A match between Chelsea and Liverpool is a clash of not just two teams or two different sets of tactics, but of two different approaches to playing the game altogether. Chelsea boss Antonio Conte has brought a rigid structure to the Blues with defensive midfielder Ngolo Kante seemingly continuing where he left-off last season with Leicester City.
Kante’s contribution at the heart of the three-man midfield has given more attacking freedom to Nemanja Matic and Oscar and wingers Willian and Eden Hazard which has also made the Chelsea attack one of the most effective in the league. Chelsea have scored a total of nine goals this season and are only behind Manchester City in the number of times they have found the back of the net.
With all this said, it might not help that their only low-point this season came up in their previous league match against Swansea City. Chelsea’s form and rigidness were in full display in the first half when their one-goal lead seemed to be far too much for Swansea to come even close to overturning. A possibly erroneous penalty awarded by the referee and a defensive mistake by Gary Cahill led to that lead being negated within five minutes in the second half.
Defensive mistakes and errors are what any team should avoid while facing Liverpool this season. Roberto Firmino, Adam Lallana, Coutinho and Sadio Mane have all shown their capability to find the back of the net given even the slightest of chances. On the surface, Antonio Conte and Jurgen Klopp may seem to prefer using the same 4-3-3 formation but, their approaches couldn’t have been more different. Klopp tends to tap into his attacking forwards’ dynamism and hence we have seen that all the aforementioned players seem to be in free roles at various points of the matched they have played so far. This has yielded results; Liverpool have been lethal on the attack and are tied with Chelsea with the number of goals in the league.
At the same time, Chelsea may have only in the previous game exposed some defensive frailty but it has been a problem for Liverpool right from the first match when they almost gave away a 4-0 lead against Arsenal. In their previous fixture, they did outplay Leicester City in almost every department on the pitch but the visuals of Lucas Leiva passing the ball to an unmarked Jamie Vardy who graciously tucked it in to the Liverpool goal would stick out like a thorn for Klopp. The Reds would want to avoid giving away such freebies to Diego Costa. Liverpool are yet to maintain a clean-sheet this season and this defensive frailty is something that Chelsea will look to tap into.
Also, David Luiz’s inclusion in place of the injured John Terry could be a double-edged sword for Chelsea. While the Brazilian has proven his mettle as a centre-half, he does tend to advance forward in many situations. Although the presence of Ngolo Kante may cushion the blow, Luiz’s forward-playing tendency may hurt Chelsea when dealing with counter-attacks.
With four of Europe’s best managers plying their trade in England this season, clash of tactics and ideas have come to be a feature of the Premier League. Saturday’s match at Stamford Bridge is hence, a match between Antonio Conte’s rigid, disciplinarian approach against Jurgen Klopp’s stylish, almost swashbuckling way of playing the game.