Chelsea maintained their unbeaten home record in the Premier League this season with a 2-1 victory over Liverpool that also elevated them to third place on the table.
But they didn't do without a moment or two of drama.
Having conceded the opening goal to Martin Skrtel inside five minutes, Jose Mourinho's men pressed quickly on the attack for the remaining 85 minutes of the match—scoring through Eden Hazard and Samuel Eto'o to snare all three points.
The Blues could well have added another two or three goals on the night were it not for the brilliance of Simon Mignolet but also could have conceded the same amount had the Reds been a touch more clinical inside the attacking third and taken full advantage of their momentary lapses in the defensive third.
Let's break down the film and look at the best (and the worst) from Chelsea in the win, and how that will affect Mourinho's men moving forward into 2014.
The Best: Free-Flowing Attacking Raids
Perhaps accentuated a little more due to the fact they went behind early, Chelsea were perhaps at their most blistering and dangerous in attack this weekend.
The likes of Willian, Oscar and Eden Hazard were incredibly difficult to track in attack, and with a true poacher in Samuel Eto'o playing ahead of the—as well as two attacking-minded central midfielders in Frank Lampard and David Luiz behind them—the Blues' attack was able to launch wave after wave of pressure at the Reds' defense which, interestingly, opted for four at the back instead of three.
Willian was particularly devastating and was perhaps a little unlucky that his good passes in the final third and successful dribbles weren't met with better finishing or passing from his team-mates. His completeness on the ball, as well as his ability to shoot from distance, is slowly starting to reveal why Mourinho attached the transfer fee that he did to the Brazilian international.
Oscar also justified again why he remains the first choice over Juan Mata.
Yet despite the strong performances that both of those men delivered, the all-important equalizer would once again come through 2012 summer signing Eden Hazard.
Having peppered the Reds' defense with some strong possession and swift counterattack in the five minutes or so leading up to the break (including a brilliant effort from distance by Lampard), Hazard was able to execute a wonderful long-distance one-two with Oscar for the game's second goal.
It wouldn't be without some luck, of course, but even still, the Reds only have themselves to blame for allowing the Belgian the time and space that they did.
As Hazard picks up the ball on the halfway line, he is surrounded by a channel of Reds' defenders. Oscar seeks to make a straight run to create some space while Willian comes in from his space on the left to help out—playing a lovely deft ball from Hazard's pass to him to release Oscar in behind.
Oscar wins the pass and is suddenly free to run at the Reds' two central defenders.
It's worth noting here the positioning of Joe Allen and Raheem Sterling. Given the manner of the game at the moment when Hazard, Willian and Oscar strung their quick passes together, neither player is really out of position at all here, but both should have been able to pick up the run of Hazard quicker.
As it turns out, the Belgian runs right between the two of them and is able to push forward into the space ahead of him out on the left (as right-back Glen Johnson was also beaten by Willian's pass to Oscar).
Oscar's attempted through ball to Eto'o is blocked by the Reds' defense but falls somewhat fortuitously out to Hazard in space on the left. The Belgian international has time to pick his shot and curl it around the wrong-footed Mignolet and give the Blues a huge comeback goal and level the scores at 1-1.
The ball falling to Hazard might seem lucky (which it is), but they say you make your own luck and Chelsea made their own by throwing themselves forward.
Hazard was willing to come from very deep to join the attack whereas Allen and Sterling weren't as willing to join the defense. They watched Hazard run right between them, then got to watch him stick the ball into the back of the net, which certainly wouldn't have pleased manager Brendan Rodgers.
The Best: High Intensity and Pressure in Defense
Chelsea's willingness to push forward in quick attacking raids was clearly evident in the first half and it drew about an interesting change from Mourinho after the break.
The second half is underway here, one Chelsea change sees Mikel replace Lampard at the break. #CFCLive— Chelsea FC (@chelseafc) December 29, 2013
Mikel replaced Frank Lampard in the middle of the field, and while many viewed it as a sign that they might be starting to "park the bus" once more, in fact, the opposite happened.
With Mikel holding the middle of the field, Luiz was able to push up field much more as the secondary arm of the double-pivot and allow Chelsea's defense to pressure their opponents from much more advanced positions.
That almost drew about a second goal from Eto'o.
As you can see in the image below, Chelsea are quick to pressure Liverpool after the Reds retreat into their own half from a throw-in. Liverpool are most likely to assume that the retreat will allow them to switch the play (where there's plenty of space), then start their attack again, but Luiz quickly pushes up and draws both Oscar and Hazard into a very good pressing scheme.
The distance between Mikel and Luiz is somewhat incredible, but the nature of the deep-lying Mikel is what allows the Brazilian to push as far up as he does.
He intercepts the pass, Hazard plays through Eto'o and the striker is away.
Mignolet makes the save in the end on the striker's shot but, truth be told, he should have scored (although he was clearly offside so maybe there's some justice in the save).
Either way, it would have pleased Mourinho no doubt to see Luiz playing effectively as a central midfielder, and the combination of Luiz and Mikel over him and Lampard will certainly give the boss plenty to think about heading into 2014.
As for Luiz in midfield: personally think it would work well with Mikel (Norwich A last season) but with Lampard/Rami it's looked terrible.— Grant James (@GrantJames_CFC) December 29, 2013
Mourinho has drawn great success from Gary Cahill and John Terry at the back, so there's no way that Luiz will fight his way back into the team as a central defender on a regular basis. It'll be interesting to see how, then, Mou looks to use him as a CM.
Here, in the second half, it was very promising indeed for the Londoners.
The Worst: Set-Piece Problems Strike Again
Yet, as good as the performance might have been from Chelsea in large portions of the match, it wasn't flawless. Once again, their issue from set-pieces reared its ugly head again as Skrtel prodded home the opening goal from a free-kick and Mamadou Sakho was unlucky not to score in the second half as well.
37% - Chelsea have conceded a higher proportion of goals from set-pieces than any other PL club this season. Susceptible.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 29, 2013
In fact, the chance to Sakho was perhaps more alarming to Chelsea fans than the actual goal to Skrtel because it showed a real lack of organisation at the back.
The quick free-kick is played to Jordan Henderson outside the box, which draws one of the Chelsea defenders inside the area out.
That leaves a perfect five-on-five situation for both clubs, with the pairings and who was meant to mark who clearly defined below.
Henderson tees up what seems like a simple ball into the box for Sakho to get his head on (which he does with ease), but the header flies on to the bar and is cleared by Chelsea. You'll see from the shot below that not only is Sakho free, but Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel are also free from their respective men, which simply shouldn't be happening inside the area.
It's clearly a training-ground routine from Liverpool, and while it seems simple, what it does is cause confusion. The best part about pre-planned free-kicks from an attacking point of view is that defenders don't know what's going to happen; that can lead to men running free inside the box despite every effort for that not to happen (Sergio Aguero's miss earlier in the year against Everton is a good example).
Somehow, Chelsea's defense gets caught without any communication and leaves two of Liverpool's best set-piece attackers to be guarded by two central midfielders.
|John Obi Mikel & Oscar||Mamadou Sakho & Daniel Agger|
Details provided via Transfermarkt
Fortunately for the Blues, Sakho puts too much power into it and it somehow stays out. They won't always be as fortunate from those type of chances.
Certainly something for Mourinho's men to work on, that's for sure.
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