Chelsea overcame Liverpool 2-0 at Anfield on Sunday in what was a battle between the top two in the Premier League.
The Reds dominated possession to the tune of 73 percent and had a total of 26 shots to Chelsea's 11, per WhoScored.com, but those numbers don't tell the whole tale of a match where the home side struggled too often to break down an organised defence and were left ruing two defensive mistakes that led to the winning goals.
Blues boss Jose Mourinho was questioned about time-wasting tactics and an ultra-defensive outlook on the game but refuted both in his post-game press conference:
Ok press conference time with @br_uk and it’s Jose Mourinho first.— Karl Matchett (@karlmatchett) April 27, 2014
JM: “defensive display? i’m a bit confused with what media thinks defensive display is"— Karl Matchett (@karlmatchett) April 27, 2014
JM: “when a team defends well you call it a defensive display. when they do it bad you don’t consider it defensive."— Karl Matchett (@karlmatchett) April 27, 2014
Mourinho: "Time wasting? What's this? Why only today do we speak about this?"— Neil Jones (@neiljonesecho) April 27, 2014
Rodgers asked if he would ever set a side up like Chelsea. "what do you think?"— Neil Jones (@neiljonesecho) April 27, 2014
Rodgers says he hasnt shaken hands with Mourinho. Says could see time wasting from first whistle.— Neil Jones (@neiljonesecho) April 27, 2014
Given that his team won the match 2-0 and closed the gap at the top to two points, it is entirely reasonable to suggest that he simply got his tactics right on the day and that his players carried out his orders to perfection—though that does not necessarily indicate a non-defensive approach, as the manager intimated was the case.
Under Mourinho, Chelsea have naturally been fairly reserved as a side and are always tough to break down defensively; with just 15 goals conceded away from home all season in the Premier League, they have the best on-the-road defensive record.
Setting up in a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3 is the preferred practice for the manager, utilising pace in the wide areas of attack and solidity centrally, with hard-working midfield players in place no matter what the system.
At Anfield, Mourinho went with a hybrid of both: The wide men were very much expected to work back and double up in front of, and wider than, the full-backs, with two defensive central midfielders blocking off the gaps in front of the back four.
Frank Lampard was the one more advanced midfielder, with Demba Ba up front alone.
When possession was won, though, or the ball cleared up to Ba, it was not Lampard but the two wingers—Andre Schurrle and Mohamed Salah—who were asked to use their pace to support as quickly as possible, with the midfield three remaining sat in a block to recycle, support from deep or simply to hold off the next wave of attacks when Chelsea quickly surrendered the ball.
In this manner, Mourinho ensured his team remained compact and difficult to find gaps to play through.
The pace of Daniel Sturridge in the Liverpool attack was not, on this occasion, particularly missed as there was so little space to run in behind the defence, while also not enough craft, patience or guile on the Reds' part to keep the ball, move the opposition around and find the right time to make an incisive pass.
That was Liverpool's downfall: not enough patience, intelligence in possession or—most crucially—movement to work around and penetrate Chelsea's incredibly congested penalty area.
On the other hand, the Reds will question just how many teams possess the all-round creativity to break down such massed ranks. Two buses?
Lampard's role in the side was very much indicative of Chelsea's plan. While the more advanced of the three central midfielders, he did not take it upon himself to support Ba in attack, moving forward with counter-attacks. Instead, he was almost solely used as a platform to receive the first out ball, or else to reinforce the three-man barricade once the wide players strode past the half-way line.
A quick look at Lampard's heat-map from Anfield tells the story.
Indeed, it was Nemanja Matic, running from behind him with his greater athleticism and stamina levels, who had the bigger impact in the final third, often choosing to run with the ball to relieve pressure for a few moments, even if no particular end result from the charge was forthcoming.
Later on in the match, Chelsea substituted central defender Gary Cahill on for wide forward Schurrle. That saw them move into an even more withdrawn shape: three centre-backs, two narrow full-backs, three holding midfielders—Mikel, Matic and one of Lampard or sub Willian—and then either Willian or Lampard in vague support of Fernando Torres, another substitute.
A 5-3-1-1 if ever there was one.
Chelsea came with little intent to create or attack, yet still scored two goals and conceded none.
Defensive? Absolutely, any arguing against it is folly. But defensive doesn't mean bad, especially when a victory comes at the end of it.
Liverpool passed, shot from range, sent over crosses and a succession of set pieces, and forced Mark Schwarzer into the odd difficult save. But they also, crucially, made two errors in defence.
Chelsea made none, and Chelsea took the points. Victory to Mourinho.