Liverpool vs. Chelsea: Tactical Analysis of Blues' Performance in 2-2 Draw
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Rafa Benitez returned to Anfield for the first time since taking the Chelsea job and received a far warmer welcome from the Liverpool fans than he has become accustomed to at Stamford Bridge. As expected, he left veterans John Terry and Frank Lampard out of the starting 11. However, he signalled his tactical intent by starting Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and Oscar behind Fernando Torres.
The Blues survived early scares from Glen Johnson and Jordan Henderson before they found their feet. Eden Hazard was the focal point of the Three Amigos, completing 20 of 25 passes in the attacking third. By contrast, Oscar had eight successful final-third balls from 15 attempts.
That makes it all the more surprising that it was the Brazilian who opened the scoring with a header from a Juan Mata corner. Oscar lost Jamie Carragher and darted out just in time to lift his head, diverting the cross between Pepe Reina and the near post.
Liverpool repeatedly caught Chelsea on the break, and the introduction of January signing Daniel Sturridge meant that they started the second half as brightly as the first. Stuart Downing laid the ball off to Luis Suarez, who picked out the former Chelsea striker's run with a perfectly weighted pass. A bamboozled Blues back line could only watch as Sturridge poked the ball past Petr Cech from close range.
Whilst the back four held their shape throughout the match, they were caught flat in the second half, which eventually proved costly. Chelsea retook the lead after Suarez handled the ball in the box and the Blues continued to run the ball out of defence.
Rafa Benitez's substitutions didn't have quite the same impact as Brendan Rodgers' did, as he exchanged Eden Hazard for Yossi Benayoun with what turned out to be 20 minutes left. Five minutes later, he swapped Oscar for Victor Moses.
Both of these substitutions are ostensibly like-for-like and they failed to make any impact. Frank Lampard's introduction was an exercise in time-wasting that backfired on Benitez. The extra 40 seconds that were added on to the six additional minutes proved crucial when Sturridge fired a cross to an unmarked Suarez for the Uruguayan to head home the equaliser.
Whilst there were plenty of other talking points to take from the match, Chelsea again showed the inconsistency that has defined this season. They struggled to link up effectively at key points and their best efforts came from set-pieces.
A draw is not a fair reflection of the events in the match, but the fact remains that Chelsea could have performed better. The trickery that has been the Three Amigos' trademark was their downfall in this match, as they conceded possession twice in quick succession with attempted back-heel passes.
Overall, Chelsea's passing was sloppy and only 52 percent of the Blues' tackles were successful. Those kind of statistics show a lack of focus that they just cannot afford if they want to play Champions League football in 2013-14.
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