Chelsea’s controlled 1-0 against Liverpool could have been described as dominant, but that raises a few questions. Is football a numbers game? Do they confuse or simplify the game? Either way you look at it, 10 games, seven wins, eight cleansheets, one opposition goalscorer. These are impressive stats no matter what you think.
Just as similarly, beating the champions on their own patch is no mean feat. It shouldn’t be taunted or thought of any less, despite Liverpool’s struggles. They have now suffered five consecutive home defeats in row and have failed to win since going 64 games unbeaten at Anfield.
It was a stunningly typical Antonio Conte performance from Chelsea, but one that was undoubtedly sprinkled with Thomas Tuchel’s own style. The pressing, counter-pressing and ball playing from defence were all signs of a developing, dogged Chelsea team that seem to be finding out what it feels like to win once more.
There could easily be a point of praise for each Chelsea player on the pitch last night, they all deserved it. But, here are the five main talking points from the game.
We’ve said it before, but Mason Mount is here to stay
First things first, the match winner. This is getting repetitively boring, though still delightfully necessary, praising Mason Mount, Chelsea’s prize possession and starlet.
As a site we asked who would produce an Eden Hazard moment of magic at his second garden, few actually expected a goal as good as one of the Belgians, but that’s exactly what we got. Mount’s drive and finish was exemplary. It had the physical drive to match his determination, the technical majesty of a divine piece of art. It was perfection.
If it wasn’t already clear, and it really, really is, Mount is nobodies ‘son’, he isn’t in the team to parade Chelsea’s academy or promote La Cobham once again. He’s in it to win his club games of football, to push the team and his country forward with commanding, dominant individual performances. Once again in a role that most will be able to admit isn’t exactly favoured.
Mount’s glossed over and downplayed work rate and pressing were a foundation and base that the whole Chelsea team have built from not only under Tuchel, but since he was introduced to the Blues faithful nearly 18 months ago.
Without this, Chelsea wouldn’t have been able to so comprehensively snuff out the Premier League champions and limit them to a solitary shot on target, in their own backyard. Without his moment of excellence Chelsea may not have found a way through.
Here’s a few words that describe Tuchel’s Chelsea, so far: Energetic, controlled, dominant, fearless.
In the few weeks that we have seen Tuchel’s Chelsea train transformation there have been some key differences from those that dampened the already dark Covid hit Christmas period. There has been high pressing, forward thinking aggression. There has also been dogged defending and a resilient spine. Although styles and gameplans may change, the characteristics that Tuchel demands from his team don’t.
Chelsea showed bravery in their start to the game and looked to play high and press an uncertain Liverpool backline. They rushed the fullbacks, and harried the midfield three. From Timo Werner to Edouard Mendy in goal, Chelsea were organised. There was a clear gameplan and it worked.
Although the second half saw a reduced number of chances, Chelsea’s efficiency in attack saw them still have the better of the opportunities, despite appearing to be on the backfoot. That last part is also very important.
Chelsea allowed Liverpool the ball but then dictated the channels and passes that were made with that possession. It was dictation from defence.
A similar stance to the one taken against Manchester United in the first half. Another example of Chelsea having a plan and making the game work.
Playing from the back
Jamie Carragher described Chelsea as brave. Not so much in the way that he had compared the Blues to Manchester City, but not far off.
It wasn’t an all-encompassing Gegenpressing masterclass. Chelsea didn’t force Liverpool to defend deep themselves like the Citizens might. But they did ensure that Liverpool couldn’t sit back and wait for the ball to come back to them.
Chelsea came to play, and play they did. Much like Jose Mourinho’s Ferrari parking ‘Monday Night Masterclass’, it was the use of the ball when in possession that impressed. Against an out of touch but nevertheless determined Liverpool, Chelsea didn’t cave in to Anfield pressure.
By retaining possession with short, crisp passes between the impressive back three and midfield, Chelsea were able to draw on a disjointed Liverpool press, and then sucker punch between them. With a mixture of brilliance, bravery and confidence, time and time again Chelsea played there way through Liverpool, not allowing a siege or wave of attacks that would usually come with a low-block defensive performance.
It may have shocked Liverpool and therefore metaphorically put the Reds on the backfoot despite being high on the pitch. Scotsman Andy Robertson would understand though, as Gerry Cinnamon says, ‘fortune favours the bold’.
The great Dane shines against Liverpool
It’s no longer going under the radar. Andreas Christensen has turned his surprisingly solid and impressive substitute appearance against Spurs into a great run of form. One in which he hasn’t been on the pitch as an opponent scores a goal against Chelsea.
Although the brilliance and leadership of Thiago Silva are intangibly missed, it’s hard to think Chelsea would or even could be any better off even with the Brazilian in place of Christensen for the same run of games.
Once again, the Dane’s calmness in playing the ball from defence with zip and confidence was key to evading the onrushing (though often laboured and sluggish) Liverpool press. For a man that has constantly been put down and criticised, though somewhat fairly after some below par performances in a back four, his resurgence has been key.
It is worth noting though that there should still be a lot of doubt over Christensen’s role in a back four, his suitability four it also a preparation that he could still depart the club this summer.
He has a very good technical set up to succeed at the centre of a back three, but his error prone nature in a back four is undesirable and no surprise that Tuchel isn’t in a rush to test it.
If the back three is a long term solution then Christensen could be playing himself back into the future of Chelsea. If it isn’t then his current performances will attract a lot of wealthy suitors.
Victory over Liverpool can be platform for top four race
As the Blues see the light at the end of a tough run, victories against Atletico Madrid and Liverpool, either side of a frustrating stalemate with Manchester United have given Chelsea a platform. One that simply wasn’t there on January 27th.
The Premier League is tough though, and every team has so far had ups and downs, even the dominant table toppers. So, it would be foolish to rest now and think the work has been done. Another victory for Everton last night has them breathing right down Chelsea’s neck before the teams meet on Monday night.
A victory over Carlo Ancelotti’s Toffees would be as big a win as the one over Liverpool. It would also be the game that sets the Blues on a ‘nicer’ run of fixtures. With West Brom, Crystal Palace and Brighton coming up after a trip to Elland Road next week. On paper these are all winnable games, but the Premier is rarely that simple.
Nevertheless, victory over Liverpool, and the manner in which it played out, will put a cat among the pigeons on the red half of Manchester and also start jangling the nerves of an old friend’s Foxes.
Written and edited by Tom Coley (@tomcoley49)
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