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Digging Deeper Into Liverpool’s 5-3 Win over Chelsea

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We take a closer look at some winners, losers and tactical factors in the Reds spectacular season denouement.

Liverpool FC v Chelsea FC - Premier League Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

The scoreline may have been even more bonkers than the game itself suggested, but on their final home game of the season, and with a trophy presentation just around the corner, Liverpool put on a vintage heavy metal performance at Anfield, putting a wonderful cap on their season.

Below we take a look at some winners, some losers, and some tactical features of this wonderful match.


Winners

Fullbacks: Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson are phenomenal. The pair now hold the four top spots for assists in a season by defenders, with 13, 12, 11 and 11, having combined for 47(!) total assists between them over the past two seasons. While football is in constant evolution, and the role of the fullback in particular having changed massively in the past decade, the Liverpool duo are in a league of their own.

Both collected another assist tonight, and both did so in stunningly familiar style; the Scouser swinging in an absolutely pinpoint deep cross for Roberto Firmino to tap home with his head, while the Scot produced a lung-bursting run down the flank before smacking the ball across the box where Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain could put a cap on the evening.

Trent also put a swerving free kick into the top corner from 30-odd yards — his third of the season — and continues to signal that we could in all honesty be witnessing the early years of not only a legend, but potentially one of the club’s greatest all-time players.

This is a £100m pair of players on any night of the week, and the fact that Liverpool paid £8m for them combined should go down as a legitimate transfer miracle.

The Captain: The oft-derided £16m signing did his patented tippy-tappy celebration for the fourth time in 12 months tonight, having already collected a Champions League, a Super Cup and a Club World Cup trophy in the past calendar year. He may not have been on the pitch for the game itself, but after nearly a decade at the club, his absence can be felt almost as much as his presence, and the anticipation among both fans and team-mates before this long-awaited moment was palpable.

Jordan Henderson is a true Liverpool Great, and is finally beginning to receive the recognition he deserves for that.

Losers

Chelsea: For a team that has, based on the underlying numbers, been comfortably the third best side in the league this year, and who have already racked up significant expenditures on new players for the summer, missing out on the Champions League would be a devastating blow. The Blues host sixth-placed Wolverhampton on Sunday and cannot afford a loss against Nuno Espirito Santo’s men, or risk dropping down to fifth.

Having conceded 54 goals already this season, it is difficult to trust Frank Lampard’s charges to hold fast at the back, and although Manchester United and Leicester play each other on the day, providing some leeway, it is surely not the situation Chelsea envisioned before the restart, when the CL looked well in hand.

Andre Marriner: Absolute trash. Missed two or three blatant fouls in the box and was lucky his incompetence didn’t cost the Reds any points on the night.


Tactical Tidbits

Chelsea set up, as they have on occasion this season, with five at the back and only two in the centre of midfield. This is not in itself a bad strategy: four of Liverpool’s five most important creators all play in wide positions, their midfield is notoriously lacking in end product, and Chelsea have a terrible goalkeeper and very few, if any, genuinely good central defenders, so crowding the wide areas and plugging an extra man into the centre of defence makes sense as a preventive measure.

Naby Keïta, though, started the game, and caused absolute havoc for the Blues any time the ball came near Jorginho or Kovacic in the middle of the park. The Guinean kicked the goalscoring off with a rasping effort from 20 yards after pressing and with six tackles and an interception, was critical in the Reds’ transition game.

With Liverpool shifting quite aggressively laterally towards the ball, however, Chelsea’s wingbacks were often in acres of space when they were able to switch the ball, and with Willian drifting into central areas from his nominal position on the right, the visitors caused plenty of problems for the champions, generating four clear-cut chances in total.

It was an interesting strategy that, while it certainly didn’t pay off this time, could be a potential counter-move to the tactics of the best team in England next season.


What Happens Next

We recover from this brutal hangover we are about to receive, before we finish the season for real at Newcastle on Sunday, while making jokes about which top four chasing side will choke harder when it matters,

Up the Premier League champion Reds!