In interesting tactical battle at Anfield on Saturday evening finished up with Chelsea taking a deserved point after coming from behind.
Willian scored late on after coming on as a substitute to salvage a point in a match that we had a largely been on the back foot in, but had defended very well in, and looked a threat on the break consistently.
Conte opted to start with 3-5-2, fast overtaking 3-4-3 has his formation of preference these days. Klopp countered this with a 4-3-3 shape, including former blues Sturridge and the in-form Salah. As seen when we’ve lined up in this shape before, it required a combination of our midfielders pulling wide to cover overlapping fullbacks, or our wingbacks pushing up. Bakayoko was tasked with the defensive duty on the left of our midfield, while Drinkwater, in his first premier league start for us, did likewise on the right up against Liverpool left back Moreno. From the off Liverpool took control of possession, and continually pushed both their full backs high up the pitch, testing our defensive tactics to the maximum as they switched play from side to side. Zappacosta began to push up on Moreno early on, allowing Drinkwater to help Kante in central midfield, but also meaning the right-sided centre back Azpilicueta had to come wide to mark Liverpool left winger Oxlade Chamberlain. A combination of Azpi and Zappacosta kept him quiet all match, and both had excellent performances, particularly Azpilicueta, who was everywhere, and was pretty close to a faultless display. On the other side, Alonso was not able to push up defensively, as the danger of Salah had to be dealt with at close quarters, this resulted in slightly different defensive tactics from one side to the other, as Bakayoko had to come wide to pick up the overlapping Gomez all evening. We settled quickly into a good shape though, and despite Liverpool’s sustained attacks throughout the half, our shape remained excellent, as we restricted them to a few wayward shots from range that did not trouble Courtois.
Despite being on the back foot from the off, we were the first team to test either keeper, as Hazard cut inside and fired low to Mignolet’s right, but he managed to turn it around the post. It was evident that as soon as we won the ball in defence, the idea was to counter attack as quickly as possible, with Hazard and Morata the outlets.
Hazard as usual was dropping of Morata to pick the ball up deeper, and our next chance saw him do as such, but instead of feeding Morata through the centre, he found the advancing run of Danny Drinkwater between the Liverpool centre backs, he was at full stretch to control the pass though, and was unable to round Mignolet.
Chelsea were now remaining in good shape defensively, the midfielders shuffling either side seemed to be able to nullify Liverpool’s obvious attempts to exploit space in wide areas, while Kante was winning balls in the centre as usual. The back three were reading play well, and looked like a good unit with Christensen at the heart, covering behind excellently, while Cahill was also playing very well. The nature of our defensive set up did mean that we naturally had to sit deep in order to prevent being exposed, and Liverpool continued to have more of the ball, despite Chelsea having the better chances.
Zappacosta was getting up and down, and fired a first time shot from the right corner of the penalty area that the Liverpool keeper was forced to turn over.
Liverpool, as in mid-week, looked dodgy when defending corners, and we had a penalty shout in the first half when Cahill took down a corner at the far post, and prodded it across to Morata, who was tackled from behind, the defender getting the ball first, but it certainly prompted debate.
The tactical battle continued into the second half, with Liverpool continuing to try and overload wide areas of the pitch, and Chelsea successfully countering this with the already mentioned varying styles. It was though in wide areas that Chelsea were creating chances, and if anything showing Liverpool’s vulnerability. On a couple of occasions Moreno was sucked inside, and Oxlade-Chamberlain was not doing a good job of tracking Zappacosta. The Italian was happy to run up and down all night long, and around the hour mark he got forward, both times fed by Hazard, to whip in brilliant low balls, the first evading all out attackers, the second diverted wide at the near post by Morata.
Back to the other end, and Azpilicueta made an amazing block from Sturridge after Salah had played him in down the left channel.
Shortly afterwards though, we went behind. Coutinho advanced and his pass was not dealt with well enough by Bakayoko, who inadvertently prodded to Salah, who slotted past Courtois.
Liverpool were know in the ascendancy. Cahill blocked a Wijnaldum effort, Azpilicueta made an awesome last ditch tackle on Salah, who had been played through by Coutinho.
Conte rang the changes with twenty to play. Fabregas came on for Drinkwater, then Willian for Bakayoko as he changed to 3-4-3. It was the Brazillian who salvaged us a point. He dropped a shoulder in his trademark fashion, and his change of pace took him into the box on the right side. He stood a ball up towards the back post, and it floated inside the angle of post and bar, and we had got a point that our defensive performance, and for that matter, our attacking threat had deserved.
Liverpool (4-3-3) 1 (Salah 65)
Mignolet; Gomez, Matip, Klavan, Moreno;
Coutinho, (Lallana 89) Henderson, Milner;
Salah, Sturridge, (Wijnaldum 66) Oxlade-Chamberlain. (Mane 89)
Chelsea (3-5-2, 3-4-3 after 77 mins) 1 (Willian 85)
Courtois; Azpilicueta, Christensen, Cahill ©;
Zappacosta, (Willian 83) Drinkwater, (Fabregas 77) Kante, Bakayoko, (Pedro 77), Alonso;