on the ball between the lines, in a similar fashion to which Morrison did so against us for Leicester in the second half of that match. This system could result in Liverpool finding it easier to play into midfield from the back though, resulting in an increased possession percentage for the away side.
The visitors will more than likely play 4-3-3 as they have done so far this season. This could give more weight to the idea of switching to 4-3-3 ourselves in order to match them up man for man. Fabinho will be the deeper of their three in the centre, and the one they will look to play into from the back. In the win over Newcastle Wijnaldum stepped in alongside him with Oxlade-Chamberain. A more usual three of Henderson, Milner and Fabinho were used in Tuesday’s defeat against Napoli. This is a more likely line up, which with the forward and back lines being pretty stable, would mirror their super cup starting line up. Having already got the better of that midfield once, perhaps this is yet another reason to go back to 4-3-3? As stated before, the availability or not of Kante could be key in the decision.